On the 15th April, 1989, 25 years ago, at six minutes past three, it was a surprisingly, sunny Saturday afternoon and I was hanging out with my mates at a local video library, in my home town back in Northern Ireland.
I was sixteen years of age and it was what we did. As well as renting out Stallone, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger videos, there was a pool table, there were video games, there were girls to chat to and there were also the infamous “singles”, cigarettes sold under the counter for the princely sum of ten pence each. Many of the customers were minors. Needless to say, this was illegal but no-one seemed to mind, least of all the owners.
Of course, what with this kind of commodity to be procured, the place attracted a few of the “rougher” kids in town but, as a non-smoking teenager, it was still a Cool Place to Hang Out. I honed my pool skills there and developed a wonderful ability to rack up ridiculously high scores on Wonderboy, a popular video game at the time. For 20 pence (or the price of two singles), I could be on that game for over half an hour, scoring a million-plus worth of points.
Unfortunately for me, there were other kids that frequented the place that could score even more than me. So, at six minutes past three that day, I was impatiently waiting for my turn to have a crack at beating my best score, whilst one of the other kids was effortlessly on their way to a score that I could only dream of.
These things mattered at sixteen years of age.
Some of us in the shop, myself included, were huddled around a radio, listening to a football match, where our team, Liverpool, were competing in the FA Cup semi-final for the dream of playing in the cup final at Wembley.
It was to be our Date With Destiny. Of course, none of us had any idea just what that destiny was to be.
Today, exactly 25 years later, this time on a Wednesday afternoon, at six minutes past three, and at the ripe old age of 41, I was in a business meeting in the head office of a multi-national mining company in Brisbane, Australia, in my role as an IT consultant discussing the kind of things that would have put that naïve sixteen-year old to sleep in a heartbeat.
Evidently, my world has moved on.
How do I know where I was at six minutes past three, 25 years ago?
For those of you that don’t know, Google it but, by way of a brief synopsis, I shall steal this paragraph from Wikipedia:
The Hillsborough disaster was an incident that occurred on 15 April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. During the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs, a human crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others….and remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history, and one of the world's worst football disasters.
Just a single paragraph describing an unspeakable horror that none of us, unless there, could even begin to comprehend.
766 injured. Whilst watching a football match.
96 dead. Whilst watching a football match.
Many of the victims were kids, just like me.
Girls, boys, women and men, the crush was indiscriminate.
Kids, who loved their football team but – unlike me – who was listening to the tragic events unfold on a radio in the video store, this being of an age when there wasn’t wall to wall coverage of football on the television - were actually able to go to the game and cheer on their Heroes in Red.
Kids just like me, with their whole lives ahead of them, excited and, as our beautiful anthem states, “with hope in their hearts.”
As the tragic events unfolded on that fateful day, for the 96 people who were cruelly taken from their families and loved ones, their lives stopped. Their stories cut short. For those that they left behind, as well as for the people who survived, the scars will be borne forever.
In the 25 years since, my life has been full of many of the experiences that any young person could hope and wish for and, of course, all the challenges that life’s journey throws at you, as well.
I have loved and been loved.
I was fortunate enough to finish school, studied at university, got a job and have seen some of the world through my career.
I learned to drive and have attempted to learn a language.
I have watched proudly from afar, as my beautiful nephew and niece came into this world and now find themselves starting off on their own life journeys.
I have experienced deaths to loved ones and family.
I have buried my father, who was taken too early from me and who I shall miss with every day that I am alive.
I have sung (badly) at karaoke.
I have met some fantastic people along the way and am blessed to consider some of them as my friends, as I hope, they too, think of me.
I wanted to play guitar but quickly found out I was rubbish at it.
I was declared bankrupt in my late twenties.
I have spent a night in the drunk-tank.
I have pissed off and hurt people who I professed to love.
Like the 96, I have cheered on my heroes in red and shared in the beautiful highs and lows that goes along with that privilege.
Along with 95000 other people at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, I sung our beautiful anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – an experience that I shall take to my grave, which will hopefully be a long time from now, as I sit here writing these words on the other side of the world from Hillsborough.
Of course, I could go on but – the point is – that at 41 years of age I have a story to tell. As we all do.
For the 96, their story ended abruptly and without warning 25 years ago today.
Who knows where those 96 stories would be now, had they not suddenly ended, through no fault of their own, on that dark day in history?
I said earlier that my world has moved on. One thing, however, has remained a constant throughout and that is my love and passion for Liverpool Football Club.
For their families and loved ones, the 96 shall of course, never be forgotten. Their loss, mourned forever.
Their dignified search for TRUTH and JUSTICE against a system that has time and time again lied, cheated and distorted what happened that day, is an inspiration to the rest of us.
The 96 are immortalised by the Eternal Flame at Anfield Stadium but for as long as there is a Liverpool Football Club, The 96 shall all live on in all our collective memory.
Justice for The 96, for they shall “Never Walk Alone.”