On the 15th of April 1989, I stood at the terraces of Celtic Park as Rangers played St Johnstone in a Scottish Cup Semi Final. As news started coming through the radio of what was happening at Hillsborough, many of us stood in silence, helpless as the Liverpool support faced the kind of horror our support had in 1971.
At the time, we had no knowledge of the circumstances, and many will recall on that day, there was a small crush amongst our own support as some of the crowds entered the stadium. Fortunately it passed without serious incident.
It may sound silly to say it now, but many football stadiums as recently as 20 years ago were not fit for purpose.
Some football fans, looking through hazy eyes recollect the good times in these stadiums, the feeling of unity, the shared sense of purpose, and atmosphere, and so on, but it was always tempered with a huge risk, and many of us too young to remember the Ibrox Disaster can probably remember near misses while on the terraces right up until all-seater stadiums became law.
With that risk an ever present, and there already being precedent for such events at football stadiums, the responsibility for managing events and crowds fell to the relevant police force, to the Government, and to clubs.
It seems bizarre now to look back and see fans fenced in to Stadiums as they were back in the 1980s, and the consequences of that at Hillsborough with the horror of fans being squashed to death. It was heartbreaking then, and it’s heartbreaking now.
When “news” reports emerged in the Sun blaming the Liverpool fans, before families had even had funerals, the families had every right to be outraged, and the conduct of certain police officials in the aftermath, and then over the next 27 years was and is nothing short of disgraceful.
The courage and tenacity shown by the families of the victims in this long fight has been nothing short of remarkable, and they should be an example to us all, that authorities should not be allowed to absolve themselves of responsibility for deaths on their watch.
Let’s be clear, everyone makes mistakes, and some mistakes are more deadly than others, but covering up mistakes, and blaming others is unacceptable from those in positions of authority and trust.
I have no doubts that some officers at the scene in Hillsborough will have been dedicated professionals who will have saved lives as the situation escalated, and they do not deserve to be lumped in with the senior officers and officials who engaged in a smear campaign against both the victims and the wider Liverpool support.
That said, this cannot end here, and I believe that now the fight has been vindicated in court, that those responsible for the deaths, and those went to great lengths to cover up the day’s decisions and events should be pursued until they are punished by the courts.
I should re-iterate that mistakes can be made, and should not be punishable, but deliberate deception over 96 deaths should result in a custodial sentence.
I for one wish the families of the victims every success in this pursuit, and hope that authorities across the UK will take their own lessons that football fans should be treated with respect and that we are not animals.
Similarly, I also wish that football fans across this great country of ours learn from the Liverpool support these qualities of resilience, dignity and tenacity that have brought them to their day of truth.
It’s easy to be blasé about (most) football grounds now being seated and safe, but there are still football grounds that don’t fall in to this category, and still football grounds where the approaches involve a degree of channelling fans through bottlenecks to enter the stadiums, so we should all hope that we can trust Police forces to act in the interests of the supporters above everything else, and be prepared to be accountable to those fans.
With Hands across the border.