Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The One with Hillsborough

One of the great things about writing topical comedy is you have to keep up with the news.

However sometimes the news just isn't funny! But it touches you in ways you don't expect.

I've yet to go to Liverpool but I love Scousers. I love their wit, their confidence and their pride in their city. Most of all I love the accent. I could literally listen to a Liverpudlian talk all day.

I do a passable Scouse and have had the pleasure of playing Rita In Educating Rita and Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers. I also have a pact with Actor Laddie that he'll direct me in Shirley Valentine when I'm 45! Three and a half years away.. ouch!

On 15th April 1989 my Dad travelled up to see his team play in a FA Cup Semi final. In those days both matches were played at the same time on a Saturday. They weren't televised. You had to wait until Match of The Day for the highlights. There was no Sky Sports, no rolling 24 hour news, no Radio 5 Live, no internet and no mobile phones.

Fans stood at matches behind huge wire fences. To keep them in! Caged!

I was on a bus travelling home from work when I heard they'd been trouble at an FA Cup semi final. Which one? No one seemed to know. Back then if you were in town on Saturday and wanted to know the football scores you had to peer in Curry's window at Grandstand for the half times or the teleprinter at 4.45.

Curry's was still on the high street in those days!

Someone at the back of the bus had heard it was fighting. Hooligans. Probably drunk. 

Scousers someone else said.

That didn't narrow it down. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, Everton were playing Norwich at Villa Park!

People got on and off the bus. There's people dying someone said.

I was frantic. How the hell were people dying at a football match? This must be bad.

Did anyone know which ground?

Hillsborough came the reply.

My Dad's a Canary. He'd gone to the other game.

I got home and realised this wasn't just "trouble". These people weren't drunk or fighting. They were dying at a football match. I saw fans break up advertising boards to make stretchers, lift people over the fences, try and help in the sheer desperation of what was happening before them.

No one should ever just go out to watch a sport and not come back. I hugged my Dad within an inch of his life when he got home. Norwich had lost 1- 0 but he didn't seem to care much. It wasn't that important anymore.

10 years on when Hubby and I were planning our wedding I had a joke with my Dad. He always said I wasn't to get married until I was 30. The nearest Saturday, 5 days after my 30th birthday was 15th April 2000. We'll get married then I laughed.

My dad and I looked at each other and remembered the date. No, maybe not. Not that day! Hubby and I bought the wedding forward to Sept 1999.

You see Hillsborough could've happened anywhere. The Taylor report proved that. Many grounds were old, out of date with no provision for large crowds of people to get in or out.

Don't get me wrong hooliganism and Heysel hadn't helped but fans were treated like animals, packed in without a thought for safety.

Today football fans tell me they hate having to sit at a match. It spoils the atmosphere they say. You can't connect with your team. Football is a corporate machine now. Prawn sandwich eating, business men that pay £70 quid a ticket to wine and dine and not really watch the game.

But at least people are safe and shown some respect. If they can afford to go!

22 years on and so much has changed. There are no electrical stores on the high street anymore. If you want the footie scores you can get them 24 hours a day on your I-Phone. There's no news flashes. Sky has breaking news every other minute. The internet has taken over. We have the premiership now. Big clubs have amazing grounds with top notch facilities and people expect that. You have to sit down. Players get more money a week than most of us would ever hope to earn in a lifetime. FA Cup semi finals are played at Wembley.

But some things don't change! You still wear your colours. You still support the team your Dad did. You still want a pie and a Bovril when you go to the ground. I'm still made to spit my piece of gum out if the other team score because it's unlucky then you see so you have to get a new bit!

For the families of the 96 on Merseyside things haven't changed. They still have their grief, their sadness, their unanswered questions. Their lack of justice.

Yesterday, hopefully, went some way to putting that right.

You don't expect to cry when you watch BBC Parliament but as MP for Liverpool Steve Rotherham made his emotional speech and read out the names and ages of the 96 in the House of Commons yesterday, tears streamed down my face. I know since I became a Mum I'll cry at anything but so many were so young. Sons and daughters with their lives ahead of them. They just went to watch football for Christ sake! 

It's important that the relatives finally get some answers, some action and apologies but it's also important to not forget all those who survived but are still affected today. So many were injured not just physically but mentally too.

Last Spring, when we did Blood Brothers, I did some research on Hillsborough, as the story finishes at the end of the 1980's. You can't do a play set in Liverpool in the 80's and not need to understand the impact Hillsborough had on the city and it's people. I found this, which is one of the most moving, honest, emotional and upsetting things I've ever read and I can honestly say I was crying by the end of it. 

Neil Fitzmaurice on Hillsborough

Ironically I now chat to Neil sometimes on Twitter. He's a proper actor, off the telly and everything, so he doesn't have to bother with the likes of me, but he does because he's a lovely guy. He's a husband, a dad and a real person. A parent like me. 

Hubby can't wait until the boy is old enough to take to the footie with him. And I'll probably be scared witless everytime he does! But he'll go because that's what you do. That's what I did with my dad. But Neil is right they should teach children about Hillsborough and Bradford and Ibrox in history at school. So it never ever happens again.

I hope the debate in parliament is the start of the end for the families because as Steve Rotherham said all football fans must say to themselves about Hillsborough "There for the grace of god..."

That's how my Dad felt because whatever your teams colours, Hillsborough was a sad day for football and fans everywhere.

And that's why there should be justice for the 96.

And that's why, as a Mum and a football fan, for me, they must never walk alone!


  1. What a wonderful piece of writing. Whilst not being a football fan, the thought of what happened back then is both haunting and frightening - both evoked quite beautifully here.

  2. Thank you Dr Twit. As always your opinion means the world to me. Please feel free to retweet the link. I'd like to get this one out to as many people as possible. x