I remember standing as a six-year-old, in the function room at Newburn Leisure Centre after watching my Dad play for his works side. The TV was on but where there was a match meant to be taking place, there were scenes of utter devastation. Of football fans just like me and Dad being carried away from the stands on advertising boards and mass panic all around. Quite a lot for a six-year-old to take in but they were scenes that were left imprinted on my brain, much the same as anyone else reading this who experienced the scenes of Hillsborough in one way or another.
I worked out yesterday that I have attended well over five hundred football matches in my life at all levels of the game, most notably at St James’ Park, Newcastle. I’ve attended four semi-finals, three in the FA Cup and one in the UEFA Cup. Hand on heart I can say that not once has it crossed my mind that I would go to the match and never return to see my friends and family. However the sad reality is that the ninety-six Liverpool fans killed at Hillsborough went to support their team, just as I have done week in week out but were never to return.
Being honest as a six-year-old, I didn’t understand what was going on and the aftermath would have just passed me by but with age comes knowledge and understanding and yesterday was a landmark in the fight for justice for those Liverpool fans who lost their lives. The report is clear in its findings, the authorities were to blame, the police were to blame, one national newspaper was wrong. However, the Liverpool fans, tarnished by the accusations of many for so long, were innocent of any wrong doing. An easy target for those at fault given the recent memories of Heysel and the “English Disease” that had stained the reputations of all match-going supporters across the country.
The report itself makes for distressing reading, something I found yesterday as I worked my way through it. Authorities, police and media all condemned for their actions and an overwhelming sense of how helpless those fans were that day. They placed their lives in the hands of people supposedly qualified and were let down at their own cost. However, if anything the shocking level of misconduct shown on the day has if anything been surpassed in the days, months and years that followed. Police abusing their power to point the finger at the innocent, one media outlet accusing decent fans of carrying out criminal acts on those who they stood alongside at Anfield week in, week out. As an aspiring journalist I appreciate every media outlet has a job to no matter how tough the subject matter is but I would hope that we never see this kind of journalism ever again and it’s not one I would ever hope to participate in. The Government played their part too in allowing a seriously blasé investigation to take place that only seemed to help back up incorrect theories and accusations. However, the most damning thing for me was that a fair number of fans could have survived after a 3.15pm cut off point, imposed by those in charge. Their lives frittered away seemingly without a care by the authorities.
I can’t put into words my admiration for the families of those ninety-six fans and the resolve they have shown since that day. A fight has been, and will continue to be fought, to seek justice for the loved ones they lost. They have been mocked, put down and accused of some shameful things that weaker people would have distracted them from their goal. As anniversaries of the disaster have passed, their determination to bring those responsible to account and find justice has never wavered. There will have been times of weakness but the mental strength shown by those involved in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and those who battled in their own private way, is something that they should be admired for by every single football fan across the country, no matter which team they support.
Yesterday was the first step on a road to justice for the ninety-six fans who lost their lives that fateful day, a chance of closure for their families and an easing, but not relief of the pain and suffering that they have had to deal with every day since. A chance for those in the wrong to be held accountable for their actions that resulted in innocent lives of genuine people being lost. Hillsborough left in an indelible imprint on the psyche of football fans across the country and yesterday began a long process that thanks to the commitment and resolve of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign will be seen through to the very end. However the sad fact remains that ninety-six lives were needlessly taken that day and no amount of charges or apologies will ever take that fact away.