Wednesday, 15 April 2009

When you Walk Through the Storm – Memories of Hillsborough

April 15th 1989. I was 14. My best friend and next door neighbour, who was a Liverpool supporter, and I were playing football on a patch of grass at the end of our street – as we normally did on a Saturday. But it wasn’t any normal Saturday – it was FA Cup semi-final day. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield. Kick off at 3pm. This was back in the day before SKY TV, when very few games were screened live on the box. We had highlights in the evening instead. It was back in the day when the FA Cup Final was the last game of the season and the biggest game of the season – so the semis were important because you were just one step away from that showcase season climax. The final was always screened on the BBC and ITV and one of the big topics of discussion in the week before the final was which channel you were going to watch it on – The Saint and Greavsie were best for the build up on ITV but the BBC had better commentators.

We were playing “Headers and Volleys” – a game where you try to keep the ball from touching the floor. I remember Ste’s mom coming out to us just after three and telling us that something was going on at the Liverpool match. That it was on the telly now. We went into his house and watched in absolute horror as the events unfolded. It was my first experience of watching news happening live on the TV – and perhaps my most vivid memory of doing so until some twelve years later as I watched, again in stunned horror, as the twin towers crashed to the ground  in New York.

I’m not from Liverpool. I didn’t know anyone who’d been to the game. I didn’t know any of the ninety-six who lost their lives. But it makes the impact of that day on me no less significant. It was a day that shocked the football community to it’s very core – and not just in England either. It could have happened to any club, anywhere. It could have been me. Or my mates. I guess I’m lucky it wasn’t.

Ste had wanted to go to the game, but his dad couldn’t get tickets – I’m sure his mom was very, very pleased he couldn’t.

Some good did come of it. England now has the finest football stadia in the world as a result of the Taylor report that followed the tragedy. But I’m sure that’s of no comfort to the families of the people involved. Stephen Gerrard, current Liverpool captain, is the most high profile of those figures, having lost a cousin who was just ten at the time. It’s an event that still touches a raw nerve in Liverpool and with all decent-minded football supports in Britain.

The anniversary will be in my mind all day. There but for the grace of God and all that.

The flames on the outside of the club crest were added in honour of the 96 and today, at 3.06pm, the time at which the game was stopped and the scale of what was happening became clear, fans of Liverpool will gather at their home ground to pay tribute with a two minute silence. Although, the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, the club anthem, that the fans gave at their match with Blackburn this past weekend is probably a more fitting tribute.

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