Belfast Telegraph

Football must never forget The 96 who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster

By Steven Beacom

The service was as respectful, emotional and heartfelt as ever at Anfield yesterday. Thousands of fans, Liverpool players and officials gathered to join the bereaved families to remember The 96.

It's been 26 years now since the Hillsborough tragedy when 96 poor souls travelled to a football match and never came home.

Everyone has dates that are etched in their head for entirely personal reasons, be it birthdays, weddings or anniversaries.

And while I didn't know any of those who perished in Sheffield, April 15, 1989 is a date that never leaves my mind.

I like to think most football fans are the same.

I also hope that every year it comes around, anyone with an interest in sport or compassion for life itself, even allowing for the busy lives we all lead in the modern world, should take at least a few moments to remember The 96 and those they left behind.

Obviously Liverpool supporters understand the feelings more than most, but at times like this football rivalries should be put aside, much like when remembering the Munich air crash and disasters at Ibrox, Bradford and Heysel, to support the families and their brave fight for justice that has gone on for so long.

There is not a family in the land who has not suffered the loss of a loved one.

It's the most harrowing experience and the aftermath is often worse than the days leading up to a funeral when everyone is rallying round.

There's those feelings of emptiness, loneliness and a sadness that never seems to go away.

Imagine going through all that knowing people in positions of authority and influence were accusing your loved ones - men, women and children - of in some way bringing the end upon themselves.

That's what happened post Hillsborough when the blame game started and Liverpool fans were in the firing line from certain politicians, certain police officers and a certain paper.

Thankfully in the years that have followed THE TRUTH has finally begun to come out.

The pain will never go away but hopefully the outcome of an ongoing inquest into the tragedy will help the families in some form and also lift their spirits, feeling pride that after a long, hard and at times what appeared an impossible fight, they found justice for their own.

On April 15, 1989, I was a teenager. My elder brother and I used to go to as many Liverpool games as possible back then. The rocky overnight boat journey from Belfast across the Irish Sea, the lengthy early morning walk in the cold Merseyside air from the docks to Lime Street when the world was sound asleep and queuing up for hours outside the Kop to pay in was worth it.

We attended Liverpool's FA Cup quarter-final victory over Brentford at Anfield and on the back of marvelling at the brilliance of Johnny Barnes fancied going to the semi against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield.

Back then I didn't know the people I know now and try as we might we couldn't get tickets. I was gutted at the time.

Those emotions changed on the day of the semi-final.

I watched it unfold on RTE, who had live coverage of the game. Early on Peter Beardsley hit the bar and shortly after spectators started flooding on to the pitch.

The game was stopped six minutes in and the scenes that followed were as disturbing as they were heart wrenching as it soon became clear that football fans were dying in the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

Like the Forest supporters, standing bemused at the other end of the ground in the Kop, the Liverpool followers had gone to cheer their heroes on to Wembley.

The team eventually made it, beating Everton in an emotion filled final, but The 96 never did.

While the lives of thousands were directly affected by the tragedy, in many ways football changed forever that day too with the powers that be realising that people should not be treated like animals while attending a sporting event. All seater stadiums came to the fore.

Other changes to the game we love have not been for the better, but football has gone on and somehow for the families of The 96 life has too. They'll never forget though. Neither should we.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph