The Football Family

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Yesterday marked the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in tragic circumstances at a football match.

On April 15th 1989, those supporters travelled to watch their team take on Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup fixture in Sheffield, but would sadly never return to see their families and friends.

A crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium resulted in the tragedy, and to this day the families and friends of those who died at the disaster have fought for justice to clear their names after certain sections of the media, government and even general public blamed Liverpool fans for being the cause of what happened on that fateful day a quarter of a century ago.

The fight for full justice is still very much ongoing, but one thing this city and many communities and countries beyond will always do is remember those who perished at Hillsborough, and the 96 victims of the disaster and their inspirational families will always hold a place in our hearts.

I was just a three-year old boy at the time of the terrible events back in 1989, but over the years and growing up, I, like many others, have developed a strong feeling towards what happened at Hillsborough at that FA Cup game. Regardless of who you support, or which part of the city you are from, or whether or not you even follow football or sport, you can’t ignore what happened to those Liverpool fans and what happened after the events – and what is still happening today. The disaster was a terrible tragedy in itself, but the failings by the police, government, and the media at the time, and to this very day, are a tragedy too. Without going into major detail I think many of you will know what I mean when I say this, and because this post is about remembering those Liverpool fans who died I am only scratching the surface on that topic because I don’t want to focus my efforts and time on something, and some people, who don’t deserve it.

Yesterday at Anfield, football fans, the public, politicians, footballers, and thousands of other people joined the families and friends of the 96 to remember those who died in an emotional memorial service – which is held annually at Liverpool’s home stadium. Both Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez gave brilliant speeches at the service, just as Andy Burnham and others did too, during a poignant day of defiance, remembrance and togetherness.

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This year I had planned to attend Anfield (and step foot inside for the very first time) but I stupidly realised when it was too late that it was a ticket only service – and I missed my chance. The service was also screened at Goodison Park but I have to admit I really wanted to go to Anfield and witness the memorial first hand, so I decided not to go to Everton’s stadium and remained in work and watched the full service on television. It is a decision I now regret, I should have at least went to Goodison, I should have made more of an effort to go to Anfield, but I never. That’s my own fault and I can only take heart from the fact that during my life time I have paid my respect to the 96 in my own ways and with my fellow Evertonians too, and I have visited the memorial at the Bill Shankly gates on a number of occasions over the years. I suppose the reason I wanted to go this year is because it was 25 years – a landmark time since the disaster happened.

I have grown up with Liverpool fans, and as an Evertonian I have known there is a line that you just don’t cross. There is a rivalry, but at the end of the day we share a city and we are Scousers, we have to get on. This city always comes out fighting during any time of hardship, and the Hillsborough disaster was a prime example of the people of Liverpool standing shoulder to shoulder in grief, but also standing tall in the face of adversity. Blue or Red, Woman, Man or Child. I take massive pride in the people of my city and I am not just talking about the feeling around Hillsborough, I mean in anything we do. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and just as Martinez and Kenwright have both said in their respective speeches; this city is certainly a united one.

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The events at Hillsborough brought both Everton, Liverpool and thousands of other people together, and still do to this day. Because I missed the service yesterday, after putting my daughter to bed last night, I travelled up to Anfield to pay my respects at the memorial, and join the hundreds of other people who were still around the Stadium and had all gone there for the same reason as me – to remember the 96. Straight away I was taken aback by the number of flowers, tributes, football scarves, shirts, flags and people on Anfield Road. I had never seen it so busy, I had never seen so many tributes tied to those big, black Gates in between Anfield and Stanley Park. I stood back against the wall opposite and just looked around in amazement, as my friend took photos of the numerous tributes and memorial itself.  We must have been there for an hour, and after missing the service earlier in the day I was glad that I could stand and take time to reflect on what I saw before me and in my own way remember those Liverpool fans who sadly perished 25 years ago.

I observed the passers-by, those who pulled up in cars or who had come on foot, I listened to what people said and noticed the emotional feeling within those around me. It was almost eery, and very much a sense of respect and remembrance. Old men came with flowers, young lads drove past and signed the cross as they did, women had tears in their eyes as they explained to those younger what had happened at Hillsborough. People took pictures, many looked through the countless poems, floral tributes, shirts, scarves and messages, and others just stood back and watched. It was a moment that will stay with me, and even though I have been at those Gates many times before I had never felt anything like this. It was powerful to see such a strength of togetherness, and although I don’t directly know anyone involved in the disaster and I am not a Liverpool fan – I couldn’t help but feel a sense of warmth and belonging – you feel like you know the families and friends of the victims, in a strange sort of way.

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What got me was the variation of football scarves that adorned the gates, and one particular football shirt (Bradford City) which had a few verses on it that I have included in a picture below, and the text that is on that shirt is a fitting end to my piece here today, I am sure you will enjoy reading it. From Napoli to Scunthorpe, Perth Glory to Exeter, the scarves tied to those gates last night where from all over the place. When I eventually stood nearer to the memorial it became clear to me that there was layer upon layer of these scarves, and many of which had verses written on them or had some kind of tribute attached. It was surreal to think that so many people from so many different places and backgrounds had at some point been to pay their respects to the 96 – and it was heart warming. I know a lot of the scarves may have previously been placed at Anfield and one from every Football League side was put out on seats inside the Stadium during the memorial but to see so many tributes to the victims just shows how many people have been touched by those tragic events, and it proves that they, like me, my fellow Evertonians, Liverpool fans and people of this City and beyond will never forget those who died on that fateful day in ’89.

It really was an experience last night, and I have attached a few pictures my mate took so you can see for yourselves what I mean about the sheer volume of scarves, and lovely tributes that had been left. However throughout the time I was there and although there was such a variation of different club’s colours, there was a constant that stood out from them all and that running theme was Everton and Liverpool memorial items. From poems to wreaths, candles to VHS video tapes, red and blue side by side, and words written that epitomised the strength of feeling between the both football clubs. Again it was heartwarming, and although the respect between Everton and Liverpool is nothing new to myself, I felt a huge pride at being an Evertonian and being from this city seeing those tributes and I believe us as supporters and everyone associated with Everton FC have shown how we feel about the Hillsborough disaster over the years, and that feeling is never going to go away.

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Many of us are football fans, many of us are not, but when tragedy happens you need to come together, support each other and help one another – and through the terrible events of 1989 and what has happened since I think this city has done just that. We also must thank those who are not from this city, this country or anything to do with what happened on that day for their support too, many of which have felt endeared to pay their respects in their own ways and further strengthen the solidarity and courage that the families and friends of the victims have shown.

Being a Scouser I have felt proud on numerous occasions during a series of past events but the sense of feeling around Hillsborough is something that will live with me forever. Although it was a tragedy and the sorrow continues for those inspirational families I take heart from how we all stand together through thick and thin and I certainly hope and believe that one day justice will be served so those affected can somehow finally try to move on with their lives.

But until that day comes we must never forget those Liverpool supporters who went to a football game and lost their lives in such tragic circumstances..

We will always remember the 96.

 

Mark Finnegan

 

Below is a verse written on a Bradford City shirt that was left at the Bill Shankly memorial gates, and it is one that stood out to me. I feel it is a fitting end to finish.

“We are a nation unified through football. Ever since attending my first ever match on 18th August 2001, I have been inspired and romantically entranced by the warm glow of the green turf. It truly is a magical feeling to watch football as a child.

“When I do eventually become a father, I fail to fathom an outcome more tragic than outliving my children, something that many parents had to come to terms with on 15th April 1989.

“For those parents there will never be a sky at the end of the storm, an unhealable wound remains. We as a nation have once again unified to remember the 96 innocent men, women and children that died on that fateful day.

“Continue the fight Liverpool, we are behind you.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Justice for the 96, Joseph Scargill, Wakefield.

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