Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hillsborough - A Personal Reflection

I don’t often write personal pieces on here, but I posted something on Facebook this morning and wanted to expand on it. Given football formed such a large part of my childhood, I just felt a need to put down my own thoughts on the Hillsborough tragedy and moreover how, in a single moment, life can change forever for some, while for others that moment means nothing.

They always say you can remember where you were when major world events happen. It may at first seem odd to have a picture of Bamburgh Castle in a post about a football tragedy, but 25 years ago today, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I started my first ever oil painting.

I'd been to town that morning and purchased a few random colours from the clearance bin at the art shop in Spon End. While I was busy deciding which colours to buy, miles away, families were saying goodbye to loved ones, off to cheer on their team to Wembley.

Later that day, as I sat hunched over the dining table, brushes in hand, in the background, that afternoon's Grandstand filled the silence, covering a variety of sports I cared little for. Shortly after 3pm, there was a mention of some crowd trouble at the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final.

"Oh great, that's all we need", I remember thinking.

A few minutes later, as they went live to the ground. I stopped what I was doing and wandered over to the TV. It was impossible to work out what exactly had happened…people were all over the pitch, looking to all intents and purposes like a standard pitch invasion…except some of them weren’t moving and there was more of a sense of panic than any air of hostility.

At 14, I didn’t really comprehend the scale of what was unfolding, nor indeed have any idea of the huge sense of loss anyone on that day must have felt, cocooned as I was in my teenage world. Only a few times before had the phrase often heard on the news, ‘some may find the following scenes distressing’ really hit home. Heysel, with its image of helpless fans, similarly gasping for air, stamped forever into my conscious. The Bradford fire, in particular a fan running across the pitch, hair on fire; the Corporals Killings in 1988. Now the vivid colours of red shirts and scarves contrasted with the bright blue fencing, similarly ingrained in perpetuity.

I returned to my painting, still not comprehending all that was going on, only later the full story playing out on the evening news. By the time I'd finished it a week later, 95 people (the total reaching 96 4 years later) had lost their lives, all because they wanted to see their team reach a cup final.

25 years on and my own daughter is pretty much the age I was when it happened. To think of the countless times I have waved my daughter goodbye as she heads off for a day out with her friends and not given a second thought to whether I’d ever see her alive again, it just defies understanding that she could never return purely from going to see a football match.

I can still not imagine the feeling of losing someone in such horrendous circumstances and the fact those families are still fighting for justice for their loved ones just beggars belief. Over the years, sadly, some people have grown tired of hearing about it, believing they should all just ‘get over it’. For me, this is yet another part of the tragedy. That human suffering can be boiled down to nothing more than ‘yet another’ news article about ‘the same old thing’. While justice remains undelivered, we will continue to hear about it and rightly so.

The simple fact remains that 96 people died at a football match and on this day, that’s all that actually matters.

RIP the 96


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