5479 days on, a return to Hillsborough.

Posted by Rushian on April 29, 2004, 12:23:01 AM

“Justice with courage”. That’s what it says on the police cars around here beneath the crest and the words South Yorkshire Police. Justice ... with ... courage. I ask you, “Justice with courage”??!!

Give me a year, an unending supply of paper and pens, and I can honestly say that I could never rival such a poor choice of words. “Injustice with spinelessness” would be more apt if the truth were told, but here lies the very crux of the Hillsborough legacy, the truth does not get told does it? 15 years on it hurts, it hurts a great deal.

Waking up in Sheffield on April 15th  (where I now live and work) is a strange experience. Invariably there is bright sunshine on this date, just as there was back in 1989. I remember so vividly waking up on that fateful day, 19 years of age, hangover and as of 10am still not sure how we were going to get to Sheffield . A few phone calls later, a lift was secured and off we set for the Steel city. I had a seat in the North Stand, after acquiring an extra ticket on the Thursday night, allowing me to give my spare to my mate who was more than delighted to take my ticket for Leppings Lane off my hands. A semi final ticket for the greatest Cup competition in the world or an (un)lucky ticket in a lotto of death?

To this day, I can see a younger version of myself giving my mate this ticket, I can see a frantic version of myself searching for him on a surreal afternoon in South Yorkshire, and I can feel the sense the relief at finding him sitting in the back of the same car that had taken us to Sheffield just a few hours earlier, safe and sound. So many emotions within such a short period of time. Emotions I had never felt, and emotions I did not know how to cope with. I was younger on the morning of April15 th 1989 than I was at 5pm on the same day, much younger. It is difficult to exactly put into words how the events of that terrible day have shaped me. But shape me they have.

Memories remain very vivid of that day and always will. I went to a football match and returned home the same night, my immediate friends did the same thing, but 96 others died. 96 lives expired that sunny day in South Yorkshire. How could 96 people who went to a football match lose their lives?? It seemed so incomprehensible then and the intervening years since have only added to my incredulity.

I went to Hillsborough the Thursday before last as I do every year on this date. Going there is in a strange way comforting. It allows me some peace and it also allows me to weep, weep like a baby. The tears that flow are a mixture of anger but also of love. My “route” always takes me via the memorial the shopkeepers of Hillsborough erected in honour of the dead. This memorial was erected with love and respect for those who perished and not out of duty and borne out of pressure, as the official Sheffield Wednesday memorial was in my view.  It took them 10 years to throw something together. 10 years?!

I try not to have too much ill feeling against Sheffield Wednesday FC, yet I still struggle not to. For it is they and their stewards who confiscated my flowers on my first return to Hillsborough to watch Liverpool. They were confiscated as “offensive weapons”. I’m sure they had their reasons though, death by carnation can after all, be a nasty business. Much harsher than asphyxiation, cardiac failure and organ collapse.

On subsequent visits I and others had to smuggle our floral tributes into the ground allowing us to clandestinely throw our flowers onto the terraces below. It was they who opened the doors on the 10th anniversary, but it was they who on the 12th anniversary told me and I quote “It is time to move on.” I don’t ask now, I stay outside where they want me to be. I think that maybe they should have a sign over their door that reads “Please do not ask to enter our stadium to pay your respects to 96 dead people as a refusal often offends”.

I end my journey to Hillsborough outside Leppings Lane, and when I close my eyes I can go back in time. I can see the chaos as I approach the gates, I can hear screams, I feel a woman next to me in the “queue” pass out, I can smell vomit and sweat and I see fear etched onto the faces of those around me.

I can see the turnstile in sight now and remember helping 2 young lads over the gate to safety as their fathers battled through the throng to join them. I feel a sense of relief at turning left to the North Stand and not right onto Leppings Lane. I was safe, that was hellish but now I had a match to see, “C’mon you mighty Reds………” I took my seat, Row 48, seat 294 next to my mate who had travelled independently of me.

We watched from a distance, and we saw people breathe their last breath, we saw corpses carried in front of our very eyes. I remember searching for my friends, I remember locating my friends, I remember the journey home, I remember the immediate aftermath, I remember the interim and the intervening years. This is what happens, we remember, we don’t forget. I mean, how could we?

A visit to Hillsborough on the 15th can be really uplifting. The messages that are left are beautiful to read, and not just the ones from Liverpool fans. Well done to the Derby County fan this year who took the time to print out an A4 poster of their clubs’ crest, and then laminated this crest and then took time to script a heartfelt message and then made sure it nestled amongst all the other tributes. Thank you for not forgetting Derby County fan, I’m glad that you care.

I sometimes wonder if the 96 are “with us”. Are they there when we take our seats in the Nou Camp, when we are looking for a bed in Klagenfurt, crying with joy in Dortmund, getting drunk in Yeovil on a Saturday night? I hope they are, I’d like to think that their footballing lives did not end that day.

I think of Roy Hamilton, who died at the age of 34 years, the same age that I am now. I think of all that I have, all the places I have been, all the places I have yet to visit. I think of the life I have ahead of me. No doubt, Roy had similar thoughts as he set off from Liverpool in April ’89. I met Roy once, he drove a van down to Wembley in 1987 for the League Cup Final, and I had a “seat” in the back of this van. Rushie scored, Liverpool lost, we stopped off in Luton for beers and I thanked Roy for the lift when we got home. Another day another match. Roy would have only 2 more years of such experiences ahead of him, and I find this incomprehensible, so very, very sad and so very, very wrong.

Roy Hamilton was not ready to die at the age of 34, nor Jon-Paul Gilhooley at the age of 10 or Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron at the age of 67.

May each and every one of you rest in eternal peace. Never forgotten. Always loved.

I have attached some pics from Hillsborough, taken on April 15th 2004.

© Seanbren 2004

Sheffield Memorial

Shopkeeper's Memorial

Hillsborough Exit Gate

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