TRYING to write about something which happened more than 23 years ago would normally be near-on impossible.
But the date 15th April 1989 is forever remembered as THE darkest day in British sporting history when 96 men, women and children went to a football match and failed to return home.
For me, I can remember it like yesterday. I know that’s a term which has been used many, many times since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report last week, but it’s not every day you see nearly 100 people die just yards away from you.
It was the first time I’d watched my beloved Nottingham Forest away from home.
It was a day which began with hope, anticipation and excitement - my team was 90 minutes away from the FA Cup Final at Wembley - and ultimately ended in tragedy, with families mourning the loss of loved ones and many unanswered questions, obviously until now.
I was just 13 and my brother 10 when our dad took us to Hillsborough on that warm, sunny, spring day in Sheffield.
Even though the journey from here to the ‘Steel City’ is a relatively short one and despite allowing for plenty of time to get to the ground, we didn’t take our position on a packed Kop until 15 minutes or so before kick off. The traffic was horrendous in Sheffield and with it being a sell out crowd finding a parking space was not that easy.
Once inside the ground, the Kop was bouncing, and I mean bouncing. It was so packed we could only stand in a gangway two-thirds up the huge, terracing which dominates Hillsborough.
Sadly, it was from that vantage point where our first fears of something drastically wrong across the pitch in the Leppings Lane end were realised.
I won’t go into details about what happened next, that has been well-chronicled elsewhere, but unlike some I can’t actually remember thinking the Liverpool supporters were causing trouble on the terracing. Instead, to me anyway, it looked like something had gone badly wrong as there were two fairly empty pens either side of the two packed ones where the fans were being crushed.
The question was, why this was the case? A question which has only been answered in any detail this past week.
In all honesty, and, even though I was inside the ground when the tragedy unfolded, I didn’t really know, or thought I knew, what really happened until last Wednesday.
I’ll hold my hands up, I thought the Liverpool fans were to blame for a few years after. The police and the authorities had laid the blame on them for being ‘drunk and ticketless’, so why should I doubt the word of people we should all trust.
Since Wednesday, social media sites have been awash with some folk still blaming Liverpool fans for what happened. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen ‘I was there, I know the truth’.
Well, I tend to think that they don’t. I was there, and I didn’t really know the truth. I first started to think something had been covered up in the mid-90s when I watched Jimmy McGovern’s documentary Hillsborough and then read a book by Prof Phil Scraton called Hillsborough: The Truth.
Both were unerringly close to the panel’s findings, although the new report went shockingly beyond what everyone expected - which included the revelation that Hillsborough didn’t have a safety certificate.
To say what the authorities did in the aftermath was a scandal is one of the biggest understatements ever. It’s a national scandal which will shame our country forever.
What happened to Liverpool fans on that dark day could have happened to any supporter of any club in the country. It should have brought the footballing family closer together, instead tribalism still exists where a minority of fans let their loathing for a football team cloud their judgement.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back it was strange to see hardly one member of the emergency services tending to the seriously injured in the goalmouth in front of the Kop where I was standing. And to think that the one ambulance driver who was allowed onto the pitch was greeted by a police officer telling him ‘you can’t go on the pitch, they ‘re still fighting’ is truly astounding.
I’m afraid in the 80s football fans were treated as hooligans because of the actions of a minority - a minority with blood on their hands just like the authorities who did so little to prevent the tragedy beforehand and did so much afterwards to cover it up.
I hope the families of the 96 now have the truth they want and that justice will now be served.