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The Footie File

By David McBride

They Will Never Walk Alone

Photo By David McBride      

     “With the weight of the new evidence in this Report, it is right for me today as Prime Minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years.  Indeed, the new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice.  The injustice of the appalling events - the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth.  And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased - that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.

     On behalf of the Government - and indeed our country - I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”

Those were the words spoken yesterday by British Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Commons, after the release of an independent panel’s findings regarding the Hillsborough disaster and the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.  Those words bore an eery resemblance to the apology given by the Prime Minister regarding the Bloody Sunday findings, as I would imagine the pain suffered by the families of the victims and those who were in the stadium that day would also feel similar.

Anfield was the first football stadium I ever attended in England.  We entered the grounds and made our way towards “The Boot Room”, the restaurant where we had pre-game dinner reservations.  Filled with excitement for our first ever game across the pond, the thing I remember most about entering that proud stadium was walking up the stairs and coming face-to-face with the Hillsborough Memorial Mosaic.  The excitement of the game, of our first journey to see football in England, was immediately tempered by the remembrance of that awful day, a day we now know much more about.

I am not a Liverpool fan, so I can offer no emotional connection directly to the tragedy.  But this report should begin to finally bring closure to a horrible moment in the sport’s and the country’s history.  But it doesn’t have to end with the government.  Those Liverpool fans were wrongly blamed for their own deaths, and many rival fans, and I include myself here, have made the flippant comment or sneered at the “hooligan” history that we were told Hillsborough was just another example of.  So let me offer my own apology to all my Liverpool faithful friends.  And those who have sung derogatory songs about the disaster, or made the off-hand comments, even if only to get a rise out of Liverpool supporter, should make their own amends.

No apology, no report can ever heal the wounds.  Their are the personal and incurable  wounds felt by those who lost loved ones and suffered injuries.  There are the equally incurable psychological wounds of the witnesses who may have watched a fellow supporter die, or waited an unimaginably long time to receive help.  And then their are the emotional wounds of all those who lived through that time as a Liverpool fan, being told by authorities that they and their like were to blame when they knew that was not the truth. I can only imagine what it must have been like to read the never-ending news stories or even to wear the colors and sing with the Kop during a match when the media and the authorities were filling the national conscience with blame, blame Liverpool never deserved but were forced to carry.

But if there is to be a silver-lining, it is that football fans no longer need to fear this kind treatment.  When once thought of as something of a sub-species of human being, football fans in England are now rightly viewed as the driving economical force behind an enormously successful industry.  And with this report, authorities will no longer treat football fans like expendable cattle.  Many in the United States will never truly understand what it was like in those years for fans of the world’s game, but thankfully those days are behind us. 


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