The Liverpool FC Forum > Hillsborough Memorial Board

A crowd of precious individuals


Twenty-seven years ago. My goodness. I was just a naive teenager.

Dad was listening to the game on the radio. He called upstairs, to tell me "something's happened". But I shooed him away. I wanted to watch the game on Match of the Day later that night without knowing the score. How antiquated that time seems now, a bygone age.

Soon afterwards, he told me the game had been abandoned. I remember feeling rather disappointed. I
Hours later, on the evening news, the first hammerblow. I learnt that over 50 fans had died.
I remember the disbelief, the bewilderment. 50 dead? What? How?
It was only a football match.

By Monday over 90 were listed dead, and through the shock the slander started. I remember the newspaper headlines, the court of editorial opinion quickly convened, and their judgement was quickly delivered. Bloody hooligans! Ticketless chancers! They rushed the gates! The drunken scum!
I remembered Heysel, and the brutality of crowds; and to my eternal regret, my own sorrow was poisoned with shame.

A year later, whilst watching a television documentary, I learned what really happened.
How 95 people could die at a football match. Horribly, as it turns out.
And I wept.

The more I learned, the more I raged at the inhumanity of the police.
How they saw we football fans as a problem to be managed, not citizens to safeguard.
How they saw their fellow countrymen as a chaotic mob.
A rabble to be caged, rather than thousands of fragile, precious individuals.

Individually, we are so small. We trust the strong will protect the weak. We trust the law will give us justice.
But our system of justice was rotten. Granting impunity to the incompetent, whilst treating the victims with contempt.
A slander, an injustice, that has persisted for 27 years.

Five years ago, the Hillsborough Independent Commission began to tear down the veil of wretched, officially sanctioned lies, forcing those in power to finally begin to publicly acknowledge the truth.

The commission reported that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the South Yorkshire Police and emergency services made 'strenuous attempts' to deflect blame for the crush onto the victims. That the police took blood from every victim, including children, testing for the presence of alcohol in an attempt to 'impugn their reputations'. That despite an extensive search for cans and bottles of alcohol, very little could be found on the terraces. That 116 of 164 police statements were 'amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police'. When the prime minister announced this in parliament, the chamber collectively gasped.

Put simply, not only have hundreds of families suffered the loss of a loved one, but they've been victims of an institutionalised cover-up that has prolonged their agony and sought to explain away their loss. But cover-ups only happen when you've something to hide.

Remember those who died were not part of a reckless mob, they were ordinary folk just like you and me. And they walked unwittingly to their deaths. Yet those in authority decided their own reputations were worth far more than the truth, a truth that might help bring some closure to the grieving, a truth that one day, might save your life.

The truth matters because the truth keeps us safe.

Before Hillsborough, I'd experienced standing in heaving crowds, in shitty ramshackle football grounds, being lifted and carried off my feet by ominous waves of surging people. Looking back, those memories make me shiver.

Crush disasters don't happen because of drunken crowds, or ticketless fans trying to sneak in for free. They happen because crowds are poorly managed, when those in authority forget their fundamental duty of care, and start treating individuals like ball bearings, to be pushed down pipes. Hillsborough was not a freak accident, but a systemic one; around the world, disasters just like it continue to happen.

Brian Reade memorably wrote of the 96: "Never forget that for English football's bright tomorrow, they gave their todays".

Never forget the sacrifice of the 96; the lessons bought with their blood keep you safe when you join a throng of thousands on the way to match or a concert, or stand in a crowd 10-deep on a packed subterranean tube platform.

But at last, from today, the truth can finally be told: that on April 15th, 1989, a crowd of precious individuals gathered to watch a football match, that their custodians failed them utterly, and then besmirched and blamed them, and perpetuated a disgraceful lie that lasted for 27 years.

And understanding why is more than putting the record straight.
It's about the kind of society we all want to live in, one where the strong protect the weak, and there's truth and justice for all.

Because only the truth can heal. And only the truth can keep us safe.



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