Twenty years ago a terrible tragedy occurred in Sheffield at a football match when I was just embracing what the great Brazilian footballer Pelé described as the ‘beautiful game’.
At the time, I had become to be – like most young boys – obsessed with everything about the game and especially Liverpool Football Club.
Football, though, was and is accessible to everyone.
However, on 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough stadium the game changed through a horrendous and terribly disastrous set of consequences. And justice is still being fought amongst families of 96 supporters of Liverpool Football Club, who were crushed to death in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, whilst in attendance at an FA Cup semi-final between Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forrest.
Football almost, many would agree, ended on this afternoon at 15:06 hours for good. In this moment of calamity, most LFC supporters, who were not in attendance at the ground, remember and still remember exactly where they were at the time. Even supporters of other clubs may remember where they were too.
Questions over Police control, newspaper coverage, the design of the stadium belonging to Sheffield Wednesday FC and even the behaviour of LFC supporters remain today and will forever about what happened on 15.04.1989 but more significantly about why it happened.
Fences constructed in front of supporters were removed and many of the top stadiums converted into all-seater as a result of Lord Peter Taylor’s report into the disaster.
In 2003 I interviewed former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, who was a player for Liverpool at the time, and he confirmed the Hillsborough disaster had caused him to think about ending his career. Football – a game he loved and lived for – had died for him. What he went through is something he can never really describe.
Despite going on to lift and win the FA Cup, and scoring in the final, he felt he was never the same player for the club after the disaster. He consequently left his much loved Liverpool Football Club later in the year to resurrect his hunger and love of the game in Spain.
Just short of two years later, in 1991, arguably the greatest Liverpool footballer to ever wear the club’s shirt, Kenny Dalglish, who was managing the club at the time, headed for the exit door. And when it was stated he left due to health reasons it made most Reds suggest the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster must have had some contribution to this.
These two legends of the club, however, will be the first to say what they went through is absolutely nothing compared to those families who stayed waiting for their loved ones to return home from this football match. Football no longer was a recreation people could enjoy. For a large majority of them it never will be.
This is why Dalglish and Aldridge continue doing whatever they can to help ease this sense of loss and why their support has helped bring the Hillsborough disaster back into the headlines.
Together with former LFC stars Howard Gayle, Phil Thompson, Bruce Grobbelaar and Alan Kennedy, they’ve come together to make a magnificent contribution to a new single in aid of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
Using the musical talents of artists John Power, of the La’s and Cast, Nick Kilroe of Echo and the Bunneymen, Peter Hooton of The Farm, James Walsh of Starsailor, and Rob Taylor of Troubadours, all have united to record ‘Fields of Anfield Road’.
The song is based on the Irish ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ and is a new version of the one the Kop sing every LFC home game – created, a very reliable source told me, by normal supporter Gary Ferguson from Huyton.
Elvis Costello, Pete Wylie and James Walsh have contributed appropriate B-sides to this single, titled Liverpool Collective – featuring The Kop Choir, which is available to download on 6 April.
Philip Hayes, director of The Picket Liverpool, held an official launch of the single and said: “Kevin McManus and I were asked by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Steve Rotheram, to put together an appropriate musical tribute to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Kevin McManus, from Merseyside ACME, is joint project co-ordinator.”
Cllr Steve Rotheram, who originally came up with the idea, added: “Everybody can instantly recall the precise moment they heard the news from Hillsborough. The memories of the events of the 15 April 1989 are as vivid today as they were 20 years ago and the launch of this CD is simply an attempt to commemorate the men, women and children who didn’t return home from that FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield . We will never forget the 96.”
One man, a Spaniard, who finished a memorable few weeks by committing his future to the club for a further five years, attended its launch and gave his frank and honest opinion on the single.
The current Liverpool FC manager, Rafael Benitez, said: “I think you can feel the emotion in every single game, what it means to the fans. It is a very good song and Liverpool fans sing it better than anyone.”
Even if you buy it and never listen to this song, supporters of Liverpool Football Club will, I am sure, be eternally grateful to those of you who remembered these 96 people like you and me.
And any true supporter of LFC does not need telling what they should do next.
*For more information and details on how to get your hands on this anniversary single visit www.fieldsofanfieldroad.co.uk