I’ve supported Liverpool pretty much all my life and I have contemplated for a long while writing something about Hillsborough, never really being able to decide how or what to write about.
To write something personal is perhaps the most difficult thing but not as difficult as it is for most people who really have a connection to the events of Saturday, April 15 1989.
Let me be clear from the outset that I should have no emotional involvement or attachment to the disaster. I did not know anyone killed at Hillsborough. I do not know personally anyone who survived. I’ve met hundreds of Liverpool fans down the years so chances are I’ve probably met a few surivors or people who were close to those that died. I’ve probably even sat next to them or near them at Anfield. But I’ve never sat down and had a conversation with them about that day.
A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to do my final year dissertation on the effect media coverage had on the victims and families connected to the Hillsborough disaster and whether it impacted on their subsequent legal battles that continue to this day.
As I had to write a proposal for it I did a fair amount of research, read lots of articles, saw lots of pictures, read extracts from the Taylor report, watched YouTube videos of the news coverage that day and then I watched Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Hillsborough’. For a few days afterwards I couldn’t sleep properly.
I thought about it loads. I became emotionally involved in it. I couldn’t help it but it bothered me and I wondered, why? Having thought about it part of my reasoning is that I love Liverpool Football Club and I love the city of Liverpool. Perhaps it impacted on me the way it did because it is the defining moment in the history of the football club I hold so close to my heart and it is perhaps one of the saddest and most tragic moments in the history of this city.
Thinking about Hillsborough makes me sad and it makes me angry, it always has. But in the midst of intense dissertation research and on the eve of the 20th anniversary with media coverage considerably heightened this year, wrongly or rightly, these feelings are intensified.
My anger stems from the denial of justice, the very obvious denial of justice and the continued ignorance of people worldwide to the causes of the disaster fuelled by the media coverage on that day and the media coverage to this day.
In recent years the article in FHM, the comments of now London Mayor Boris Johnson and countless other small, less publicised examples have shown how many continue to misinterpret, misunderstand, and misrepresent the facts of Hillsborough to the enormous pain and suffering of victims and their families who live every day with the horrors of Hillsborough. Some without the presence of a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a brother, or a sister or with the memories of the crush seared into their brain. Their suffering is unimaginable, incomprehensible.
But who looks out for their interests? No one. The establishment has systematically failed them. It was as if the Taylor report meant nothing except to sanitise football. It did, it changed the game, undoubtedly for the better but the 96 lives it took to instigate the changes were seemingly worthless when it came to holding to account those at fault. In other words, 96 people died, hundreds were injured, thousands were effected but no one really cared about them as long as football got better.
When I asked my dad about Hillsborough the other day the most telling thing he said to me was: “It was as though the lives of football supporters didn’t matter as much as other peoples’ lives.” I don’t think he could have been more accurate. It is why the police acted the way they did on the day of Hillsborough and it is why, in the aftermath, as my dad continued “The Sun story found such a receptive audience.” and thus why the fight for justice goes on to this very day because too many people didn’t understand and didn’t care and still don’t.
South Yorkshire Police continue to deny a systematic cover up when all the evidence says otherwise and even a government minister, a person of authority who is sadly very much in the minority, has labeled it “a black propaganda campaign“. That’s what it is. It was then, when police briefed the media and altered their junior officers’ statements to hide their own culpability, and it is now when they continue to deny that they tried to cover it up.
On April 15 1989, South Yorkshire Police committed their greatest crime in failing to carry out their duties properly and save peoples lives. But their second greatest crime is one that they continue to perpetrate to this very day and that is to deny the cover up that has done unquantifiable harm to the victims and their families.
On this the 20th anniversary of the disaster let us not just remember but let us make known to everyone the full extent of the anger, pain and injustice still felt in the hope that something can be done about it. We, and I’m not just referring to football supporters but to all human beings, owe that to the 96.