An almost overwhelming sense of oppressive sadness has settled on my heart over the past few days. When I have not been absorbed in my daughter Lara’s facial surgery, from which she is now recovering, I have followed avidly the coverage and commentary around the release of thousands of documents pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. I remember the events vividly.
That fateful Saturday 15th April 1989 had been one of my first dates with Wilma who was to become my wife in 1990. We had been out to see the film The Accused with Jodie Foster and so traumatised were we that we walked back to her flat in Wanstead from central London. It is a hard hitting film about rape, so much so that we just turned in and only when we put on the news on the Sunday morning did we realise the full extent of what had happened in my home town of Sheffield the day before.
As a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter I had been to Hillsborough many times, the first being in 1968 when we beat Manchester United 5-4 in front of 51,931 people. That numbing sense of shock I felt on that Sunday with Wilma, has never really left me. Having been in a religious community from 1982 up until 1988 I had not been a regular match goer but the thought that such a terrible tragedy could happen in what had been, for me, a place of great memories, was chilling. Some of my friends were there that day, both police and priests and they told me of the horrors they witnessed. They hinted at many of the things that have now been revealed. I can never pass the Leppings Lane stand without whispering a silent evocation for healing and reconciliation and now it will be for justice to be seen to be done.
I read over the weekend the great work done by the families of the victims and by Andy Burnham the shadow health minister. He took the families to Derry to meet with the families of the Bloody Sunday victims. I too have been to Derry and seen the memorial and again experienced that numbing sense of grief and unresolved hurt. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to people like the victims families and Andy Burnham who have had the courage to keep going. I want to add my voice to those who have been left to carry this alone and express a solidarity with them, now the truth is coming out.
I know from the work I do with men that unresolved grief is corrosive and the need to find ways of expressing it is terribly important. Those of us who are from Sheffield also need to find ways of coming to terms with what has been done by those in authority, from the South Yorkshire Police, those in charge at the time at the Club, the FA and many others. It has been astonishing to me that warnings were given by many attending semi finals before 1989 and other matches; that the Leppings Lane end was dangerous. That terrible desire to move the blame away from ourselves and even worse to put it on to those who cannot fight back or refute the allegations as they have little power or purchase with the press is so much in evidence here.
Art and creativity are a powerful way to speak out. Jimmy McGovern’s forceful dramatised documentary from 1996 is one such voice. I would love for their to be a communal act of remembrance, repentance, and solidarity at the ground. To allow those of us from Sheffield to join our voices to those who have walked alone with this grief for so long. Perhaps that part of the stand should remain forever closed as a permanent memorial, in the ground, to what happens when we treat people as less than human.