One of the strangest features of growing older is the perception of time. It only seems like last week that I was taking my toddler to Tower Woods playground to play on the swings, slide and the monkey bars. That toddler is, in fact, about to take her GCSEs and cannot remember our adventures.
And so it is with Hillsborough. I remember every detail I watched on television as if it were last night, even though it was 1989. I was living in Liverpool at the time and was disappointed that I was unable to go to the football match to cheer on my home team. I had been to Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground, Hillsborough Stadium, the year before for a cup game and remembered that it was a pleasant and hilly place. Hence the name, I supposed.
The F.A. cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was to be televised live. There was a tremendous build-up with experts and former players expressing their views. It was looking like it was going to be a great day.
Like many people, I was not really sure what was going on. There were reports that some the fans who had travelled from Liverpool were delayed. Then there were people on the pitch. I left the room to get a drink. ‘Why do people have to spoil things?’ I sat down again, feeling a little frustrated that the game had been stopped after only six minutes.
It dawned on me as well as the television commentators that this was not a case of hooliganism. What we were witnessing was horrific. Hundreds of people were crushed. Some of these died.
In the years that followed we learned that the deaths of the ninety-six victims, one of whom was a relative of mine, had been victims of more than their injuries. The initial findings from the Chief Superintendent of the police said that the (mostly young) people had died because they had ‘rushed’ the gate. This has been proven to be untrue. Later reports have shown a great cover-up and falsification of reports. There were ‘multiple failures’ by emergency services and other public bodies, which contributed to the death toll. The Independent Panel in 2012 concluded that forty-one of the ninety-six fatalities could have been saved if they had received prompt medical attention.
The legacy is that standing at football grounds has been abolished in favour of all-seated stadia.The Sun newspaper has lost sales over the last twenty-five years in Liverpool due to a report that blamed Liverpool fans for the incident as well as committing some unspeakable acts. The boycott still exists. Above all, a great miscarriage of justice has been recognised and has proved that the families of the victims were right all along.
For me, Hillsborough is part of my own history. It has shown me how a city can unite in grief, in strength, in faith. Everyone in Liverpool has been touched by the tragedy in some way. Although I live a few hundred miles away now, I am part of that. It will always feel as if it happened yesterday.