WHAT I’m about to write is true.
In 1996, the night before a big audition, I had a dream. It was a Thursday night I think. THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, that’s all I could remember of this dream. The Number 37, that’s all it seemed to consist of, the number 3 and the number 7.
The next day, en route to Granada Studios in Manchester, I stopped to buy a Lottery Ticket. I ticked boxes 3, 7, 37, 33 and all combinations of the two, 3+7 (10), 3×7 (21), 7-3 (4). Surely I had dreamt the winning numbers, surely come Saturday night I would be a millionaire!
I put the ticket in my wallet and quickly forgot about it. After all, I was on route to the biggest, most important audition of my career to date. I was meeting for a dramatisation of The Hillsborough disaster, it had been written by Jimmy McGovern who had given us Priest and Cracker and it was to be directed by Charles McDougall, an up and coming film maker who had been at Hillsborough himself and had just directed Cracker for McGovern.
The director of photography was to be non other than Ken Loach’s cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, (Riff Raff, Raining Stones, Ladybird Ladybird) and the young producers, Nicola Shindler and Katy Jones, had quality written all over them. On top of this, some of Britain’s finest acting talent had signed up to the project; Christopher Ecclestone, Annabelle Apsion, Ricky Tomlinson, Rachael Davies, Mark Womack and Maurice Roeves.
But above ALL of this; beyond the talent, the director and the script, one thing stood out… THE SUBJECT MATTER.
Most teachers try to instill in young actors that acting is merely living truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances of a script, but here I was, reading THE greatest script perhaps ever to be dramatised on British Television and it had NO imaginary circumstances whatsoever. This was real! This had happened! I had only been a professional actor for three years and for the very first time I was glad I hadn’t trained.
The dramatization of the Hillsborough disaster was the talk of the television industry. Here was a story about the unlawful death of 96 innocent football fans on those Leppings Lane terraces in Sheffield. Here was a story of the disaster that followed in the law courts. Here, seven years after the event was an opportunity to put right some wrongs, eradicate myths, highlight cover ups and dispel some awful lies. With great power comes great responsibility and through the power of the television screen, we had a responsibility to tell the World The Truth.
This was the Drama-Documentory that every single actor would have given their right arm to be in. This was what television was invented for, spreading the word to the masses. The pride, the honour, the opportunity to help tell this story was a once in a lifetime gig. So… you can imagine WHY I very quickly forgot all about that lottery ticket stuffed at the back of my wallet.
I arrived in Manchester and was greeted by the casting director (Beverly Keogh) who took me into a room to meet the producers and director. I don’t remember too much about my audition because (if you’ll excuse an actors term) I was “Out of my own head”. I do remember holding a wooden chair as if it was a sibling and “Troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries”.
I left Manchester a little shaken up and returned home to Liverpool and the weekend that lay ahead.
The next day was Saturday and as my audition gradually diluted from my mind, I remembered the lottery ticket, I remembered my dream. THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN, THIRTY SEVEN. I sat that night in front of the TV with ticket in hand, convinced I was a psychic, convinced this dream most definitely had a meaning. It was SO precise, so definitive, so emblematic. I can’t remember what the winning numbers where that night, but I do remember that I didn’t win. “Not even a tenner!” I thought. I threw the ticket in the bin and thought no more of it.
On the Monday morning I received a call from my agent. “You’ve been offered the part of Joe Glover in HILLSBOROUGH and the producer Katy Jones would like you to go and meet Joe and his family THIS very afternoon”.
I remember almost dropping the receiver. I remember the fear that struck. This young impressionable 23 year old actor had to grow the f*ck up and fast.
I had had the advantage of playing a character that actually existed before, when I portrayed The Original Beatles drummer Pete Best in the bio-movie BACKBEAT. But this was very different. Although I had met and befriended Pete Best during post production, the producers of Backbeat were never keen for us to meet before the shoot. Hillsborough was different, the very opposite in fact. I was encouraged – ‘instructed’ even – to throw myself headlong into Joe Glover’s World.
Make no mistake, as a 23-year-old actor; this was a job that would really test my mettle. These people deserved a voice; Jimmy McGovern, Katy Jones, Nicola Shindler, Charles McDougall and Granada had given them that voice. It was our job as actors to make that voice as clear as it could be.
I borrowed my parents’ car and drove to the address that I’d been given. All the way my nerves were shot, negated by a sense of pride and great responsibility.
I was greeted at the door by John and Theresa Glover and invited in to their welcoming home. I remember an old-fashioned two-tiered cake tray filled with fresh cream cakes and a proper cup of tea in the finest china cups. I remember there being no sign of Joe. (Although we did meet several times in the course of my research, Joe was still struggling and unable to meet me at that point). But most of all I remember a feeling of gratitude on both our parts, mixed with a cautious curiosity from theirs, an air filled with an unspoken desire and NEED for trust. A virtue that had been reduced to cynicism seven years earlier by the evil lies and smear campaign conducted by The Sun Newspaper under the editorship of Kelvin MacKenzie.
I spoke with The Glovers about that day, April 15th 1989. From morning until night. How it had started so well and ended to badly. John struggled to get through his recollections, but his courage carried him through as he told me of that moment when he finally arrived in Sheffield to identify his son Ian’s body.
“The Police had taken Polaroid photographs of all of the dead, numbered each of them and pinned them to a board for us to look at”, he told me.
“I looked and looked but couldn’t see my lad. One dozen faces, two dozen faces, three dozen faces… and still no sign of Ian… but then there he was… on the Polaroid photograph numbered 37”.
Think what you like, but at that very moment I felt I had been chosen for the job. Not by a production team or director, but by something or someone altogether different… and my God I was proud!
This piece comes with the Blessing of John and Theresa Glover who I thank and admire continuously for their strength and courage. JUSTICE FOR THE 96.
This Saturday sees a demonstration against The Sun newspaper at The Liverpool v Sunderland game at Anfield. DONʼT BUY THE SUN.