Belfast Telegraph

Hillsborough, my 11th birthday and the end of childhood

By Claire Harrison

I'm not a Liverpool fan. In fact, I'm not a football fan. I've never been to a match. I don't even like the game or much to do with it. Yet around this time of year, Liverpool Football Club and the Hillsborough disaster are always firmly in my mind.

April 15 is one day of the year when I feel a strange link to the club. It's a link that doesn't actually exist, it's only in my mind but it has yet to fade, even 25 years on.

April 15, 1989, was a day of great excitement in my life.

It was my 11th birthday and I was having a fancy dress party at home to mark the occasion. My friends and cousins were invited.

The party games were organised, the balloons were being blown up and the cake was on standby.

Two of my cousins, a couple of years younger than me, were LFC fanatics and came to the party dressed as Home and Away. One of them was dressed in Liverpool's distinctive red home kit, with the word Candy emblazoned across the front, while his brother wore his silvery-grey away top.

It was a clever choice, given that their team was playing Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final that day.

As 3pm came around, the two of them drifted in to their family pub next door to watch the match. I remember feeling a bit miffed that they'd rather be watching football – and a bit pleased when they reappeared a short time later saying the match had been abandoned. I have a memory of an adult coming into the room and saying there had been a pitch invasion.

Throughout the afternoon further despatches were delivered and it soon became clear that something truly terrible was unfolding on the terraces of Hillsborough. The party petered out, with everyone, not least my Liverpool-mad cousins, taking a keen interest in what eventually turned into a death toll which climbed higher and higher as that spring Saturday wore on. As confusion reigned in the days after the disaster over who was to blame, I remember feeling haunted by pictures in the newspapers of fans being crushed against the barriers. I shouldn't have looked at them but I did.

Ten days after the Hillsborough disaster, my grandmother died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was the third bereavement to hit my father's family in six months. In hindsight, those six months were a kind of watershed between my childhood years and a later youth when life got serious. Before that, grief and bereavement were feelings I knew nothing about. Now there seemed no end.

Hillsborough had no direct bearing on my life in any way. I was too young to understand its enormity. I was simply among the millions who watched on in shock and horror as the fall out deepened.

Yet when I think back on April 1989, the tragedy that struck the families of 96 people feels inextricably and inexplicably jumbled up in my memories of the grief of my own. It's an association I have never been able to break.

Every year, on every birthday, I always think back to that sad Saturday afternoon and what happened to strangers in a city hundreds of miles away.

You don't need to be a Liverpool fan to understand the pain of a mother who waved her son off to watch a football match, only to have him brought home in a coffin.

You don't need to be a football fan to admire the determination of 96 families who outright refuse to give up their quest for truth and justice – no matter how many years it may take.

You don't need to think much of football to appreciate that when Liverpool's legion of fans say they will never forget, they mean it.

And I will also never forget.

Peppa Pig creates a sticky situation

Being the parent of a three-year-old is endlessly unpredictable – and downright embarrassing at times. My daughter Katie is going through a phase of sticking stickers to anything she can get her hands on.

She has 'redecorated' our furniture, doors and walls. Then there was the day one of my colleagues helpfully peeled a Peppa Pig sticker off my back.

But she saved her best work for this week when my husband came home to discover he had been at a meeting with a government minister and an important client with a large sticker saying 'KATIE' stuck to his bottom. If anyone noticed, they were very kind and didn't say.

Kim cut is only a fringe interest

This week's Sense of Humour By-Pass Award goes to the North Korean officials who descended on a London hair salon which dared to poke fun at Kim Jong-un's dodgy do.

The M&M Hair Academy came up with an inspired poster featuring the words 'Having a bad hair day?' across a picture of the leader's severe curtains-style cut. Everyone saw the funny side – until some embassy officials turned up to complain.

Thankfully salon owner Mo Nabbach can't see the Kim Cut catching on in the UK, but he has detected one worrying trend.

"I think if you watch The Only Way Is Essex, about half of them have that haircut," he said.

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