On April 15th 1989 I went to an FA Cup semi final at Villa Park to watch Everton win. At half time, news came around from someone who had heard someone who had a radio that there had been “trouble” at the other semi final, and everyone kind of just shrugged.
After the match we got in the car to go home and put the radio on and heard what had actually gone on. Someone pointed out that if the FA’s coin had landed the other way up, our semi final would have been at Hillsborough and that we would have been in the middle of the Leppings Lane End (we had been right behind the goal for our game) and that, but for the toss of a coin, that could have been us.
Nobody spoke after that.
Then we got home and saw the pictures on the TV. 27 years on I can still feel the wrench in my stomach.
What followed showed both extremes of the human character.
The authorities did all they could to blame anyone but themselves for the disaster they had allowed to unfold before their very eyes without lifting a finger until it was way, way too late, while the families of those who had fallen victim to that tragedy did all they could to fight for justice for their loved ones.
Blood-alcohol levels were taken from children by the police in an attempt to blame the fans, while statements of almost every officer in attendance were changed to point the finger of blame away from those responsible.
The dignity shown by the families of the 96 men, women, and children who went to a football match and never returned is an inspiration to everyone. As Everton put it earlier today, they have won the greatest victory in the history of football.
Now, the total vindication of the 96 and their families has finally come, and, 27 years later (or perhaps just “late”) the world can be in no doubt that innocent football fans were never to blame for the horrendous tragedy that they fell victim to.
These verdicts will never bring back their loved ones, but I hope that it gives the families of the 96 some kind of closure and release. Their fights have not been in vain, and nor have they been alone. Evertonians – and over recent years a growing number of football supporters – have been behind you since day one. Not just because “it could have been us”, but because it was you
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