Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Hillsborough Anniversary puts Semi-final into perspective

As fans of Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Everton gear up for this weekend's FA Cup semi-finals, the poignant anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster put things into sharp perspective.

Those 96 football fans who never came home from the game will have shared the same excitement and sense of expectation I and many fans have this week, ahead of my trip to Wembley this weekend to watch Everton v Man United.

The only difference between us is that they were of a generation of football fans who, tainted by the horrors of hooliganism, were shepherded like cattle into cramped pens in dangerous, crumbling terraced stadiums.

I am not going to go into detail about where the blame lies - I was too young at the time to appreciate what really happened that day. If you want to find out the real story, ask those people who were there.

But what gets me is that it could have been any football fan that day. Fate dictated that it would be Liverpool and Forest fans at Hillsborough that afternoon, and it would be Liverpool supporters who would fatefully occupy the Leppings Lane end.

I have a number of Friends who are Liverpool fans and regularly attend away games, had the tragedy occurred five years later I am certain they would have been at the ground. Plus don't forget on the same day Everton were playing in a semi-final of their own. No-one should ever go to a football game and not return, tragically it took the deaths of 96 football fans to shake the authorities into action.

The aftermath of the tragedy brought all-seater stadia and improved policing both in and around the grounds. Though these shiny new arenas do take away some of the raw passion and atmosphere the older stadiums had, fan safety has to take precedent and if one good thing was to come out of the disaster it was that.

For the families of the dead the nightmare lives on. Many of them continue their fight for a new enquiry to be opened into the events of that day - particularly about what happened after the match was officially abandoned at 3:15pm. The tributes at Anfield last Saturday were as much for their struggles as it was for the memory of their lost loved ones.

So as I join my mates at Wembley, cheering on my team in a safe, secure environment, I will spare a thought for those 96 football fans who did the same thing 20 years ago but never came back.

I'm sure you will too.

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