It is a source of national shame it took 27 years for Hillsborough families to gain justice, says Michael Booker
Published: 15/04/2023- 10:11
Updated: 15/04/2023- 18:38
The morning of April 15th 1989 was an exciting one in our house.
We were going to Leeds.
Now, that may not have sounded too thrilling to some, but for a family from West Yorkshire exiled in Durham the chance to see Leeds United in the flesh didn’t come around all that often.
Me and my older brother had given no real thought to the FA Cup semi-finals taking place that day.
Britain’s worst football disaster happened at Hillsborough, Sheffield, when fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
To the rest of the footballing world Leeds V Brighton was a dull end of season tussle between two struggling Second Division clubs in a grim stadium. But not to us.
As we started our journey down from the North East countless other were making their way to games up and down Britain.
Thousands of families were casually saying goodbye to their football-mad mums and dads, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters as they headed to see a match.
They all knew their loved ones would return…didn’t they?
Making the journey down the A1 on a bright April morning we passed cars going to other grounds, scarves hanging out of passenger windows showing their team’s colours.
It was an average weekend on the motorway as football took centre stage.
At about 1.30pm me, my brother and two older cousins headed off on the mile or so walk down to Elland Road.
After about half a mile, the various trickles of fans from the surrounding streets had joined together on Lowfields Road making the final approach to the ground.
Hillsborough football stadium
But to me at the age of 13, not used to going to football that regularly, there seemed to be a swarm of people everywhere.
The perception of football fans by many at that time was at it’s lowest but, again perhaps due to my age, I was unconcerned when the police patted me down to see if I was carrying a knife as I went through the turnstiles.
All I had in my pocket was my programme and my match ticket.
Walking up the steps into the dilapidated Lowfields Road stand we took our seats trying to act cool and fit in, despite the butterflies in my stomach.
As the whistle blew for kick-off at 3pm no-one at Elland Road, or any ground for that matter, knew that less than 90 minutes later things would never be quite the same.
As Leeds and Brighton huffed and puffed their way through an uneventful first half, disturbing news started to filter through on radios usually reserved for checking out how rival teams were faring.
It quickly became apparent that on this day Radio 2’s sports reporters were not talking about football at Hillsborough.
The usually lively and vocal fans around us fell eerily silent save for one idiot who was quickly shouted down.
The second half came and went and, despite the 1-0 win for Leeds, the eerily numb feeling remained.
Bent and twisted fencing at Hillsborough in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Events at Hillsborough dominated the stilted chatter on the way back to my aunt’s house, though in those pre-smartphone days information was still sketchy.
When we got in and saw the pictures on Yorkshire TV’s Calendar News we were stunned.
It was hard to watch the bulletins that night seeing the panic and horror across the pitch that should have played host to a thrilling game of football and instead became a makeshift A&E department.
It could have been any football fan that day. The rickety old stadiums. The fences erected to keep us all penned in.
The suspicion that all football fans were potential criminals.
A working-class sport had seemingly become a nuisance, only just tolerated by the authorities.
Just over a year later following Italia 90, football’s image had started its transformation.
Today’s multi-billion-pound game played in purpose-built all-seater stadiums fuelled by foreign owners is a world away from how things were in April 1989.
That it took the unlawful deaths of 97 people to kick-start that transformation will always be an outrage.
I’ll always remember climbing the back step into the kitchen of my aunt’s house that afternoon.
The families of those Liverpool fans who, like us, set out to simply watch a football match on April 15th 1989 never got to greet their loved ones ever again
Her and my mum had heard the news breaking while out shopping and for one moment, in the confusion, thought the disaster was actually unfolding at Elland Road.
They quickly realised it wasn’t but cut short their shopping trip and went home early, greeting us warmly in the kitchen as we returned.
The families of those Liverpool fans who, like us, set out to simply watch a football match on April 15th 1989 never got to greet their loved ones ever again – in their kitchens or anywhere else.
As the minute’s applause happens at Aintree today we must all remember the fact it took 27 years for those families to gain justice .
That will forever be a source of national shame.