Tag Archives: hillsborough

Hillsborough, 25 years on

"You'll Never Walk Alone", Shankly Gates, Anfield, Liverpool
“You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Shankly Gates, Anfield, Liverpool – photo by Andy Nugent, on Flickr

Writing about Hillsborough is difficult for me, but not for the reasons you might think.

I wasn’t there on 15th April 1989, I was in the car with my Mum in Norwich, returning home after a day’s shopping with the radio on when I heard what had happened. At the time I don’t think I had realised exactly how bad things were – I was only 16.

There are so many people who were directly affected by the tragedy – not only the families of the 96 men, women and children who died, but also the survivors who were there and witnessed the horrific events unfolding, who tried or were unable to help, and who subsequently saw their names dragged through the mud in the following days by a certain newspaper (still, shamefully, the best selling newspaper in this country). With their experiences, who am I to comment on something that did not affect me personally? Yet I still get upset reading about that awful day, and I’m only beginning to understand why.

There was certainly a perception of football fans at the time as no more than sub-human hooligans. And it’s true that travelling as an away supporter, to Liverpool or elsewhere, was an unpleasant experience for many – I’ve heard stories of people waiting at Lime Street station for fans in away team colours in order to deliberately target them for abuse or physical attacks. The image of scousers in general was also a negative one – growing up in Wigan, if we heard Liverpool accents we walked the other way, the prejudices of a generation being handed down to us children without being questioned. The actions of a minority who were responsible for the tragic events at the Heysel stadium in 1985 were also conflated to the extent that all English clubs were banned from European competition for years.

Of course all groups are stereotyped, and usually on the basis of the actions of a small but disproportionately vocal or visible minority. Liverpool, a city with high unemployment and two major football clubs, was an obvious target, and the way a major national newspaper even thought it could get away with its scandalous ‘The Truth’ front page was an indicator of just how mainstream, almost accepted, that stereotyping was.

JFT96 by Graham Walton, on Flickr

I now know, of course, having travelled to Liverpool myself as a supporter, and having met many people older than I who have been travelling to Anfield since they were children, that this stereotype just does not apply to the vast majority of fans. Even outside the football grounds, the people of Liverpool are ridiculously friendly, not suspicious of someone with a camera and tripod like in London, always chatting to strangers like they’ve known them all their life, much like most towns and cities in the North of England. And knowing that 96 of these wonderful people, whose only wish was to see their team play an FA Cup semifinal, were seen as somehow unworthy of the respect usually reserved for the dead, is still only part of why I feel so upset when I read about what happened on that day and afterwards.

No, the one thing that transforms a person’s capacity for empathy is becoming a parent. My son is now 15, the same age as many of those who were at Hillsborough. The thought of him being taken away so indiscriminately, by something that people had been warning could happen for years, and yet still was not prevented, is heart-wrenching. I can’t possibly imagine what it’s been like for the families of the 96 who have had to wait 25 years to find out why their loved ones were let down so shamefully. I can only hope that they finally get what they have been so desperately searching for all this time.

  • John Alfred Anderson (62)
  • Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
  • James Gary Aspinall (18)
  • Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
  • Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
  • Simon Bell (17)
  • Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
  • David John Benson (22)
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Rest in Peace