I DIDN’T want to write about Hillsborough this week. I’ve found the right words in short supply. How can you ever do the 96 JUSTICE?
But, equally, how can you write about football during such a momentous, emotional week? Never have I felt the build up so low key to a big match for Liverpool but a Europa League semi-final was rightly mere detail.
Hillsborough has never been about football, just about people for whom football and Liverpool FC brought us together and binds us to this day. If anything, Hillsborough, beyond the victims themselves and the families and friends of those who died, is about a human struggle for the City of Liverpool and its people.
If I’m honest I’ve had tears in my eyes all week. I haven’t cried properly, but I probably should have done a few times. I’ve fought the tears back. Here’s the thing — I don’t, and never have, classed myself a survivor of Hillsborough.
I was there to witness the tragedy unfold before me; safe — if perplexed and helpless — in the North Stand, uninjured and spared the ordeal of the full horrors behind the goal. Survivors were the injured of Leppings Lane, the traumatised, and the stretcher-bearers — the heroes of Hillsborough.
For years, I’ve told myself I wasn’t badly affected by what I saw in Sheffield. I still insist on that today. And yet, the tears well up. Tears of relief, anger, lingering pain, but also now pride and validation. There was something joyous about Liverpool this Tuesday and Wednesday night; a stain removed perhaps, but sadness still pervades all of this.
This week’s news is all about the families and the real survivors of Hillsborough; the people whose lives were turned upside down by the events of April 15, 1989. Grief has never gone away for these people but they’ve had 27 years of insult, frustration and wrongdoing — every day since — to sustain their sense of loss. I was going to include hopelessness in that list, but that would be wrong. They always exuded hope, and faith, however cruel and exhausting that journey was over four decades.
Their suffering is unimaginable and why we can only ever guess at the depth of their pain and why I can only marvel at their refusal to buckle and keep fighting for 27 years.
The more you say it, the more it astounds. It hit home to me while I stood in the cold in front of St George’s Hall on Wednesday. Two things from that fateful week all those years ago always come flooding back; as vivid as can be. The brightness, the warmth, the noise, and then the numbing shock of Saturday, April 15.
And, a week later outside Anfield at 3.06pm, at the corner of the Anfield and Kemlyn Roads, where I stood to observe the first of many tributes in memory of those who had fallen. It was a dark, depressing, murky afternoon as rain fell for hours. A mournful silence was pierced only by the patter of raindrops falling on coats and thousands of bowed heads. Liverpool and Anfield was cast as the bleakest of Lowry-like Northern England scenes; the City at its lowest ebb.
The contrast couldn’t have been starker to the warm noon sunshine that gave way to the penetrating chill of that terrible Sheffield evening a week before.
It was all such a long time ago. I’ve matured and regressed from being a carefree 21]-year-old to a gnarled, middle-aged old cynic. I’ve done loads of nice things in that time; married and had children now old enough to understand Hillsborough for themselves.
I’ve been able to enjoy the relative trivia of watching Liverpool FC and bring my own kids to the match. Many of The 96 — the same generation as me — were robbed of those rights. But their mums and dads and brothers and sisters kept the flame burning for those restless souls — for 27 years. That is the definition of true love; one that transcends fucking football.
Justice of a kind might have been served this week, but we must always remember them. They can rest in peace but they are not coming back. That’s why we still cry, I think, and all of us wistfully sigh “it could have been me”. Guilt will forever be with us.
It’s OK to cry for ourselves, our friends who were there, too, and for our own families who have wiped away our tears and always tried to understand. When the news of the verdicts broke on Tuesday, I was at Leeds railway station. I thought of my sister, Gill, who was next to me at Hillsborough, and remembered her tears and felt her pain once again.
It’s OK, too, to cry for the somewhat restored reputation of our great City. Those of us who have lived or worked outside Liverpool will be familiar with the lazy, snide comments about Liverpudlians that have their root in the lies of Hillsborough, often coming from people we thought were friends. And yet it was us who squirmed and felt awkward. To rise to the bait would only conform to a bastard stereotype.
Forgive them for they know not what they do? No thanks.
The less said about an institutionally putrid South Yorkshire Police, a spiteful Thatcher Government complicit in the cover up and the pariah of the press which was the catalyst to an astounding web of lies and slander, the better. Shame on you. How do you sleep at night?
It is quite remarkable these crushed, ordinary folk from Liverpool and beyond stood up to the might of this rotten Establishment and won. This will go down in history, and if victory — if that is ever the right word in such appalling circumstance — creates a better, fairer, even just a kinder society, then the battle won by the Hillsborough families and the legacy of those who died in Sheffield will have lasting meaning.
The families’ years of suffering are etched on their faces and yet their smiles on St George’s Plateau on Wednesday evening radiated the real beauty of Truth and Justice. These are notions we glibly acknowledge and take for granted. God Bless the Hillsborough families, their triumph reminding us of the need to be true and just; to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Those responsible for Hillsborough will be held to account and rightly so. As the fierce, inspirational, and lest we forget, bereaved Margaret Aspinall said on the steps of St George’s Hall, those who caused so many sleepless nights through their neglect, lies and slander should now face their day of reckoning.
In the meantime, we will remind ourselves to always tell the truth, and in our lives always try to be fair and just.
And, we will walk on with hope in our hearts.
God Bless The 96. We Will Always Remember You.
- Hillsborough: Important Lessons Learned – And Not Just For Liverpool
- Hillsborough And Liverpool: The Generation Gap
- Hillsborough: Justice Must Be Followed By Accountability
- Hillsborough: The Verdict Isn’t About Football – It’s A National Disgrace