Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hillsborough: the truth at last

Hours after David Cameron’s apology in the House of Commons I’m still shaking.

But that’s what 23-year-long battle for justice does  to you.  

When I stepped onto the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989, I was just like any other 17 year old from Merseyside: a supporter of one of our city’s great football teams, obsessed with the game and the culture that surrounded it. When I came home to Liverpool that evening, that version of me was gone for good.

If you went to football games in the 1980s, getting caught in a crush was part of the matchday experience, both in and outside grounds. We fans were treated like cattle – prodded, shouted at, put in our place by the police and football authorities, who like large sections of polite society, hated us. We expected nothing else.

Twelve months before in the corresponding fixture, it had been so congested in pens three and four of the Leppings Lane terrace that I’d been taken out, breathless, panicked but alive.
So when, a year later, Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest once more in the FA Cup semi-final, I chose not to go down that sloping tunnel into the central pens, but to an unmarked entrance on the right. This would save my life.

The whole country now knows what we’ve been fighting for since. From the orchestrated – and now proven – cover-up by South Yorkshire Police to the disgusting lies printed by The Sun, the establishment sought to shift the blame for their ineptitude onto us. And their efforts worked.

Over the years people have talked about Liverpool as a “self-pity city”, while visiting supporters sang “You killed your own fans” when they came to Anfield, seemingly unaware that Hillsborough could have happened to them. No wonder we felt increasingly estranged from the rest of the country. “Scouse not English” became our motto.

What hurt most was that we knew we were right, that those 96 people had died because of the disastrous mismanagement overseen by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, a man so overwhelmed by what he’d unleashed that he was briefing against fans within hours. A fool, a liar and a coward.

The supporters who’d saved countless lives by dragging people from the crush while the police watched on were castigated for "being drunk" or "arriving late". Can you imagine how different the reaction would have been if something of the magnitude of Hillsborough had happened to spectators at Twickenham or Wimbledon?

Today, the injustice that’s hung over us since April 1989 has been banished. The strength and fighting spirit of the Hillsborough families has been nothing short of inspirational; dignified but unbowed in the face of extreme provocation, unbending in their determination to get to the truth. Now they have it.

I’m still shaking.