April 15th 1989. I remember exactly where I was at around 3pm that day; what transpired at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield became that significant, in the same way Americans remember where they were when JFK was assassinated. It changed the landscape of football forever and left a profound, indelible scar upon British society the like of which should never be seen again.
Today, more than 27 years since the tragedy that claimed 96 lives unfolded, an inquest which has taken over two years to hear all the painstaking and often harrowing evidence finally gave it’s verdict into the causes of those unnecessary and unlawful deaths. For all the inevitable clamour for justice and repercussions to be meted out, it is to be hoped that, primarily, the verdict brings some kind of peace to the families and friends of those who went to what should have been a mere sporting occasion but never returned home.
The Hillsborough disaster, when put into historical context, was indicative of the relationship between supporters and the authorities. For anyone who was not around to experience it, 1989 was a very different time. Very different. The enmity between football supporters and police – and not forgetting the Thatcher government of the day – was palpable. You could feel it, smell it, see it, touch it. This hostility undoubtedly contributed not only to the gross mismanagement of the situation that led to 96 people dying, but also the subsequent deviousness in covering up the true facts about what went wrong and how the event has handled by the police and their paymasters.
But that, as I said earlier, should be for another day. Today is for the victims.
For 27 years, the loved ones of the 96 have campaigned tirelessly to uncover the truth. Some, like Anne Williams whose 15-year-old son Kevin died that day, never lived to see the day when an inquest was able to lay blame at the feet of those responsible for what happened during and after those horrific scenes at the Leppings Lane End. Hopefully, those that remain have what they deserve and it can go some way to soothing the grief that has sustained them in their long and arduous fight.
This year’s Hillsborough memorial at Anfield was the last, the families having decided that the time was right to scale back the commemorations. It was a brave decision.
Who’s to say when it is the correct moment to move on from such shattering, all consuming grief? Only those who have experienced it surely, and they have spoken, with the same dignity they have maintained throughout their struggle. Let’s all hope that they can now finally begin to rebuild their lives in the wake of today’s verdict.
As a consequence of the disaster, policing of football matches and conditions at stadiums have improved beyond all recognition, and for that, at least, we must be thankful.
And for those now facing further investigation, their time will come to answer for their actions and their malice of afterthought. Justice will prevail. At last.
MARK GODFREY – EDITOR