In 1989, I was an 11-year-old kid who dreamed of growing up to be a professional footballer pulling on the Celtic and Scotland jerseys. I would go with my mates down to our local park and pretend to be our favourite player that week as we had possession of the ball. The commentary was for the most part in our heads, sometimes it escaped as we buried the ball into the back of the net to score a ‘worldlie’ in our eyes at least.
We were innocent then. We knew nothing of media bias, police corruption, cover-ups or witnessed the horrors that would unfold that fateful day at Hillsborough on April 15th 1989. It all sounded like a hollywood movie. But this was real life.
I had just come in from playing football with my mates when the report on ‘trouble’ at Hillsborough was starting to be broadcast by the BBC. In all honesty, I cannot remember much thereafter of the coverage and what was said other than watching the horrific scenes unfolding in front of my eyes – from the safety of my living room.
Looking back I guess I was far too naive to realise what was going on other than realising fans were hurt – I doubt it even registered that they were dying.
I would sit down for my dinner later that evening with my mum and sister safe in my house – a scene that so many affected by Hillsborough would not have the chance to experience with their loved ones ever again.
I missed much of the coverage on the disaster thereafter as I didn’t really bother with the newspapers or the news on the telly. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the fans who died, it was just that at 11-years-old I didn’t really have a care in the world and our lives were not really affected by what unfolded in Sheffield.
It took me seven years for the horrors of what happened that day to hit me – watching Jimmy McGovern’s movie Hillsborough led me to look more into what happened. The realisation that I had watched this live dawned on me and how the media had initially portrayed the fans as those responsible.
All of that is pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things – the real story is about those who died, those who lost loved ones and the people of Liverpool. They were told their loved ones were to blame, that fellow Liverpool fans were to blame, that they prevented rescuers getting to the scene and Liverpool as a city was handed that stigma.
However, Liverpool as a city united in the face of the disaster, Everton fans united with their rivals as they refused to listen to the police and the establishment’s version of events. They wanted answers and they weren’t getting them. Things just didn’t add up and shockingly it has taken 27 years for them to finally get some sense of closure.
Sadly some Hillsborough campaigners did not live long enough to sit in court today to listen to the inquiry’s verdict, they died with the cover-up still in full swing. A crime in itself.
It has taken 27 long years for the families to get to this stage, but it is not end of their suffering as they will continue to live with broken hearts and thoughts on what their loved ones would have done in the years since that game if they had lived.
As a father, I cannot imagine the pain the families had to go through, from watching the disaster unfold on TV to then be told their loved ones had died, to having to go through 27 years to finally hear the truth and for the real culprits to be named.
Those who campaigned for nearly 30 years have a strength that is second to none and just like the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough in April 1989, they should not be forgotten.
As Andy Burnham MP, following the jury’s verdict, said: “This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times. But, finally, it is over. After 27 long years, this is real justice for the 96, their families and all Liverpool supporters.
“The survivors of this tragedy can finally be remembered for what they were on that day – the heroes of Hillsborough who tried to help their fellow fans.”
Now it is time for the authorities to open up criminal proceedings against those responsible. Any other decision would be another travesty of justice and one that will forever stain our legal system.
To the families, to Liverpool fans and to the city of Liverpool on this momentous day – You’ll Never Walk Alone.