When we say the word disaster, we're hearkening back to a time when the stars were assumed to have a role in the course that events would take. We tend to take a dimmer view of their ability to direct our lives, and try to assert our own agency (or someone else's, if we wish not to own our part in some mishap) over and above what resides in the heavens. Yet we still use the word, as if to say, this or that particular tragic event could not have been prevented. (The relationship with the stars remains unstated, perhaps it's still assumed?)
The event I wish to explore, astrologically, occurred on 15 April 1989 at a football (aka soccer) stadium in Sheffield, England, UK, where Liverpool FC were to meet Nottingham Forest FC in a semi-final match of the 1988-89 FA (= Football Association) Cup. I'll go into greater detail below, but in summary, match fans for the Liverpool team were effectively funneled into a space that could not conceivably support them, and a crush ensued which took 96 lives, and caused 776 other casualties. Among the dead were children as young as 10 years old.
The Hillsborough Disaster has been in the news recently in the course of a new inquest regarding the tragedy. The conclusion reported on April 26 of the current year, as with the earlier inquest (summarized in the so-called Taylor Report of 1990), is again that police were ultimately culpable. The difference now is that the most obvious agent of the tragedy, match commander Police Chief Constable David Duckenfield, finally admitted his responsibility and issued something that seemed like an apology, where earlier the blame was cast upon the fans themselves, who were slandered as being a bunch of hooligans who came to the match drunk and couldn't control themselves. Tabloid media at the time played a role in that slander [including The Sun, Daily Express], but Duckenfield himself misrepresented his own actions, and in some cases other police testimony was altered to cohere with this slander.
Here's what happened, summarizing from a recent article by the BBC:
The game was sold out (53,000 tickets). Liverpool fans were allocated around 10,000 tickets, all in sections accessed from Leppings Lane. (My understanding is that match holders try to keep fans from opposing teams as isolated from one another as possible to avoid volatile encounters between overwrought and overly enthusiastic fans, so it is not particularly strange that this was the procedure.) Nevertheless, they were allocated only seven turnstiles, and by 2:30, less than half of the 10,000 Liverpool fans had found their places, and the others were outside. trying to get through these few turnstiles.
The press of fans waiting to get in was getting tighter and tighter and there was a worry that "somebody [would] get killed out here" if they didn't open a certain exit gate which would allow fans another ingress. At 2:52, the match commander made the fateful decision to open that exit gate. However, this exit gate appeared only to lead to a further tunnel that would empty people into standing terraces/pens that were already crammed with people. Some fans successfully climbed the fences to escape to other pens, and some to the pitch itself, and eventually one barrier (not sure if it was between pens or between one pen and the pitch) failed, causing fans to fall on one another. Many who did not escape died or were injured, in numbers cited above. At 3:06, a police official ran onto the field and ordered a halt to a match that had begun only a few minutes earlier.
Police further botched handling of the matters by ordering dogs and more police, rather than ambulances and medical help, as they were evidently still in crowd control mode.
At first I thought the aspersions cast upon the crowd and the victims were ludicrous. But as I dug a bit further into my "research" (= the google), I learned of an earlier incident called the Heysel Stadium disaster, which, coincidentally, involved the same Liverpool FC, or, more properly, its fans.
In the earlier event, fans from both teams were, by and large, assigned tickets to either goal-end of the field, with the exception of section Z, which apparently had a mix of local fans and fans from Juventus, the opposing Italian team. (Supposedly these tickets were "neutral" and to be occupied by local attendees, but there were apparently tickets purchased by locals on behalf of Juventus fans or they were Italian immigrants who purchased them for themselves. In any case, they were right next to the fans from Liverpool in sections X and Y.)
About an hour before the match began, a confrontation commenced between between the fans in X/Y and the Juventus supporters in Z. Liverpool fans reportedly began throwing rocks at the fans in Z. This probably led to an exchange of stones. It escalated as the kick-off neared, and eventually groups of fans from X/Y broke through the barrier into Z and charged at the Juventus fans. People in Z then moved to the perimeter of the section, and this led to the creation a crush of such an intensity that a restraining wall failed and fell. Aside from injuries to 600 people, there were 39 deaths, reportedly not from the breach of the wall but from the crush itself.
Strangely, the match proceeded, as scheduled, even as victims of the crush were being aided or, in the case of the dead, moved outside the stadium and under coverings. Juventus won the match 1-0, and its fans from the opposite end of the field (sections M/N/O) tried to approach along the running track the other end to help their cohorts in Z, but were stopped by police, and rioting ensued for the next two hours.
After what happened at Heysel, English football clubs were banned from competitive European play for the next five years. About 26 Liverpool fans were criminally tried (with manslaughter).
It was in this atmosphere, the stage having been set less than four years earlier in an event where some measure of hooliganism played a role, that many were quick to ascribe the same sort of thing to this even greater mishap (going by the numbers) at Hillsborough. And while the rap on the fans was ludicrous and slanderous, I can see why people who were not present might be persuaded to believe it.
As a student of mundane astrology, I confess to having a kind of morbid fascination with events like this, so even though I am moved by the deep and abiding tragedy the more I learn about this subject, I am also curious about whether Astrology can tell us anything about how and why it occurred.
My initial impulse, then, is to look at a chart for the event. But what chart? What is the "moment" that corresponds to this event? The news reports I read seemed to indicate that fans started arriving around noon, and started going into the stadium around 2:30 pm, for a match scheduled to begin at 3 pm. So I decided to split the difference of the two latter, and my initial casting was for 2:45 pm. Thus the following:
(Please bear with my use of a sidereal chart: we're mostly interested in the angles and aspects in any case.)
It took me a little while to get the gist of this chart. Apart from the telltale Pluto, at first it didn't seem like much was going on. The Sun is loosely conjunct a benefic, but closely trine to the Moon and Juno, fidelity of the people, facing a loss.
There is a grand trine, or perhaps a kite if both nodes are included, between Ceres, Uranus and the South Node. When I see the Ceres sickle, I think of the harvest, but also about the dynamic exchange of life and death in plant matter: you prune off this branch, chop it up, compost it. You overplant, and then thin down to the most robust plants. Vesta and Mercury strengthen this a bit: devoted fans.
Jupiter is on its way to culminating, separating from a square to the Ascendant and/or to the nodes. I sometimes question whether the nodes "cast rays" in the same way as the planets, and therefore can be considered to be involved in aspects. A square with the nodes is sometimes characterized as a choice: a crowd of people that could "turn", or not. It also forms a quincunx with Uranus/Vesta. Perhaps this does well to characterize the dramatic event that is unfolding unpredictably at that moment. Uranus makes it "beyond our control" and Jupiter amplifies this in an unpredictable (quincunx) way.
My reading of this Jupiter is that it to some extent it represents the match commander. If I had opted for the tropical chart, I could point to Jupiter being in its detriment, but I can't have it both ways, so I shall refrain from doing so (though I just did). Duckenfield had been assigned this responsibility only 19 days prior, and was fairly inexperienced. Even so, Jupiter is peregrine, being without essential dignity, in Taurus, so its power is diminished in a way that's congruent with the inexperience of the match commander. Its dispositor is combust in the 8th house, and also in its detriment. Perhaps we could say the South Yorkshire constabulary were themselves overmatched by the glare of the event.
The first thing I noticed about the chart was actually Pluto at the IC. Pluto is often so far from the ecliptic that it hits the angles at a different time from its ecliptic degree, and this is no exception. Pluto is applying sextile to Saturn, and its presence at the angle, though below the horizon, gives it great power. It argues for preexisting or inherited conditions that will have crucial relevance to the moment in question, but may not be understood at the time. Pluto, it seems to me, is a planet of both burial and eventual revelation: in that sense it does not seem strange that it took 27 years for this story to unravel.
Pluto, of course, strikes the angles (ascendant, midheaven, descendant, nadir) each and every day. Is there anything special about this day? Let me highlight a few of the paranatellonta:
Planet/Star Event RA ST LT Earth
. . .
Juno Rise 41 27 2:45:47 14:17:05 6w45
Regulus Rise 46 20 3:05:19 14:36:33 1w52
Pluto Ic 46 38 3:06:30 14:37:45 1w34
Algol Mc 47 41 3:10:44 14:41:58 0w30
Moon's South Node Rise 51 43 3:26:52 14:58:03 3e32
Moon's North Node Set 51 43 3:26:52 14:58:03 3e32
. . .
Juno Mc 147 03 9:48:11 21:18:20 98e51
Moon Mc 147 34 9:50:14 21:20:22 99e22
. . .
Uranus Rise 221 47 14:47:09 2:20:24 173e36
Neptune Rise 226 12 15:04:49 2:38:01 178e01
Pluto Mc 226 38 15:06:30 2:39:42 178e26
Algol Ic 227 41 15:10:44 2:43:56 179e30
Saturn Rise 228 02 15:12:07 2:45:18 179e50
Jupiter Ic 244 31 16:18:04 3:51:04 163w41
. . .
Venus Rise 283 01 18:52:02 6:24:37 125w11
Neptune Mc 283 22 18:53:28 6:26:03 124w49
Mercury Rise 283 49 18:55:18 6:27:52 124w22
Saturn Mc 285 00 19:00:00 6:32:34 123w11
. . .
The table shows that Pluto hits the IC (anticulminates) at 2:37:45 pm local time. This is probably around the time the swelling crowd is getting critical enough for someone to feel like something needs to be done about it. A minute earlier, Regulus was on the Ascendant, meaning that Pluto and Regulus are in paran, or in mundane aspect at the angles.
In natal astrology, these parans (= paranatellontas) that become active during the course of the day are considered part of the bigger natal picture, even if they are not active at the natal moment. It is as if the notion of that "moment" is broadened to encompass the entire day (well, the period from sun up to sun up that includes the birth time). Probably the same could be argued for mundane astrology, but it happens that the Pluto Regulus configuration happens right in the thick of our very event, so we might say there's something extra compelling.
Regulus connotes success and leadership, but Pluto confers a sense of what is buried, or even mined, the dark, the hidden, the transformative. Bernadette Brady delineates the combination, briefly, as "a time of tyranny" [Brady, Star and Planet Combinations, p. 217], which is somewhat evocative of the severe constraints upon a crowd. Bring in the Saturn with this (Pl sextile Sat) and you get the crushing, the compression, constriction. Bring in Neptune (Pl sextile Nep, Pluto in paran with Neptune) and you get a further dissolution of control. (More to say below about Neptune and Pluto below as they relate to Liverpool FC.)
Pluto is also just over a degree (in right ascension) separated from being in paran with the more notorious Algol. That is to say there's just over a four minute separation between the times they were at their respective pivots (Algol at MC and Pluto at IC). Brady connotes Algol, mildly, with "intense focused passion" [ibid., p. 97]. When configured with Pluto, the delineation is "assassination, to kill ones enemies" [ibid., p. 99]. That might be a little over the top, though perhaps the effect is attenuated by the broader orb.
Saturn and Algol are also in paran, separated by 21 minutes of arc (RA). Brady: "The law needing to concern itself with ethical issues" [ibid., p. 99]. This kind of works, as well, though I half expected something to do with suffocation. It certainly speaks to the issues that arose following the event, legal issues that have taken many years just to unfold if not yet resolve.
Lastly, Neptune and Mercury are in paran. For me this resonates with the widespread misreporting of facts concerning the matter, along with the mendacious claims on the part of the authorities. The two planets are related on the ecliptic as well, with a somewhat loose but applying trine.
Getting back to the aspects on the ecliptic, I will mention the fairly close square between Mars in Taurus in the 11th and Pallas in Aquarius in the 7th. In mundoscope (prime vertical longitude), Pallas closely sextiles a conjoint Vesta, Neptune and Saturn. I can't help reading Mars as the police in this case (second house from 10th where Jupiter represents the match commander) at odds with (square) the fans (in this case, Pallas). Pallas in the 7th house suggests that to some extent there is a projection of militancy upon the fans. The configuring of Pallas with Vesta, Neptune and Saturn may reflect their devotion, victimization and constriction, or at least the complex composition that the fans comprised: some hoodlums among them, perhaps, but also the devoted and innocent, the aged. If this were a horary reading, I might consider Pallas being in anaretic degree having some significance, but I will restrain myself again.
The chart, I feel, satisfies my curiosity about the event itself, though I might be inclined to back it up to the point where Pluto is at the IC. Or push it forward to the point where Duckenfield ordered the opening of the gates.
However, I've long since run out of my allotted time on this exercise in Mundane Event Astrology. There's still more to explore, and perhaps I will get to these topics in a future installment:
1. I feel it behooves me to look at the natal chart of the Liverpool FC, and apply the event as a transit chart. The difficulty here is finding time data, however, there are a couple of charts that could be used with noon in a pinch.
The noon chart for the founding date is of interest in that the Sun is configured with a partile conjunction between Neptune and Pluto. This "natal" sun forms the fingertip of a yod when combined with the Hillsborough transit chart, with transiting Pluto and Saturn at the quincunxes. There are a few other interesting planetary coincidences, but knowing the precise angles (ascendant, midheaven) would provide better means of testing the grain.
The founding of the club is interesting in itself. It began roughly as follows. The president of the Everton Football Club in Liverpool, brewer and eventual Lord Mayor of Liverpool, John Houlding, also owned the field in which that club played and possibly some of the facilities where they changed, the pub where they drank after matches, etc..
He decided to raise the rent from 100 pounds to 250 pounds per year. There was some pushback to this from the club membership, and eventually (March 15, 1892) they parted ways, with Everton deciding to play at a different location. Houlding had a field but no club to play on it, so he decided to form a new club, and he decided to name it the Everton Athletic Football Club, because, it would seem, he still liked the sound of the name. The Football Association would not allow him to use the name, so he decided upon Liverpool Football Club. This was registered officially on June 3, 1892, so the two dates have some relevance.
Each chart features this partile conjunction between Neptune and Pluto, but the latter date configures this with the Sun (albeit with a 4 degree orb), perhaps conferring a higher, or at least more complex and nuanced, purpose than just an old football club.
2. It would be good to examine charts in relationship with and preceding the event (ingress, eclipse, lunation). A cursory examination indicates some relevance, especially when read using sidereal methodology (highlighting angular planets).
3. What about the Heysel Stadium disaster chart? It would be interesting to examine them, compare and contrast. (One interesting coincidence is the fact that in both charts, the nodal axis coincides with the horizon axis very close to the point where the tragedies occur, in each case with the South node rising. The Hillsborough chart has a lot of inherent interplay between the transiting nodes and the transiting planets. The Heysel chart lacks that inherent relationship between the planets and the nodes, but it is very close to being a nodal return chart for the LFC June 3rd, 1892 chart [93/18.6=5]. It is also a few days shy of the 93rd year solar return chart.)
4. It would be interesting to explore in a little bit more depth the football hooliganism and its relationship with the economic conditions of the times. I can't help but suspect that hooliganism reached its apex when Thatcher reached hers. Not to say that they were in any overt way aligned, just that hooliganism may arise under the kinds of conditions that her economic program inadvertently promoted. Do Neptune and Pluto have any relevance to the story-arc of football in history over the last 120+ years, even as they have some relevance to the fluctuating realities of economics?
5. Another topic of interest would come from examining the natal chart of David Duckenfield and comparing it with the time of the match. He is a flawed figure, and his life is not without its own tragedy. Perhaps he can turn it around long enough to atone and learn, though it is doubtful this would provide any satisfaction to the victims or their families. They have their own journeys to closure and resolution, which may nonetheless have been facilitated by his recent change of testimony.
There are a lot of loose ends there, but hopefully I've touched on the basic topic to any random reader's satisfaction.
[Updated: 21 May 2016, miscellaneous tweaks related to citation.]