It’s about a quarter to four on 15th April 1989. I’m on my own in the place where I was living then. A Saturday afternoon, working on songs, doing my music while everyone else is out. But my mind is not entirely on my music because I know that Liverpool, Liverpool Football Club, are playing in the semi-final of the FA Cup, against Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough, in Sheffield. So, around half-time I turn the radio on to hear how they are doing.
For some years now I’ve been telling myself I don’t particularly care how they are doing. That football’s not that important to me. That, in fact, in these difficult 1980s where all Liverpool’s had going for it has been the successes of Liverpool and Everton, football has become an ‘opiate of the masses.’ But, despite this Marxist thinking, I always know how they’re doing. I always know where they are and who they’re playing. And I always know what time they’re kicking off. I’m from Liverpool, you just do.
Which is why I turn on BBC Radio Merseyside at a quarter to four on 15th April 1989. To hear how they’re doing at half time.
And I immediately drop into the great tragedy of Liverpool, and of our our time, in this place.
Instead of hearing comforting talk about being ‘one-nil up’ or anything of that sort, I’m hearing confusing commentary about ‘bodies being carried from the pitch.’ About Ronnie Whelan taking the team off. About the match being abandoned. About ‘ring this number.’
From then on it’s leave the radio on. It’s Roger Phillips, blessed Roger Phillips. It’s like he’s broadcasting for the next 24 hours, 36 hours. Taking calls. Listening for the city. Who’s safe, who’s found, where are they, did you see them last, who’s lost, who’s dead? 95 on the day. 96 soon after. Crushed. Gone to a football match. And never came home.
Twenty five years go by and then it’s now.
And we get blamed. Of course we do. We’re rough sorts and we’re hard to like in polite company. A scum newspaper blames us. The police blame us. The government blames us.
Football people don’t blame us though. Not for a minute. They’ve been in the place where we were crushed. The year before, or the year before that. There and many another similar places they just about got out of alive. Unlike the 96.
Here are their names and their ages:
Life and dying would inevitably have happened to some of them since. But if you scan down their ages back then, most of them would probably have been watching us beat friendly, competitive and dignified Manchester City this last Sunday. And most of them would have watched our Steven gather the players together at the end and talk about the next match. About Norwich. Most of them would have been alive to join in the joy and excitement of seeing us maybe being about to win the League. To win the League for the first time in 24 years. Since just after they died. Most of them.
It’s not just about football. We all know that. We’ve heard the truth and we’re waiting for justice. But we miss them. Every one of them. And the lives they would have led.
And as the city cheers the team into Anfield. As we all grin at each other and think ‘We just might do it’ – we miss them. All 96 of them. However loud we are about to shout, it’s not as loud as we would have shouted. We are 96 voices short. We recite their names…
The bell tolled
we did not send to ask
It told of flowers
heaped in a goalmouth,
red and blue scarves
heaped together at an altar;
It told of
eyes like TV screens
haunted by last night’s images
tears dried by the April wind.
As the flags at half-mast
the deep bell
still tolled in our heads
long after the light had gone.
Adrian Henri, April 1989