1. ITV Report

Hillsborough papers - England almost pulled out of world cup

Hillsborough documents Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Ministers considered pulling England out of the 1990 World Cup in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, government papers reveal.

Former deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe said the tournament would provide a "natural focus for hooligan activity" and the possibility of withdrawing the team was discussed in a government committee, files released as part of today's report show.

In a letter to then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher on September 27 1989 he said the idea was dropped because it was feared "determined hooligans" would head to host nation Italy anyway.

The committee also discussed abandoning an England versus Scotland match the following spring.

"The World Cup in June next year provides a natural focus for hooligan activity. And every individual match carries the potential for confrontation," Mr Howe wrote.

"The committee also looked at the possibility of our seeking the abandonment of the England v Scotland match at Wembley next spring and the withdrawal of England from the World Cup.

"They felt it would be premature to reach a firm view on either.

"It appears that the Scottish Football Association privately favours cancelling the England v Scotland match, especially if both countries are in the World Cup. So this issue may resolve itself, to everyone's satisfaction.

"Withdrawal from the World Cup is an altogether larger issue. If England withdrew, the likelihood is that the determined hooligans will make their way to Italy anyway and find a different cause to champion."

The documents also reveal Mrs Thatcher was told by her press secretary Bernard Ingham that the Football Association was behaving "extraordinarily stupidly" for wanting to go ahead with a friendly against Holland in December of that year.

In a letter dated September 5 Mr Ingham wrote: "You will recall the after the European Championships you asked the FA to consider whether to go ahead with European friendly matches and they cancelled a fixture with Italy at Wembley.

"However, they have inconceivably gone ahead with the Dutch fixture in the middle of December notwithstanding that Holland has probably the worst soccer hooligan problem in Europe after ourselves."

He added: "The FA do seem to be behaving extraordinarily stupidly in organising a friendly with Holland at a time when, apart from anything else, they should, in their own interest, be cultivating their return to European football proper."

The December fixture was eventually cancelled at sports minister Colin Moynihan's request, the files state.

Mrs Thatcher was urged to press Council of Europe members to deal "vigorously" with football hooligans who committed offences at matches overseas.

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