Ironically, I was in Nottingham that day, visiting a friend with whom I’d worked when I lived there for two years. I’d arrived at lunchtime, spent a couple of hours visiting old haunts, and walked back up the hill to my car, to drive round to my friend’s for about 4.00pm.
The radio came on with the ignition, tuned to Radio 2 for the sport. Manchester United’s interest in the FA Cup had been ended by Forest a couple of weeks earlier, but as a true lover of the Cup, I had the urge to find out who would be contending the Final.
At the moment the radio came on, no-one was speaking. There was just crowd noise, and a horrible familiarity: something was very wrong. I recognised the sensation instantly: it was the same as four years earlier, when I’d casually switched on the European Cup Final from the Heysel Stadium, ten minutes into the game. It was as impossible to describe as it was impossible to mistake: the sound of horror and confusion and the world no longer making sense.
Slowly the news began to filter through. The death toll was in the forties, but every time the estimate came back it was higher. I met my friend, we went out for the evening, and in the Sunday paper headline it was worse still.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a United fan. We have a deep rivalry with Liverpool, both as Reds and as Mancs, and it’s still there to this day and it won’t stop, but from the moment that radio came on, club loyalties have never been an issue with me. Football fans have more in common with each other than they do with non-fans: we understand in the brain and the bone. There was enough reported early on for me never to begin to think of blame, and to reject as horrific and inhuman and evil the lies in The Sun.
I didn’t even blame Liverpool for the Heysel. It didn’t happen because it was Liverpool, it happened because the conditions of neglect were there, and it was English fans, and something was going to go wrong: Liverpool were simply the poor bastards stood there when it did. And it was the same with Hillsborough: to be at the centre of both was an unbelievably horrific coincidence.
We’ve all of us, who know football, who know people, who have had eyes to see and ears to hear, we’ve always known but at long last it’s been Officially Pronounced: it wasn’t the fans. It never was. I’m far from being the only one whose heart goes out to them that at last a line has been passed and another stage of healing can begin. Truth has not only been done, it has been seen to be done, shouted out in the loudest possible way, and from here on in the slime who have pointed the finger all these years will stand naked and cowering, scumbags in front of everyone if they ever try to demean Liverpool’s people that way again.
What comes next is Justice: the pursuit and punishment of the guilty. There are things I’ve learned today that were brand new: taking blood samples from the dead in order to smear them as drunkards or criminals – even a 10-year-old boy! How can anyone capable of acting in that way ever think of themselves as human again? The public exposure of Kelvin McKenzie as what we have always known him to be. There will be a very visible backlash against any organisation that employs him after this.
Based on the evidence I’ve heard so far, I’m not going to say that the cover-up extended as far as Margaret Thatcher. But I remember the Eighties, and I remember her Government, and it’s already been reported that their major concern was for the Football Supporters Bill, and I remember early in 1990 suddenly having a hankering to go see United one Saturday and having to find out if I was allowed to. So I will say that I believe that it was absurdly easy to lie to her about what happened, because the lies were what she wanted to hear, and she wouldn’t have questioned them: during the Miner’s Strike, we saw ample evidence that she was willing to treat a section of the people that her Government were elected to represent as Enemies.
Twenty three years is twenty-three years too long. But the truth has finally been acknowledged, and if we as people don’t take this moment to work to change the rottenness in our country that produces these lies, then we have let down the 96 and their family and friends as badly as those who delayed this time for twenty-three years.
To those who have fought for this, may it bring even a small sense of peace, and may it renew your strength to do what else is needed to finally see Justice for you and your city.