I was a little kid in 1989. Smaller than some of the ones I now teach, a bit of a geek, perhaps too fond of my Kate Bush cassettes, spending school holidays watching Star Wars on video over and over again with my brother until we could recite whole chunks off by heart and knowing that Liverpool Football Club would always be the best in the world.
I hadn’t been to Anfield yet but thrillingly, my Dad had taken my brother to Wembley the year before. And although that trip had literally ended in tears, I was promised that this year if we got into the FA Cup Final, it would be my turn. I couldn’t wait.
Of course, it wasn’t to be.
I never imagined that 22 years later we would still need to be writing about what happened on 15 April 1989 in any other terms than as a memorial to those who died and to mark the date’s passing. I couldn’t have known that the families of the 96 victims killed in the Hillsborough Disaster would still be searching for answers to crucial questions about what happened to their relatives, without which I am sure they can have no hope of finding peace.
I don’t like to use the word justice. I prefer to say that we want the full truth, and accountability. Even now, it would make a difference, alleviate some of the hurt and betrayal we have suffered for 20 years
Margaret Aspinall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, quoted in the Guardian in 2009. Her 18 year-old son James died in the disaster
The scars caused by the events of 22 years ago are still raw and need attention if they are ever to heal. Liverpool fan Mike Bracken wrote of his feelings of guilt and remorse at what he witnessed, in the Guardian’s extensive reports to mark the twentieth anniversary:
The terrible images of dying fans being lifted over the fences on to the pitch are now well known – but at the back of those crowded pens, away from the cameras, I witnessed more horrors. Behind the West Stand, bodies were laid out behind and to the right of the tunnel. The injured lay with the dead. Unable to administer help or determine the extent of injuries, I panicked and vainly tried to attract help
He writes of the difficulties of coming to terms with the guilt of surviving when so many others didn’t, a common factor in post-traumatic stress disorder. A number of suicides have been reported among those who witnessed the disaster, including one of a Nottingham Forest fan watching from the opposite end of the ground. Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign notes:
Any feelings of relief at escaping the carnage of Hillsborough were very quickly replaced by feelings of guilt. In many cases, this guilt led to people suppressing the feelings they were experiencing – almost as if they had no right to label themselves victims
22 years later I still hear from fans of other clubs and people who should know better, that these fans indeed have little right to use that word. They tell me that it was our fault, that we were hooligans, that we were drunk and fighting, and they refuse to listen to the facts. The newspapers reported it that way, they tell me, so there must be some truth to the stories, there’s no smoke without fire.
And that is why Hillsborough still matters, as Liverpool musician Pete Wylie said in an interview with the NME. Read the interview and then take a look at the comments below, where these same old accusations get thrown at us again. That is why we can’t rest until we have Justice for the 96, until their names are completely cleared. Until any taint of suspicion is removed from them, until it is acknowledged that the only ‘crime’ committed was one we have all been guilty of, that of attending a sporting event and putting our trust in the authorities to keep us safe and bring us home again.
Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool manager then and now, says that the release of new evidence may finally give the families justice. I hope that he is right and that their campaign doesn’t have to mark too many more anniversaries.