The privilege of going to a football match with your family, your friends and supporters of your team is a right often overlooked with the everyday goings on of life.
To spend 90 minutes next to a stranger sharing a common passion and obsession of cheering your team on, is something that can evoke a feeling like no other for even the most apathetic of people.
Football can bridge languages, culture and social backgrounds. It is one of the greatest things about being British…no sod it… it’s one of the greatest things about life.
It was this obsession of ours that was shared by 96 Liverpool fans who attend an FA Cup Semi Final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough on April 15 1989.
Tragically they didn’t return home.
These men, women and children all of whom had a love of the game myself and my fellow Wolves fan can relate to, were to suffer at the hands of catastrophic failings of South Yorkshire Police and to compound the heartache of their families they were to have the finger of blame pointed towards them and their fellow Liverpool supporters.
On Wednesday April 26 2016, after 27 years and 11 days, the truth came out.
The authorities had lied.
Gross negligence from South Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Wednesday had all contributed to the death of 96 football fans.
The verdict from the jury, who had sat and heard evidence for two years, found those innocent people were unlawfully killed and what more they were not at fault for their own deaths.
The 27 years of lies, deceit, cover-ups and ‘black propaganda’ was brought to its knees by two words – the truth.
With no intention to hang onto the emotional tail coats of a city that I can’t even begin to comprehend it is feeling as I write, the lies weren’t just an injustice for Liverpool they were an injustice for football fans throughout the world.
The Hillsborough disaster, tragically, was to fall at the doorstep of Liverpool FC and it’s supporters, but it could have so easily have been Wolves.
In 1981 Wolves faced Tottenham Hotspur at Hillsborough in the FA Cup Semi Final. On that day Spurs were selected to be housed in the Leppings Lane End of the stadium (the very same end where those Liverpool supporters lost their lives) and in a unknown prevision of events eight years later, 38 fans were injured in a crush with supporters of the North London club spilling onto the pitch in desperation.
This video was played at the inquest and the similarities between the two incidents were laid bear. The disaster of 1989 could have happened years before and it was no coincidence it was at the same venue and under the same police force’s watch.
This was a time when those enjoying going to football were seen as nothing more as numbers, and dare I say like cattle. Their safety and well being wasn’t considered nor did it matter.
Perhaps it’s best summed up by Wednesday’s chairman Bert McGhee when question about the Spurs/Wolves crush post match, ‘Bollocks – no-one would have been killed’.
The football fan was a hooligan until proven innocent.
In the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster the authorities used this image of a football fan as a cloak to hide their failings.
They amended documents that criticised the police force, they falsely blamed ‘drunk’ Liverpool fans and even the then coronoer Dr Stefan Popper demanded alcohol blood tests were taken from all the victims including those too young drink – including the 10 year old Jon-Paul Gilhooley.
They whispered in the ear of a local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick that it was drunk fans who had forced the door and urged him to bring it up Parliament.
They then repeated those lies to The Sun newspaper claiming Liverpool fans stole from the dead, urinated on police and beat up cops giving the kiss of life.
Horrifically, the newspaper’s editor Kelvin Mackenzie fell for it, ran the lies on the front page as ‘The Truth’ and Britain best selling newspaper accused a club, a city and culture of football fans that they were to blame.
Putting Liverpool aside, putting football rivalry aside, this could have been Spurs fans on the end of such lies, it could have Wolves fans it could have been any set of fans in England.
It matters not what colours those innocent people wore on that April afternoon, they were people like me and any footballer lover reading this.
They supported their club and prayed that they’d win. They chanted their name and roared them on.
The injustice those brave families faced, those families who have kept a greater dignity and patience than they reasonably should have, could have been any of our families, of any club and from any city.
So don’t just see this as a battle the loved ones of the 96 – and Liverpool – fought and won for themselves.
Their near three decade battle against injustice was a victory for all football fans everywhere and one that will always outshine rivalries and bond our common privilege of going to watch our club play footy.
It’s for that reason we stand with them and why they’ll never walk alone.