On the 15th of April 1989 I stood, packed like a sardine, on the North Bank at Highbury alongside my mates. I say stood, but as anyone of a certain age would know if they watched football matches from open terraces, you never really stood, you swayed gently back and forth, then violently so when a moment of excitement came around. I was just 15 years old and loved football and the atmosphere, but only now do I realise just how vulnerable I was.
If a goal went in the pressure of the crowd movement would carry you many meters away in a flash and there was nothing whatsoever you could do about it. I recall blokes holding young kids up in the air before their fathers would reclaim them from some distance away. Looking back, it was a very vulnerable time to be a football fan. Safety was clearly not the priority and who exactly was responsible anyway: the club, the police, local authorities, the government? Football fans were well and truly treated like second class citizens.
I recall that date so clearly because in South Yorkshire a disaster was unfolding that would change football stadia forever. Hillsborough. Without the social media and mobile phones we take for granted today news spread relatively slowly. I recall a small announcement over the tannoy at half-time that the Liverpool match had been called off after an 'incident', but as news of the disaster headed south, so did the rumours.
Somewhere in London, Kelvin MacKenzie, the then-Editor of the Sun, was sharpening his knife and his newspaper would dig it firmly in the heart of those who had suffered so badly. Sadly, he was not alone. From the outset, Liverpool fans were blamed for the disaster. But clearly those trying to cover the truth were wrong.
I recall a hideous full centre page spread in the Sun, similar to those they'd happily produce for Grand National Day or similar, a few days after the event showing a panoramic image of the crushed, dead bodies alongside those clinging desperately to their lives; faces as recognisable as if it was a picture of your own child on your own mantelpiece. Heartless Bastards!
Hang your head in shame, MacKenzie.
Today, thanks to the determined efforts of those who refused to give up the fight, 96 Liverpool fans who died as a result of Hillsborough finally have justice. The Hillsborough papers have finally been released and the truth is out there for all to read. It makes me feel sick to think so many could have been saved.
You'll Never Walk Alone!