This piece was originally written for the Sunday Express in 2009, although they only published half of the article. Neil offered the full text to TTT in 2010, and I was only too glad to accept. I have bumped it to the top of TTT, following this week’s momentous and long-overdue news.
A perfect day for an FA Cup semi-final. As Dr Glyn Phillips drove with his brother Ian and two mates from Merseyside to Sheffield, they all agreed the weather could not have been better. April showers had been replaced by radiant sunshine and the Pennines looked stunning beneath the immaculate blue skies.
A beautiful day for the semi between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Although he lived in Glasgow and worked as a GP in Lanarkshire, Dr Phillips, 34, had been born and bred in Huyton, Merseyside. A devoted Liverpool supporter, he had achieved the Holy Grail of every fan by obtaining a season ticket for Anfield and travelled down religiously to see the Reds. Now he was on his way to the Cup tie at Hillsborough where the four pals had tickets in the end allocated to Liverpool fans.
Once they arrived in Sheffield, they parked their car and strolled to the stadium, arriving half an hour before kick-off.
At the ground, they joined the throng of supporters and walked through a central tunnel into the Leppings Lane terrace, behind the goal.
“As soon as we got in, we knew it was an abnormally packed crowd,” says Dr Phillips, now 55. “We were carried along on our feet by the crowd. We got split up from our mates and Ian and I found ourselves near the front, on the pitch side of a steel crowd barrier.”
Dr Phillips had been in lots of packed football terraces but he soon realised the pressure of bodies in this pen was of a different magnitude.
Saturday, April 15, 1989. A date no Liverpool fan can forget. A day radiant with spring sunshine that turned into the blackest in British sporting history.
The day I visited the council tip in St Albans.
Just as everyone remembers where they were when news broke of President Kennedy’s assassination, Princess Diana’s death or the 9/11 attacks, so every Red supporter remembers where he or she was when the Hillsborough disaster unfolded.
That morning, April showers had yielded to blue skies, ideal for me to springclean the garden and perfect for the FA Cup semi-final. With Dalglish’s men coveting another League and Cup double, they faced Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough that afternoon in a rerun of the previous year’s semi when Liverpool won 2-1.
Naturally, Cloughie had other ideas. Fixated on reaching his first FA Cup final, he was going for a different twin set, having already won the Littlewoods, while Kopites were burning incense for an all-Merseyside final, since Everton were confronting Norwich in the other semi at Villa Park.
On 12/9/12, David Cameron offered a “profound apology” on behalf of the whole country for the “double injustice” experienced by the families of those who died in the Hillsborough tragedy.
I wrote to him on 5/3/13 to point out that there was a third injustice which was still to be addressed: the failure to give recognition to the Hillsborough Heroes; those ordinary man and women who, without leadership or co-ordination of any kind, took action to help fellow fans while the professionals froze.
Last month, on 10/3/16 I wrote for the 20th time. Throughout I have asked one simple question:
Mr Cameron, do you agree that the actions of the ordinary men and women at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989 deserve recognition in the form of a collective award in the same manner as other heroic acts? Yes or no?
It’s still hard to comprehend what took place 23 years ago – in the moments in which the Hillsborough disaster unfolded, and with the shameful deflection of blame in the immediate aftermath. The good news is that the truth is finally out in the open, with Liverpool fans having long held the belief that they were the victims of a smear rather than simply wallowing in a victim culture (as stated as recently as 2004 in a Spectator piece edited by Boris Johnson). Today’s report by the hugely professional and reputable Hillsborough Independent Panel, which started work in 2009, has helped lift a burden from so many people, and worked towards shifting that burden onto those who deserve to shoulder it.
The Prime Minister today made a profound apology, which went further than many were expecting. Obviously as fans we still want to know what his political party knew at the time, but in this sense there was at least some Scouse goodwill towards a Tory leader.
Hillsborough didn’t have a safety certificate. Like Heysel it was an out of date ground, not fit for purpose, although at Heysel Liverpool fans possessed some culpability (even though no one anticipated a creaking old wall collapsing and lives being lost). Here there was none. After almost two decades of lies and innuendo, Liverpool fans have been exonerated. The true culprits have been identified.
The advice of the fire service was ignored. Records were falsified by both police and ambulance services. Blood alcohol levels were tested on the deceased, including a ten year old boy, in an attempt to frame fans as a drunken mob, with, quite scandalously, a couple of pints enough to fit the criteria of inebriation (how much wine to people at the opera consume before a performance? Would their bodies be tested if a balcony collapsed?).
The saddest fact is that as many as 41 lives could have been saved beyond the 3.15 cut off point that the coroner laid out; saying that, just fifteen minutes after the semi-final kicked off, everyone was either dead or so badly injured that life could not be preserved, when the opposite was true of almost half those who perished.
Erstwhile Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie has finally ‘apologised’, but in doing so he claims to have been mislead. It’s far from an unequivocal admittance of blame, and he seems as slimy and elusive as ever. He’s maintained that he was right too vociferously, for too long, in the face of mounting evidence, in order to be able to take him seriously. (In 2006 he gave a kind of apology only “because Murdoch told me to. I wasn’t sorry then I’m not sorry now…”)
Graham Jones, head of geography, citizenship and personal, social and health education (PSHE) at South Wirral High School in Eastham, has launched a petition calling for the disaster to be included in the national curriculum.
Mr Jones said for the past four years the school had held a Hillsborough day for students in year 10, this year due to be held on July 18, in which they learnt about the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989.
He said: “Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts from the Hillsborough Family Support Group come to support the day and the e-petition I’ve set up is all based on a conversation I had with Margaret last year.
“She said she thought what we did was absolutely fantastic, but she thought it should be done in all schools, so the idea came from there.”
Mr Jones added: “Schoolchildren might have heard things about Hillsborough, much of which will not be true, and it’s important every young person grows up with the knowledge of what really happened.
“It also gives an understanding that everything they see and read is not necessarily always accurate and it encourages them to use critical thinking.”
He said the determination of the families also taught a valuable lesson to pupils.
He said: “There is a real moral story for young people and it teaches them that if they believe in something and follow through with their convictions then in the end you can get justice.”
The school’s Hillsborough day, which will be held for the fourth time this year, teaches the children about the role of the media, the fight for justice and the legacy of the disaster.
Pupils come up with their own Hillsborough Independent Panel report after looking at documents relating to the tragedy.
This year students will also watch the Hillsborough documentary produced by Sheffield film-maker Dan Gordon.
Mr Jones said: “The students react in a number of ways to the day.
“They react emotionally, they do get a little bit upset. There is still a lot of hurt in the community.
“They also react positively about the fact they have been given the opportunity to explore something they’re interested in.”