Dave Tindall offers his emotional response to the Hillsborough inquest in this week’s Red Letter and also reflects on Liverpool’s chances of progressing past Villarreal to reach the Europa League final.
Hillsborough is Liverpool’s most important victory
Whether we won, drew or lost against Villarreal, Liverpool fans achieved the biggest victory of all this week: Justice, at long, long last, for the 96 that lost their lives at Hillsborough.
That it should have taken 27 years to get to the truth is an utter scandal. It’s hard to comprehend what the families of the dead and those still affected have gone through after one of the most appalling cover-ups this country has ever witnessed.
In 1989, I was a first-year student in Leeds. After hearing that Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final would be played in nearby Sheffield, I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss and planned to buy tickets.
Before I did, I recalled that my then girlfriend had booked in to come and visit me on that same weekend – April 14/15. The words “oh, sh*t” passed my lips. The classic girl v football dilemma.
For whatever reason (perhaps being a bit skint) – and I recall getting grief at the time for it – I decided to do the honourable thing and give Hillsborough a miss. I’d catch it on radio/TV and maybe even get tickets for the final.
Like everyone, I was horrified when the tragedy unfolded and, of course, the thought that I could have been there added an extra layer of terror.
It’s awful to play the ‘what if’ game but it’s only human to wonder what would have happened to me had I decided to go.
I have an aversion to big, packed crowds and like to think I would have stood back a bit and entered the ground late.
But how could I possibly know? Who’s to say I wouldn’t have got swept up in the crowd and been one of the unlucky ones after the South Yorkshire police made the catastrophic decision to open the exterior gates and allow a huge number of LFC supporters to enter the Leppings Lane end at the same time?
Liverpool fan and freelance sports writer Tony Evans described the 96 who lost their lives as “the tip of a grotesque iceberg” as so many others were affected. Some suffered life-changing injuries, others committed suicide through ‘survivor guilt’ while many are still being treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome. My heart goes out to them all.
The flimsiness of fate spared me such agony and ongoing nightmares but luck should not have played a part. Everyone who went to that match should have watched a game of football and come home safely.
I did go to Hillsborough in 1989 but that was to pay my respects when Liverpool returned there to play Sheffield Wednesday in a league game in November.
To be honest, I don’t remember too much about it beyond an overbearing sadness in the air. It was all still incredibly raw. People were numb. Liverpool lost the game but that was irrelevant.
Tuesday’s verdict that 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed will go a long way to easing the pain of these brave, brave families who have fought so long and hard for justice.
Having their names cleared at last is a monumental victory but let’s not forget that their pain and heartache will never fully go away.
Another big night at Anfield
It’s hard to talk about a game of football after that but, of course, Liverpool’s men in red can still bring much hope to our hearts. It’s why we became fans in the first place.
I celebrate the highs just as much as I ever did but, probably because of Hillsborough, I find it relatively easy to put defeats into perspective. It is, after all, only a game.
And so, that was the case after the added-time defeat to Villarreal in the first leg of Thursday night’s Europa League clash.
The Spaniards simply weren’t that good so frustration was the overriding emotion after a solid away performance was compromised by Adrian Lopez’s 92nd-minute winner at El Madrigal.
But all that does really is play into Liverpool’s hands and set up another one of those magical European nights at Anfield.
Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund have been overcome and now it’s time to see off Villarreal.
A week on after justice was finally served, perhaps its destiny that the stage is set for Liverpool’s fans to do what they do best; unite, be the Reds’ 12th man, make a difference in a way that might not have been needed if the first leg had been won 2-0 and roar the team into another European final.