It’s incredibly tense in the English Premier League at the moment, with three teams fighting for the title. With Manchester United disintegrating and lucky to secure European football, the much anticipated Spurs title challenge fizzing out and Arsenal struggling to even reach their customary fourth place and access to the Champions League, it’s up to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool FC. The latter two met last Sunday in an emotional, stressfull match which saw Liverpool win 3-2, setting a giant step forwards to winning the title. For Liverpool fans and many neutrals it would be wonderful for Liverpool to win it now, because it’s been twentyfour years since their last one, because of Steve Gerrard who, a single childhood slipup aside, has always been loyal to Liverpool and won everything but the title with them, but mostly because it’s been exactly twentyfive years since the Hillsborough Disaster and just weeks after a new inquest into the disaster and the coverup has started.
It all started as a normal FA Cup between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, but after only six minutes the game was abandoned as the Liverpool fans in the away end climbed over the crush barrier onto the fields. At first it was thought to be just another example of fans misbehaving but it soon became clear something monstrous was happening, as shown in BBC’s Match of the Day that night.
Ninetysix people died that day and the disaster hit the city of Liverpool hard, not just because of the deaths, but also because of the coverup by the police that followed the disaster, as recounted in a BBC Panorama investigation from last year. Though initial reports into the disaster had laid the blame for it on the shoulders of the South Yorkshire police for inadequacies in handling the crowd that day, much of the particulars of what exactly had happened remained unknown, while the police and the media started blaming the Liverpool supporters themselves for what happened, most notably in the Sun, still being boycotted in Liverpool to this day.
Football supporters in the late eighties were largely seen as scum, hooligans and criminals and the Heysel disaster — in which Liverpool supporters had attacked Juventus fans during the 1985 Europa Cup Final, resulting in the death of thirtynine supporters when a wall collapsed — was fresh in people’s memories. The narrative therefore that Hillsborough was another Heysel was easy to believe. Yet in Liverpool and amongst the survivors and relatives of those that had died in Hillsborough there was a need for justice that never abated, organising to both keep the memory of those who had died alive and to seek justice for their deaths.
It all came to a head at the 20th anniversary of the disaster, as the speech of the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, MP Andy Burnham was interrupted by shouts of justice for the 96; four days later the government decided to open up police files about the disaster, leading to the setting up of the Hillsborough Independent Panel reinvestigating the disaster and its aftermath, two years ago reaching the conclusion that there was indeed a coverup.
Now, twentyfive years after the disaster a new, proper inquest has started at the same time as both of the city’s football clubs are doing the best in the League they’ve done for years, Everton in the race for fourth place, Liverpool chasing their first title in twentyfour years. Is it any wonder both fans and players, Steve Gerrard especially, who lost a cousin at Hillsborough, get a little emotional?