By Amy Lawrence
WALKING up Wembley way, en route to an FA Cup semi-final in an all-seater stadium for an all-ticket match, it was impossible not to take a moment to look back.
What have you done in the last 25 years?
I left school, got a degree, landed a series of mundane jobs before stumbling into a unexpectedly wonderful career. I learned to drive, was thrilled with my first vehicle, a vauxhall astra van in which I could play cassettes as loud as they would go. Vinyl went by the wayside and along came CDs. Videos got packed into dusty boxes and along came DVDs. I bought an iPod. I stopped the need to queue at phone boxes with a handful of 20ps and got a mobile phone. I stopped posting letters and started sending emails. I forgot about that wait for your camera films to be developed to see if pictures were any good as each image could be instantly deleted.
I watched incredulous on television as the Berlin Wall fell and Nelson Mandela was released out of prison. In time I travelled to East Germany and South Africa. I silently got on an aeroplane the night of 9/11 on the way back from a match in Spain. I saw the Iraq war break out on live 24-hour rolling news.
I watched my team win the title. I took the train and hovercraft to Italy for the World Cup in 1990. The next one, in the USA, was breaking new ground in taking the tournament to an emerging football nation. Since then the greatest show on earth went to France, Japan and South Korea, a united Germany, a South Africa unshackled from apartheid. Next we look ahead to Brazil, then Russia, and beyond that a strange and controversial winter World Cup in Qatar with the prospect of air conditioned stadia.
Years ago I was forcibly removed by the police from a football terrace for the last time. I observed the football experience change, change, change. All seater-stadia, ticket prices rocketing, an influx of foreign players, overseas managers, broadening horizons, fresh ideas, rebrands all over the place – Division One morphed into the Premier League, the European Cup became the Champions League, where you didn’t even have to be a champion to take part. I have the chance to watch a dazzling Argentinan or phenomenal Portuguese every week from my sofa at home. I can debate with strangers from anywhere in the world in bite-sized 140 character immediate messages.
I have met countless people, taken countless journeys, written countless words. I have made friends, some who have stuck around all this time, others who were like ships that passed in the night. I have loved. I became a mother, and I watch my sons grow in a state of constant awe and gratitude. I made a home for my family.
On FA Cup semi-final weekend 25 years ago I went to football. I stood on a terrace. I heard through the Chinese whispers rolling through the crowd that there was trouble at Hillsborough. People dead. The number kept growing. It was too catastrophic to bear.
The Hicks sisters, Sarah and Vicky, died together. Teenaged girls who adored their football, just like me, in 1989. At the inquest last week the detail emerged that Vicky wanted to be a football journalist and wrote Liverpool match reports in secret. What might they have made of their lives over the last 25 years? What experiences might they have had? What people might they have met? What lucky ones might they have loved? What everyday conversations and occasions might they have shared with their parents, their extended family, their friends? What children they might have parented themselves?
The thought extends, embraces, painfully, to all the 96. What might they have done, been and enjoyed about 25 years of life?
They only went, excitedly, to an FA Cup semi-final. Justice for the 96 is so desperately overdue.