'You'll Never Walk Alone'
Reflections on the verdicts of the Hillsborough Inquest jury, April 26th, 2016
Truth, Justice, Accountability
I cried today. I wasn`t physically in pain, nobody close to me had died, had become seriously ill or had gone missing. Like many thousands of people around Merseyside and the whole country, I watched the televised broadcast of the Hillsborough Inquest verdicts. I cried in relief that those brave families who had defended the honour of their children, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends, had been vindicated. Their loved ones, as good people everywhere already knew, were not responsible for their own deaths, they had been Unlawfully Killed.
I am a Liverpool fan and unless I was away at sea I would go to as many games as I could. By the time of Hillsborough that had long since stopped as I had a family and other things to distract me, but I still took an interest. That Saturday, 27 years ago I listened and watched in horror and disbelief as the tragedy unfolded. But that was just the start of it and the families of the 96 have had to endure the lies about their deaths for these past 27 years. What the people responsible for the cover-up and lies did to the Hillsborough families and friends is beyond contempt, it was evil. The families knew, friends knew and good honest people everywhere knew, that there was a concerted effort to protect the guilty and blame the innocent. It wasn`t just a few individuals, it was a large section of the establishment, who concocted stories and fed them to an eager press which was looking for a convenient victim. Victims make good scapegoats and what better victim could there be than a "drunken" football supporter; after all they were only from Liverpool and they were only football supporters. Who would miss them and who would care? But the brave families cared and fought long and hard for justice.
Invented stories in the press were obviously lies but some people were more than willing to believe them: after all if it is in the papers it must be true. One paper in particular (I refuse to use its name but for those who cannot remember, it is called after the bright object in the sky about which the earth orbits) willing printed the lies given to them by the local police authority. Lies intended to protect the reputations of the officers who had so callously let down the fans at the game. It took 25 years for the senior officer in charge to acknowledge his responsibility, by which time some people who had lost loved-ones at the game had gone to rejoin them. In those 25 years the bad-mouthing of the Liverpool fans continued as the responsible parties held on to the belief that they could protect themselves. In that aim it seems that they still could find sections of the media to defend their corner, but it was a eroding defence and one which has now been washed away. They were and are guilty.
Certain parties who acknowledged some guilt after the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel swiftly withdrew it and put the families through many more months of agony at the second inquest. That was wicked and immoral but, I suppose that it was to be expected of the sort of people who cared only for themselves, their careers and their next promotion. There are lots of people like that about; they are in many walks of life but the worst seem to be in those professions which we, as children, were brought up to trust; I won`t name them but I am sure that you can guess who they might be. These are the people who profess to have honour, morals and integrity, but who would sell their own grandmother if it meant a step up the ladder. Some people will do anything to hide their own incompetence and will readily blame others. You can always find some willing section of the media to take your side, especially if you leak a story before the other side is able to put its case.
However, as time goes on the lies get harder to defend, particularly when those who have been kicked and abused begin to find the truth. And especially when you have people as strong as the Hillsborough Families Support Group. The truth will out. That is what it is all about: Truth.
From Truth comes Justice and from Justice comes Accountability.
Tuesday,April 26th, 2016
On this grey Liverpool morning the suburbs are empty:
The early church-goers are already behind closed doors with God.
But the Anfield streets are filling with streams of people
Converging on the high cramped bulk of the stadium that has become a place of pilgrimage.
Already the line stretches back out of sight.
All manner of folk come now to stand here, their differences unnoticed and unimportant.
They clutch flowers, or bear mementos of past glories:
Offerings to lay at this shrine.
The indifferent walls of this football fortress rise above streets
Strewn with wet litter and festooned with tributes.
Here graffiti is transformed into homage
On walls where old enemies have inscribed the end of ancient hostilities.
Now even ‘Mancs’ felt-tip their sorrow on red brick:
Scrawled scripture of reconciliation and hope.
And the line shuffles on endlessly,
Round new corners, down narrow boarded streets in the dull morning,
To pause briefly before the iron gates.
Here is the first centre of the feeling.
The verses on cards, ink running down torn paper;
The sentiments misspelt and trite yet tragically heartfelt.
The simple outpourings of thousands for whom football is their faith.
To these Shanks waits at the gates of heaven to receive his own;
A tribal hero set in their eyes only a little lower than the angels.
Here believers have honoured the trampled dead
With long-cherished tokens, given up in their memory
That here at least they may never walk alone.
But we are borne forward on the tide at last
Into the holiest of holies.
No pictures could prepare for this:
The stadium lies open, its hallowed turf transformed and diminished.
The stands rise silently behind and to each side;
But below the far terraces the goal is drowned in a wave of living flowers
And flowers, fashioned into all manner of shapes
And in a host of bright and beautiful colours
Have flooded almost half of the field.
As the lines move slowly on over the laid tarpaulin
Their offerings are taken and laid down in new rows
On the living altar of this cathedral of flowers.
It is silent here, but for subdued murmurings.
The Kop has never been so still.
Its terraces are hung with scarves and trophies, flags and banners,
Peopled with the memories of its dead.
There are no songs today, and few words.
They sit on scattered seats to think or pray
Or just to be a part of what is happening here:
The lying in state of a way of life.
And the crowds are marshalled relentlessly on and out
Into the untidy shuttered Sunday streets.
Tonight the gates will close upon a week of history
And soon life will flow back.
But today, for faithful and agnostic alike, this is the place to be.
At this focal point of pilgrimage all belong together
And uncertainty is stilled.
Outside there will be questions to ask, hard answers to be given
And truths to be faced in the end.
But despite doubts and misgivings, on this day it is surely fitting to be here.
This unforgettable place, sanctified now by remembered suffering
Unites all who have obeyed their instinct to follow a million others.
Tomorrow will be another day
But today belongs to Liverpool and its dead.
Anfield Football Stadium: 23 April 1989
This poem was written following a visit to Anfield soon after the tragic events at Hillsborough, to pay respects and wonder at the great outpouring of tributes and flowers during that unforgettable week of mourning. My son had been at that fateful match, and I spent anxious hours until he was able to phone home and reassure us. Visiting what was in every sense a shrine, we could never have guessed how long it would be before the hard answers would at last be given.