At six minutes past three almost twenty years ago I was sitting in the pub on Doncaster station with a ticket for the Lepping Lane End of Hillsborough for the FA Cup Semi Final in my bag containing my athletics gear. A failure to delivery a timely urine sample after competing in an Athletics meet that morning meant I was still some distance away from my second sporting venue of the day; that time as a mere spectator and not a competitor.
The television in the pub went to the game I was at that time missing. But focused not on the football but on the fans. This was an age before mobile phones so I had no idea how the friends I was meant to have met up with in that terrace were. They also had no idea that I still wasn’t in the stadium, or Sheffield for that matter. We’re weren’t to know about each other until many hours later when we all returned to London to carry on our studies; unlike many others we were lucky. I saw fans being carried from the terraces on advertising hoardings by their fellow fans.
The train came for Sheffield but I still didn’t move: there was no point.
This the nearest Saturday to that match day twenty years ago I have been watching the build up to the game against Blackburn live on Football Focus the memories of that day are very fresh just now. Seeing the headlines from that paper, I still dare not mention by name nor do I read (unless I accidentally follow a link to the online edition), brought back some raw emotions to me as a fan who wasn’t even in Liverpool at the time. But a feeling that in the various times I have stood (officially sat) with my fellow Liverpool fans across London and other stadiums is that we are family, that we lost 96 brothers and sisters as a result of 20 years ago.
Football has moved on a lot from that day twenty years ago. We now compete in top stadia in all seater venues. But being a Livingston fan I still get a kick out of occasional trips to venues where I can stand, East Stirlingshire or Ross County with Livingston, or watching junior football at Bathgate or Linlithgow or somewhere.
Having been someone who should have been there that day I appreciate all that Lord Taylor did in his report as far as making it safer to visit a big match. Although in the tough financial circumstances it has forced many clubs into the meet minimum criteria in entry into the SPL hasn’t all been good news for football as a whole, the prerequisite for safety is sometimes coming ahead of the need for sustainability.
But still there are things that are not settled in Liverpool fans' eyes from that day. The things that were and weren’t done by the emergency services, when what they thought was mere hooliganism became something far beyond that and far more tragic; but even with fresh realisation the slowness to act. The lies propagated as ‘The Truth’ by a red top that still doesn’t sell well on Merseyside.
This Saturday is the hardest Saturday I’ve had in 10 years. This Saturday I should be supporting another team whose name begins with the letters ‘LIV’ but I just can’t bring myself to go. There will be chants that will start up that have emanated from Anfield.
Tuesday on the eve of the day itself see’s Britain most successful team in European club competition take on Chelsea. This set on Champion League fixtures were arranged around the request of the club not to play on the anniversary itself something that hasn’t happened in any of the 20 years since.
For the 96 you'll never walk alone.
Thanks to Caron for hosting my laptop this afternoon to allow me to post.