I’VE never written about Hillsborough before. I mean, I’ve made mention to it within broader pieces I’ve written, but I’ve never dedicated a specific article to the subject before.
Hillsborough is too complex, yet it is also too simple. Hillsborough provokes a wild range of responses, both positive and negative. I never felt I could put the adequate combination of words together to convey the effects of Hillsborough sufficiently enough.
Hillsborough is essentially a topic I chose to live with in private, rather than share. Yes, I was there and I saw things – just a shade or two short of my 15th birthday – that I’ve never been able to reconcile, and primarily for this reason I could always find an internal excuse why I would not write about it.
It’s always there though, bobbing around the mists of the mind, liable to emerge unannounced at any given time.
That is part of the problem. Where else can you put it, when it resides in your conscious and subconscious mind on a permanent basis?
An unseasonably hot and sunny day in spring can be unsettling. It took me years to figure out why a beautiful warm spring day would leave a metaphorical cloud following me around.
April 15, 1989 was a beautifully warm and sunny day.
I write this just a short few days before the 29th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. Thankfully, by-and-large, it still feels like winter is here.
I love the sunshine on my skin, just not right now, not at this time of the year. I well-up at the prospect.
Those screams, that panic, that helplessness, the souls who dropped down and never got back up again, the utter carnage of pens 3 and 4 in the Leppings Lane end, those sights, which can’t be shaken away. That sunshine. It’s all a nightmare.
People, children included in that number, don’t go to a football match to die.
I have a massive problem when people die in an environment where they have congregated for something which brings them joy.
It took a very long time for my mind to blink again when that bomb was detonated after the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. There have been too many incidents like that in recent years. It is numbing.
I’m largely desensitised to most things in life, I like to think I’m bullet proof to most things. If I’m sat at Anfield, or stood in any given away enclosure and the opposing fans trot out the “Always the Victim” rhetoric, then it leaves no imprint on me. It really doesn’t land any point scoring blows. The proponents of these barbs are mistaking me for someone who gives a shit about their opinion.
Hillsborough’s effect on me has left a contrary aspect.
Mild aesthetics can hit me for six, while a bludgeoning breeze block to the face from an uneducated knuckle dragger has no effect whatsoever.
I’m still angry and I always will be.
I am angry at a Conservative government that treated football supporters like they were a guerrilla army.
I am angry at South Yorkshire Police for their ineptitude at protecting the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and grandfathers who died within their remit of care, yet were chillingly adept at covering their failings and shifting the blame on to those who they shepherded into a fatal situation.
I am angry at a media circus that happily operated as a conduit for the South Yorkshire Police to project their altered version of events to an impressionable world.
I am angry at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club for that death trap of a terrace and a decaying stadium which didn’t have a valid safety certificate.
I am angry at the Football Association for turning a blind-eye to it all.
I am angry at a whole host of other not so innocent bystanders.
For years I was drawn to Anfield on the anniversary of the disaster for the annual memorial. I was awed by the strength and the dignity of those at the forefront of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and also the splinter sibling, which became the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. I also felt like an intruder or a voyeur as such.
I saw things, but these people lost the most precious things in their lives. They waved their children off to a game of football and the next time they got to see them was in a gymnasium at a football ground in Sheffield, which was being used as a makeshift morgue.
Imagine being the next of kin to a loved one. Imagine identifying the body of that loved one. Imagine then being interrogated as to how much alcohol that loved one will have been drinking before the game. Imagine that loved one being your child. Imagine then being told that the body of your child now belongs to South Yorkshire Police.
Where do you place your own pain when the upper scale is that pronounced?
They swept the debris and personal possessions from the terraces of Leppings Lane, they washed away the blood. They removed the twisted steel, they took down the fences and the dividing pens. They gave it a lick of paint and they bolted a few rows of seats down.
Just three years later, just three years, the Football Association allotted Sheffield Wednesday Football Club another FA Cup semi-final.
Norwich City faced Sunderland, where at the Leppings Lane end Norwich supporters created a blizzard of yellow and green balloons. The images jarred. Those advertising hoardings for Presto Engineering and Sugg Sports were still there. Those random business names have always marked the dividing line between life and death at Hillsborough for me. I was above that dividing line on April 15, 1989, a beautifully sunny and warm day.
Other big occasions were played out there not long after. Euro 96, the 1997 League Cup final replay, and a FA Cup semi-final replay between Chesterfield and Middlesbrough. Imagine watching those games on TV, knowing your son or daughter died there.
Sheffield Wednesday were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 1999/2000 season and they haven’t returned since.
The anger with Sheffield Wednesday doesn’t sit easily. Some very good people who performed some remarkable acts of kindness and generosity on April 15, 1989 are supporters of the club. When the directors of Sheffield Wednesday refused to put in place even a small memorial, a group of local business owners clubbed together to create one of their own. Incredible.
One lone voice, at the 2009 memorial at Anfield called on a clearly rattled Andy Burnham – at the time the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – for justice, on a day when many more thousands descended upon Anfield as was usually the case.
That one lone voice was added to, until it became a crescendo of noise.
Burnham, a son of the city of Liverpool, an Everton fan, nodded and he kept his word to do something about it.
A group of people, who all too often had been told to “let it go” moved the mountain. They kicked and punched until something was done. Reputation destroyers have had their own reputations destroyed instead.
There is no solace in that however.
Pride lives alongside the anger. The balance was always tilted toward anger, but pride now outweighs the anger. Pride in what the families of the victims achieved, after decades of doors being slammed in their faces, inclusive of tasteless quips from individuals in positions of immense power.
The doors were eventually kicked in, but it was still a shock to see David Cameron stood at the dispatch box in the House of Commons for his speech in response to the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, where he began an avalanche of apologies from the top, down.
So, here we are. A year before ‘the 30-year rule’ on the release of government documents was meant to kick in.
I am proud of a fight I took part in, in no more way than offering what support I could, in helping lay out the mosaics, in putting some coins in a box, in educating and trying to open closed minds whenever possible.
As a side-effect, an unexpected degree of peace has come from that.
MonkeysvsRobots’ emotive artwork is available on his print store here.