Friday, 18 April 2014

When you walk through a storm

Watching the magnificent Kenny Dalglish snap up a half chance and clip it into the net was something those of us of a certain vintage had seen on many occasions over the years. On 30th April 1989 he did it again but this time it was under the most extraordinary of circumstances. He was wearing the red of Liverpool and had brought his magnificent team to Glasgow to play in a benefit game for the families of those lost in the Hillsborough tragedy. That Celtic had held out the hand of friendship to a team and a city in great pain was a gesture which fills me with pride as a Celtic fan.

Certain images of that sunny day 25 years ago remain etched into my mind. I recall standing beside two Liverpool fans in the old Jungle that day, a father and son. Neither could stop the tears as the whole stadium boomed out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ The older man put his arm around his son’s shoulders as they sang along with the rest of us. His eyes were closed but the sheer emotion in his voice spoke volumes about the depth of pain the city of Liverpool was going through in those dark times. I remember thinking of all the families unable to stand together at a football game again after the appalling events at Hillsborough.

Another moment from that day which is still fresh within my mind is the impeccably respected minute of silence before the game began. Players and officials stood in a circle in the centre of the field as 60,000 people joined them in remembering the lost. We were all Liverpool fans that day, all standing shoulder to shoulder with a suffering city and telling them that they really wouldn’t walk this road alone. Thatcher’s policies may have ripped the heart out of so many of the great industrial cities of the UK but the spirit  Liverpool and Glasgow exemplified that day was undefeated.  This was the sort of solidarity decent working class communities had always shown each other in times of tragedy.

Of course nothing can assuage the pain of those who lost loved ones. We can offer a shoulder or a helping hand but they must go through life and learn somehow to smile again. We rightly demand justice and truth and at long last the edifice of official lies and cover up now seems to be crumbling. The pain caused by the disgraceful reporting of events at Hillsborough in those early months after the tragedy to a people already traumatised by the loss of loved one is beyond comprehension. It was another bitter lesson in how the establishment protects itself with lies, disinformation and worthless reports. We saw it after Bloody Sunday and we saw it again after Hillsborough where Police briefed the gutter press to portray the fans as out of control drunken, louts. That some obliged is to their eternal shame.

It’s now almost 25 years since that match was played between Celtic and Liverpool and the face of football in these islands has changed dramatically. Stadia are now all seated and much safer places to watch football. Fans are no longer treated like cattle and are much more able to articulate their feelings to clubs and the wider society via social media outlets undreamt of in 1989. The unique circumstances and official incompetence which led to the Hillsborough tragedy are unlikely to occur again in the UK. A chapter will close when the truth is told at last about the events of that day but for those families involved there can be no forgetting, just the quiet satisfaction of knowing that justice will now hopefully be done.

The people of Liverpool have walked through a storm and I’m proud to say that Celtic and its supporters walked some of the way with them.

Rest in Peace the 96. You’ll never be forgotten.


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