Being just 8-years-old at the time, I have very little recollection of the terrible events that took place on 15 April 1989. Vague memories exist of my parents’ shock and dismay at the news reports, but even these are the merest of recollections that I’ve no doubt over-elaborated this week.
My parents have never been ardent football fans which I’m sure made the images they were presented with even harder to bear. Football has always been ‘just a game’ to my mum and, while I’ve taken delight in my attempts to re-educate her on this gross misconception, the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool confirmed that, as always, she’s right.
My football stadia experience has been almost solely of seated stands and it is easy to forget how significant that seat is as you pull it down and park yourself, safely, onto it. It took 96 lost lives to highlight the potential dangers of terraces and the subsequent inquiry ensured that such an event would never happen again. The stark metal fences separating fans from pitch were torn down, the steep terrace steps replaced with plastic foldaway seats.
It is true that an element of the atmosphere that adorned those terraces in the 70s and 80s has been lost. The new super-stadiums clubs are plunging themselves into the red to develop are devoid of character and as a consequence present modern football as a rather stark white-good sport. But they are undoubtedly safe and we should always remember why they are now built in such a manner.
I’ll be taking time to reflect today and, in particular, how lucky I have been to grow up in this era of the greatest sport on earth. On that afternoon twenty years ago, 96 people excitedly pulled their beloved team’s shirt over their heads, grabbed their tickets and scarves and headed off to a hotly anticipated FA Cup semi final. Fathers with their sons, girlfriends dragged along by their fanatical boyfriends, they descended en masse to support the team and game they lived for. Later that day, they did not return home to either celebrate the joy of success or suffer the pain of losing. They never returned from a football match. These days, that is such a difficult concept to grasp but one that should never, ever be forgotten.