Friday, 15 April 2011

You'll Never Walk Alone

They say a week is a long time in football. By that definition 22 years must be an eternity. However, some things go beyond the passage of time and cannot be allowed to fade into distant memory. The events at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989 may be literally a lifetime, or even more than a lifetime, ago to many football fans, but that is no reason to forget the tragedy that unfolded at what was meant to be a joyful occasion.

I am not a Liverpool fan. I wasn't at Hillsborough on the day the tragedy took place. To the best of my knowledge, nobody that I knew was at the game. Like many football fans up and down the country, however, I was watching Grandstand. As the seriousness of events unfolded, and images of crushed and injured fans were broadcast, I don't mind admitting that tears were running down my face. I wasn't there, but I could have been.

I could have been there because there could have been anywhere. In the 1980s nearly every football ground caged in the fans. Many grounds were extremely outdated in terms of access and safety. Any child who attended a game at that time will remember being surrounded by bigger, older fans pressed against them from all sides as they struggled to leave the stadium. Any father who took a child to a game will remember the battle to keep hold of a child's hand so as not to lose them in the swarm. Football fans in those days were not people. They were animals. We weren't really, but that is how we were viewed. Caged in, herded, pushed and controlled. We tolerated it because at least it seemed to work. It wasn't a pleasant experience but the people charged with protecting the public seemed to protect us 'animals' too, even if they had forgotten that we too were the public they were supposed to protect. We got to support our teams, win, lose or draw, and we got to go home afterwards in one piece to reflect on another episode of success or failure.

However, in April 1989, 96 fans did not return home. The attitude of treating fans like animals finally took its toll as the authorities lost the control that they were there to enforce. Make no mistake, no matter some of the vitriolic comments that followed - comments that sadly a minority of fans who are too young to remember the events are willing to pass on now in the name of banter or tribal loyalty - there is no question of where blame lies. The Taylor Report laid the blame clearly and totally at the hands of South Yorkshire police and the football authorities.

Football learned its lesson. Fencing was removed and stadia were redesigned. The experience of attending a football match is very different now than it was in the 1980s. Now we sit in comfort and safety. Access to grounds is generally improved and the threat of a repeat tragedy is greatly diminished. The football authorities accepted their mistakes and by and large corrected them.

Football learned its lesson, but sadly it appears that the police did not. Not only have they failed to accept total responsibility, but nobody has ever been prosecuted for the negligent actions that lead to the tragedy. From the outside it looks like another whitewash as excuses are offered for what took place. The danger of not accepting responsibility is that mistakes get repeated.

The families of the 96 have never seen justice carried out for the death of their loved ones. It may be easy for some to pass off remembrance of the events as sentimentality, but that misses the bigger picture. It is not sentimental to seek justice. It is necessary for the good of our free society. The mistake of treating large sections of the community as animals based on the actions of a small minority may seem like a thing of the past, but what of the G20 summit protests and the student demonstrations. It is ironic that as the 22nd anniversary of Hillsborough is marked another enquiry is taking place to investigate a situation where police actions (may) have lead to the death of a member of the public - and actions that will lead to nobody being prosecuted once again.

Not only do the families of the 96 have every right to keep these events in the public memory, but society as a whole has a moral obligation to help them in doing so. We will never fathom their personal loss or pain. However, we all live with the consequences of a failure to seek justice. We have already seen an improvement in football grounds as a result of their loss. Let us not waste the opportunity to see an improvement in the way the authorities treat the public they are supposed to protect. Justice is essential.

The 96 football fans did not give their lives to see these improvements take place - their lives were cruelly and negligently taken from them. Let us at least let the families have the comfort of knowing that their loss lead to a better world for the ones left behind. I for one will never forget the loss of those fans and I believe that many others will always remember the events of that day.

The events could have happened anywhere to anybody, but they didn't. They happened to Liverpool fans at Hillsborough. We should all set aside tribal loyalties for one day and remember the loss suffered by a great football team from a great city. You truly will never walk alone!

1 comment:

  1. We finally have the truth that the police lied. Now bring on the justice.


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