By Iain Macintosh
FOR 23 years, they fought for the truth. For 23 years, they were told to stop ‘wallowing’ in their grief.
Today, their tenacity, bravery and resolve was finally vindicated as the Prime Minister stood to deliver a profound and shocking apology for what we now KNOW was a widespread establishment cover-up and smear campaign. But he is not the only person who needs to apologise.
I need to apologise.
Many of us, non-Liverpool supporters need to apologise. We are guilty. Guilty because perhaps we didn’t listen properly to those families. Guilty because, if we did listen, we didn’t do enough to help them. A retweet here, a Facebook ‘like’ there. It wasn’t enough. This was a tragedy that could have affected any of us, and we let them fight alone.
There are no conspiracy theories now, there is only truth. In 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were killed in utterly avoidable circumstances at Hillsborough, the life crushed out of them as police officers, their chain of command compromised, stood and watched.
Dozens of ambulances were stationed outside. Only two of them got on the pitch. Of the 96 who perished, 59 could have been saved. And that was only the start. In the aftermath of the disaster, the police set to work on a vicious and inhuman program of misinformation, smearing the dead to cover their failings.
Indirectly, they fed a story to The Sun, the most widely read newspaper in the country, who repeated it as ‘The Truth’ alleging that the Liverpool supporters rifled the pockets of the dead and urinated on their corpses. Lies. All lies designed to dehumanise the people of Liverpool, to make them seem like animals. To make their slaughter acceptable. And they worked. For 23 years.
For 23 years, morons in football stadiums have chanted, “you killed your own fans,” every time Liverpool have come to town. For 23 years, the lies have been repeated in print by those who should know better.
The man who, bafflingly, many people want to see as our next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, vomited them out on the pages of The Spectator. And still the families fought on.
Writing now, in the immediate aftermath of the apology, it’s impossible to comprehend the implications of the day. There are simply too many people to be angry with, too many targets for our rage.
Perhaps while the dust settles and we wait for clarity, we should turn our first volley of fury on ourselves. This was a disaster that could have affected any club in the country. God willing, it will be the last time that football supporters die in a stadium. But if it isn’t, if something this terrible should ever happen again, let us hope that we have learned our lesson.
Let us hope that, next time, we don’t leave the families to fight alone.