The most senseless of tragedies: 96 football fans that travelled to Sheffield to watch their team but did not return home
It was 15th April 1989, the day before my seventh birthday and a gorgeous Spring day. The sun was beaming down and my street was filled with my neighbour’s children playing out with me on their bicycles. The age of innocence was high. I fell off my bike a couple of times onto the moist, warm grass of my front garden and I looked up at the bright blue sky, littered sporadically with cumulus clouds. My friend Kerry ran over, offering me a daisy chain for my calamitous fall. We laughed and giggled and continued our hazardous bike adventures up and down the street. It literally was a perfect day.
I noticed my brother, Simon, playing football with his friend not far away from us. He was nine years old at the time and obsessed with the sport, sharing a love for Manchester City. But he will watch any game at any time. I looked up to Simon, I still do. I see him as a role model and when I was younger I was heavily influenced by his interests and hobbies.
We had watched Grandstand that day, the old BBC Saturday sports programme and they reviewed the F.A. Cup semi-final, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that was taking place at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough. Simon always got excited about the F.A. Cup and the semi-final tie was the motivation for his kick-about, visualising being John Barnes and scoring the winning goal.
It was just minutes before kick off; mum was inside doing her ironing and I was skipping outside. My carefree moments were about to come to a sudden halt. Amongst the tranquillity outside, my mum’s panic-stricken shouting echoed around the street. She was urging us inside, pointing at the television, open-mouthed, her eyes frozen in terror.
I think with the beauty of hindsight she called us in because my dad was at work and she had nobody to share her shock with. Simon and I were only young and didn’t really know what was going on. But I can relay the images of a crowd almost swaying, a mass of people crammed into a stand with some of them attempting to either climb over the perimeter fence or up onto the next tier at the ground.
Unbeknown to me, what I was witnessing were the tragic events unfolding at Hillsborough. Simon sunk to his knees, glued to the television. This wasn’t football, this was people dying. People who had travelled from Liverpool to Sheffield to watch their team participate in a respected and traditional competition were being suffocated, their lives abruptly ended. I couldn’t understand why and how it was happening. I just recall thinking about the fences, the enormous crowd and the faces. The faces will haunt me forever.
John Motson’s voice delivered details of a helpline number set up for families of potential victims to call for further details. I was crying, sobbing uncontrollably. It was my first real memory of football, yet it didn’t involve a ball being kicked or a player sent off. It involved fans and trauma. The images on television were real and raw, they were happening live. Nobody could have forecast what happened that fateful day.
Since that day I have suffered from nightmares regularly. The images of that day, from the overcrowded Leppings Lane end have forever stuck in my mind and I pay my respects on every anniversary of Hillsborough to the 96 innocent lives that were lost in such an unnecessary manner. I went to Hillsborough for an away match with my own team, Manchester City, in 2002. Despite our 6-2 victory, all I could think about was that tragic April day. I went to the toilets at half-time and they were empty. I felt an eerie uncomfortable sensation in the darkened room and I hurried while washing my hands. The toilets were old and I was constantly thinking about just what happened above my head that Saturday, what sights the toilets could have seen during that despicable day. I was alone in the toilets yet I felt eyes on me. I was completely spooked and felt nauseous.
It may well be 21 years since the event but I will never forget Hillsborough. The families that the victims left behind face their own personal hell each and every day of their lives. It is so tragic, so baffling that such a loss of life could possibly occur at a football ground. It inexplicably affected me more than it should.
It may well be a cliche but we are all part of the football family; people whose lives are driven by the sport and we hurt when events like the tragedy in Sheffield occur. The victims were united behind their football team but should never have lost their lives supporting them. Events like Hillsborough, the Heysel disaster and the Bradford fire highlight the dangers that can occur at football, but are thankfully few and far between. Occasions like this are where Bill Shankly’s famous football/life quote proves to be vacant, meaningless, without substance. It's hard to believe that justice for the 96 fans who lost their lives still hasn't been achieved so many years later. It's about time the truth from the most horrendous of days was unmasked, for both the victims and the families who waved their loved ones goodbye and never got to welcome them home.