The sacrifice has not been in vain

A new inquest is under way to finally clear the good names of the Hillsborough 96 once and for all - justice will be done

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 1:53am

It has been a sombre, moving week amid this hurly-burly, nail-biting season. Twenty-five years after the Hillsborough tragedy - football's JFK moment - emotions remain raw.

Many remember where they were when they heard the first death count from events on that sunny April Saturday in 1989, when Liverpool met Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

It is the most infamous day in the history of English soccer. The series of news flashes following the Leppings Lane end crush - the steady rise in fatalities - still echo clear in the mind's ear.

Lifting the EPL trophy next month would be a fitting remembrance to mark the passing of quarter of century since watching live football changed forever
Peter Simpson

"I can remember it as if it was yesterday," then-Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar said before Tuesday's memorial. "For two hours on the journey back home by the team coach we just listened to the radio. Every 10, 15 minutes we would hear an update - 20 deaths, 25 deaths. When it got to 30 deaths we switched off the radio. We couldn't listen any more."

Ninety seconds into the semi-final, Liverpool hit the crossbar and after a Forest attack a wayward ball was fired into the Leppings Lane terracing.

"I went to get the ball back," Grobbelaar recalled this week. What he saw and heard still distresses him. He said initially some families blamed him for their loved ones' deaths.

"I went to see a family in Birkenhead. They told me I was the guy who killed their son. And they closed the door. Their son went to watch me play, watch us play - they blamed me."

Grobbelaar said he knocked again and was again told to go away and cursed at. Eventually the door opened again and they started talking.

"I realised they held me responsible, in some way. I explained that their son only wanted to watch me play for the team that he loved. And I told them I had no part to play in what happened and their son only wanted to watch us be triumphant on the day, to play the game. That is what he loved."

The family came round to reason and by the end of their meeting embraced Grobbelaar.

"And I embraced them. And that was counselling for both of us. I know from the other players that they went through very similar experiences."

Thoughts of retiring also occupied many Liverpool players, he said. "But the families we went to counsel asked us to carry on playing. They gave us the confidence to go back and play again."

All the testimonies of that horrific day are poignant. But which fan could not be touched by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's tears at the end of last Sunday's dramatic 3-2 win over Manchester City?

He later revealed he wept because of the disaster. His 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest of the 96 who lost their lives.

"I'm speaking on behalf of everyone when I say the win was dedicated to the victims and families of Hillsborough," Gerrard said.

How fitting that the victory has boosted Liverpool's chances of a first league crown since 1990. Lifting the EPL trophy next month would be a fitting remembrance to mark the passing of quarter of century since watching live football changed forever; perverse as it seems, fans like us enjoy our game in safe, secure stadiums because of the loss at Hillsborough.

The people of Liverpool are not, as some have previously claimed, wallowing in victimhood. It is vital the events of that day, as witnessed by the likes of Grobbelaar, are retold and passed down the generations of fans.

Not only do their harrowing accounts remind us how far football has come since Hillsborough, they also hold aloft the quality and endurance of the human spirit.

The tragic experiences underscore the importance and strength of community and its ability to unite and overcome adversity to put right terrible wrongs.

Police and some authorities conveniently blamed hooliganism to cover up their own ineptness, claiming crowd trouble was behind a stampede of drunken Liverpool fans who "broke into the terraces".

The media waded in too, blaming feral, lawless fans.

All such reports were discredited once toxicology tests and investigations revealed the ugly truth - facts obtained despite attempts by the authorities to thwart and frustrate as they sought to cover their tracks.

The murky dealings by those charged with ensuring safety and upholding the law - the enduring conspiracy of lies and deceit - stands as the most damning indictment of how the tragedy was handled.

After 20 years, the original "accidental death" verdicts were quashed and British Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologised for the deceit of the police, investigators and the media.

This has brought a degree of justice, but the attempted whitewash continues to stain Britain's reputation as a fair and just law-abiding country, free from the corruption and cronyism that blights other nations.

Now a new inquest is under way to finally clear the good names of the 96 once and for all. And once more the nightmare will be told in detail and unimaginable grieving will once more take place.

But the sacrifice and the endless frustration has not been in vain. The Hillsborough families' fight personifies the mettle of the human spirit and sends a clear message to those who dare to abuse their privileged positions and power.

It warns them that no matter where, no matter when, truth will one day emerge and justice will one day prevail.