My latest article in New Europe relives my memory of that fateful match at Hillsborough in 1989.
In the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Findings, Nikki Sinclaire MEP relives her memory of that match.
Hillsborough came at the end of a decade when I was introduced to football; its passions, its delights and its tragedies.
I remember vividly a match I attended in 1984. I went with friends to watch Everton vs Southampton in the FA Cup semi-final, where Adrian Heath scored an injury time winner. A crowd soon amassed on the pitch to celebrate the fact that Everton had reached their first final in 16 years. The image that has always stuck with me is a woman who was celebrating on the pitch, and the police officer who hit her across a head with a baton for doing so.
This was an era where football fans were routinely penned in, herded like cattle and treated with utter contempt.
Fast forward. As a Kop season ticket holder, I followed Liverpool football club around the country. It is now 1989, Liverpool vs Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium. Heysel was still fresh in all football fans minds, where 39 fans died and 600 were injured in the stadium disaster.
I was seated in the Main Stand as the Leppings Lane stand had sold out. As the match kicked off, everything seemed normal. The first sense that I got that something was wrong was when it appeared that police were using the batons those who were attempting to climb over.
Whereas in today’s world we have twitter where we can follow minute by minute updates of what is happening in stadia across the world. I simply had to assume that something was very wrong, but information was not forthcoming.
The match was stopped and we stood in the stands for around an hour, until everyone was told to leave. People queued for payphones, desperate to ring home and tell their parents and loved ones they were ok, whilst trying to ascertain what had and was continuing to happen inside the radio.
“63 dead” was what I remember hearing on the radio at first. I was in a daze, as news started to filter in and you started to make sense of the tragedy that had unfolded in that stand. I then did not know what to do.
I was living in Kent at the time, and made the decision to go home. The actions of that day still hadn’t sunk in.
Upon waking up the next morning, my Dad began showing me the Sunday paper which filled in some of the blanks in my mind. My mother told me I was never going to a game again. The only word that can describe that day is surreal.
I made my way back to Liverpool on the Tuesday, and Anfield had become a carpet of floral tributes and scarves. Grief had cut deep in Liverpool, and it was a City which was united in grief for those who were lost.
Then followed the media coverage. The Sun. The Lies.
Even though I wasn’t situated in the Leppings Lane stand that day, I just knew that there was something wrong about the information that was being reported.
Legal injustices followed. Lord Taylors interim report laid sole blame with the police, but documents were hidden and have only just come to light. The full report did not go far enough. The inquest was a travesty, with an arbitrary cut off line of 3.15pm which prevented the truth emerging. This was not an accidental death; this was an unlawful killing which should have been followed by criminal charges.
For 23 years, Liverpool fans have called for justice for the 96. The biggest selling newspaper was and still is boycotted for printing lies about what went on inside that ground.
Post Hillsborough, football is a very different game. Stadium safety standards are stringently enforced. No Premier League club has standing terraces, and certain levels of policing have to be met before matches can go ahead. Football has attempted to give itself a rebrand as a family game.
We must take the findings of the Hillsborough Independent panel to the highest level. It is frightening that the state can cover up such an injustice.
I call for the full prosecution of anyone found to have covered up vital evidence in this torrid tale, no matter how high these prosecutions must go.
Forever in our hearts. Justice for the 96.
You’ll never walk alone.