Phone-in host at centre of new Hillsborough controversy
This grinning buffoon is Steven Cohen, the host of World Soccer Daily (WSD). WSD is the most popular football phone-in radio show in the States. God knows why it’s popular -Â it features way too many adverts and lots of inane buddy chat, mostly with his hugley annoying sidekick, Kenny Hassan, a brash Scot with a bully-boy stance.
Cohen, 46, was born in London but has lived in the States for 27 years, and served in the US Army for four years. He’s an ardent Chelsea fan, but he’s better-known – now, at least – for his dislike of Liverpool FC. He has admitted on WSD that he chanted “murderers” at Liverpool fans (a reference to the Heysel disaster)…
As you can hear, he’s a bit of a dick – there’s no crime in that. But it’s his comments about Hillsborough that have enraged Liverpool supporters, and indeed any right-thinking fans who know anything about the tragic events of April 1989. This is what he had to say in April about the tragedy that claimed 96 lives:
“People showing up without ticket, hell bent in getting into somewhere where they shouldn’t be going because they don’t have tickets, is the root cause of [the Hillsborough Disaster].
“I’m yet to read anybody write in this weekend’s Sunday papers in England, where they’re all doing big commemorations about the 96, and why we should never forget and how it’s changed the game, nobody discusses the 6-8,000 who showed up without tickets and my argument has always been, if those people don’t show up, this never happens.
“[Hillsborough] is a stadium that week-in week-out, Sheffield Wednesday used without incident.”
As I wrote on my column for BigSoccer, Cohen is not only being an insensitive wanker, he’s wrong:
“The fact is, Cohen is plain wrong, at least if you believe the Taylor Report on the tragic events Hillsborough. A couple of choice quotes from that report (with thanks to The Gaffer @ EPL Talk):
‘I have already found that there was not an abnormally large number of fans without tickets on this occasion. With one or two exceptions, the police witnesses themselves did not subscribe to the ‘conspiracy’ theory (of a large number of late-arriving ticketless supporters).’
‘The police witnesses who most impressed me did not consider the number of ticketless fans to be inordinately large.’
Sheffield Wednesday own admission count system showed the terrace at the Leppings Lane End (where the disaster occurred) did NOT exceed its 10,000 capacity, so I don’t know what Cohen is going on about with his claim of up to 8,000 fans without tickets. There may have been several hundred fans who showed up looking to get in, but it’s safe to say they didn’t contribute to the terrible crush.”
Cohen stood by his comments for a couple of weeks, but recently he was forced to issue an apology (WSD had lost some sponsors as a result of Cohen’s controversial stance on Hillsborough), albeit reluctantly. He read out the following statement on his show on Monday:
“First of all, I’d like to apologise for comments made on Word Soccer Daily on Monday April 13th that referred back to an event from April ’89 [the Hillsborough tragedy]. My apology is directed at any and all people whose feelings have been hurt and people who have had awful memories and scars reopened. The apology is heartfelt, genuine and sincere.
“There are some, I suspect, who will look at this apology with a cynical eye, and of course you’re entitled to see it as you like. We’re all football fans and we’re all passionate football fans, and the events that I’m referring to could have happened to any club, in any sport, in any country, at any public gathering. This is proved by events in the Ivory Coast recently, as well as in South America, Ghana and the old Soviet Union.
“Let me continue by saying that I came to this country 27 years ago. I believe in this country and what it stands for, and most importantly I believe in the freedom of speech, opinion and expression, and hold these values and freedoms as being amongst the most treasured of all freedoms.
“I wore the uniform of the U.S. Army for four years between ’82 and ’86 because these freedoms are worth defending and worth fighting for. While there are many people in this world whose views make my blood boil, I would fight to defend their right to say what they believe.
“I recognise that (in) my position as one of the hosts of a popular radio show, I have a responsibility to my audience and perhaps the radio is not the ideal place to express every opinion and every belief I have, if the net result is many people being upset and hurt. By the same token, those who use a keyboard and computer to exercise their own freedom of speech, opinion and expression, also have a responsibility. They have a responsibility not to sensationalise comments made and twist them for their maximum appeal, especially when this is done only for their own commercial benefit, and clearly with malice intended.
“Finally, to those out there in the United States who have hidden behind computers and monitors, to send correspondence including too many death threats to count, know that your actions and words hurt this game in this country more than help it. This game has yet to find a solid and guaranteed footing in the American sporting landscape, and the baggage that this game carries with it from the past is only reinforced and emphasised by threats of violence and death. Lastly, the subjects being addressed in this statement will never be discussed on this show again unless it’s an open forum or debate where both sides’ viewpoints can be addressed and considered.”
He read this out at high speed, and then, when he had finished, scrunched up the statement, as if to say “I didn’t mean it anyway.”
Many bloggers (notably, EPL Talk) and even supporters’ groups had called for Cohen to apologise, and they got their wish, even if a halfhearted apology is worth little.
Now Liverpool FC have joined the anti-Cohen movement (there is even a “Boycott Steven Cohen” website). The club issued a statement yesterday condemning Cohen’s comments:
“Liverpool Football Club totally condemns the comments regarding the Hillsborough disaster made by the radio and TV broadcaster Steve Cohen… Mr Cohen has obviously never taken the time to read the Taylor Report which stated clearly that ticketless fans were not a contributory factor or responsible for the events of that day. To use the 20th anniversary of the disaster to repeat false claims about Liverpool fans (which Mr Cohen first broadcast and then apologised for in 2006) is even more unacceptable.”
Cohen will continue to peddle his low-rent brand of football punditry, which mostly regurgitates tabloid-level hyperbole. And that’s a great shame -Â his ignorance of the way British fans feel about Hillsborough means he has no right to claim expertise when it comes to British football. Ignore him please.