ANDREW DEVINE has never spoken about what happened to him on a sunny spring day 23 years ago. He has never spoken about anything since.
He was 22 when he went to a football match, an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. For the first half of his life he was a normal, happy, healthy person. He has now been in a vegetative state for more than half a lifetime after being deprived of oxygen in the crush on the Leppings Lane End.
No one could ever say that the 96 people who died as a direct result of the events of April 15, 1989, were lucky. Yet it seems the cruellest use of language to term Devine a “survivor”.
On Wednesday, when the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) releases what should be a definitive and incontrovertible report into the disaster and its aftermath, it is unlikely that Devine, who is cared for by his loving family, who feed him puréed food, will be aware.
The panel’s conclusions will reiterate what the Taylor Report told us about the causes of the disaster. There will be more eye-opening information, though. Much more.
After 20 months of studying nearly half a million documents, the HIP will detail the full extent of the police cover-up in the hours, days and weeks after the tragedy and highlight how political interference from the highest level affected the reporting and perception of Hillsborough. The breathtaking range of the cover-up will demand further investigation and possibly a full public inquiry.
Evidence was tampered with and disappeared, junior police officers were bullied into changing their statements in an orchestrated campaign to blame the fans for the fatal crush and deflect criticism away from the South Yorkshire Police.
Finally, we may be coming close to getting the truth, a phrase distorted by Kelvin MacKenzie’s despicable headline in The Sun above a story that accused Liverpool supporters of robbing the dead, urinating on the police and making lewd sexual suggestions about a dead girl.
I was part of that crowd. I always ask those who believe the lies of 1989 the same questions. Would you do these things? No one has ever answered yes. And no one has ever been able to reply to the follow-up request: then tell me why you think I would commit these outrages.
What should have been a discourse about the worst breakdown of the emergency services in British history was sidetracked by accusations of hooliganism that many were all too ready to believe. Some still do.
This year, a significant number of Chelsea fans at Wembley disrupted a minute’s silence on the anniversary, chanting “Murderers” and “You killed your own fans”. Fans of other clubs, perhaps imagining themselves more subtle, sing: “If it wasn’t for the Scousers we could stand.”
The catastrophic failure of a police force that put thousands of men, women and children in jeopardy, killing 96 of them, becomes a weapon in the so-called “banter” of football. It’s reduced to a whinge that the terraces were taken from the game. It is depressing.
Not all supporters are so myopic and deluded. The support the Hillsborough campaigns have received from across the game is heart-warming. Many fans recognise the issues of public safety and the ability to trust a Government to dispense justice even-handedly.
Even the most unlikely figures have thrown their weight behind the quest for truth. In June, Eric Cantona climbed on stage and joined the Justice Tonight band and expressed his support for the campaign, recognising that this is a cause much too important to be obscured by tribalism.
On Wednesday we will see the first steps taken towards righting a 23-year-old wrong. After all these years, those who made disastrous mistakes and then lied about it may be forced to take responsibility. The real guilty men may have to admit they were culpable.
The relatives of the dead may finally find some closure. Yet no one can take pleasure in this. The truth should not have to be battled for so hard. And even if those who campaigned so doggedly should be applauded for their achievement, how can anyone be happy when Andrew Devine and his family go through hell every day?
A stain on football’s character may be removed on Wednesday, but no one can feel good about the trail of ugly events that led us to this point. There are no winners here.