30 years ago, I went shopping with somebody that I used to know. It was FA Cup semi-final day and as we walked through a department store, I noted that there was live TV coverage of the game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. I don’t remember thinking anything other than how odd this was, since TV football was largely in the form of highlights. Then, I noticed that in fact there was no football being played at all. Something terrible had happened. I just didn’t know what it was and certainly not how it would play out in the years ahead.
By the time we got home, it became more clear. Dozens of people had been killed and injured. On a beautiful picture postcard spring day the world changed.
I turned on BBC Radio Two – Five Live didn’t exist back then – to hear Sports Report. The tone was solemn. Then the brilliant football commentator Peter Jones spoke. Here are his words:
“The biggest irony is that the sun is shining now, and Hillsborough’s quiet, and over there to the left are the green Yorkshire hills, and who would’ve known that people would die here in the stadium this afternoon. I don’t necessarily want to reflect on Heysel – but I was there that night, broadcasting with Emlyn Hughes – and he was sitting behind me this afternoon, and after half an hour of watching stretchers going out and oxygen cylinders being brought in and ambulance sirens screaming, he touched me on the shoulder and said ‘I can’t take anymore’, and Emlyn Hughes left.
“The gymnasium here, at Hillsborough, is being used as a mortuary for the dead – and at this moment, stewards have got little paper bags, and they’re gathering up the personal belongings of the spectators. And there are red and white scarves of Liverpool, and red and white bobble hats of Liverpool, and red and white rosettes of Liverpool, and nothing else. And the sun shines now.”
I can add nothing new to everything that has been said in the intervening 30 years. Few tragedies have affected me more than this one and I was not related to anyone, nor did I know anyone, who suffered. So imagine what it was like for those who were?
Today, it feels as raw as it did back in 1989. Still, I struggle to think about it in any great depth before the tears well up again. And even now the tawdry newspaper headlines, led by the sickly Sun newspaper’s poisonous lies about the disaster, have never been forgotten nor forgiven. Nor should they be.
96 people went to a football match and never went home. That’s all you need to know.