My experiences of Anfield during Hillsborough tributes
For the last 2 seasons, I’ve been inside Anfield for the anniversary tributes to the Hillsborough disaster.
There are thousands of fans who joined me for those games who I’m certain have been witness to tributes many more times than myself, but my experiences there in the last couple of years have inspired me to write this tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives on that fateful day in 1989.
I’m 18, so evidently wasn’t born when the disaster actually occurred. I probably first learned about the tragedy when I was 8 or 9. I remember it well. We were on a long family drive home from somewhere down South, back towards the North-West. This was again, around the anniversary date and there was a radio documentary on in the car. The documentary was telling the story of the day itself, as well as interviews with family members of victims.
It was difficult to listen to even at that age, and ever since I’ve known that it’s part of your ‘duty’ as a Liverpool fan to support the Justice for the 96 campaign, and last year, in the Europa League game vs Borussia Dortmund, I was in the crowd for the first time during a minute’s silence for the fans we lost.
The night was a special night anyway because of the result, there was something in the air from the very beginning. The tie was perfectly poised at 1-1 from the first leg, and we’d all arrived at the ground early to greet the bus with flares and banners and chants.
The minute’s silence was well-observed by the Dortmund fans, the mosaic was beautifully designed, and the away fans had even organised their own ’96’ mosaic to pay their own tributes, which I thought was an outstanding touch of class by a set of away fans. The game itself was a spectacle of course, with Liverpool coming from 3-1 to win the game 4-3, and the tie 5-4 on aggregate, and as many fans know, the rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ that evening won a FIFA Fan Award.
That was my first experience. However, I have an arguably even more poignant memory from the game 3 weeks later, another Europa League fixture, this time the semi-finals vs Villarreal.
This fixture was the first home after a jury at the Hillsborough inquests came to the verdict that the fans that day played no role in the disaster and that Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was “responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence”, due to a breach of his duty of care.
It was like a huge weight had been lifted off the city’s shoulders. This time, there was no silence before the whistle, but a minute’s applause. Mosaics covered the Kop, Centenary and home section of the Anfield Road end, and there was cheering for the fantastic news earlier that week, but that wasn’t the thing that sticks out in my mind from that evening.
Liverpool actually started the game 1-0 down from the first leg after conceding late on in Spain, and an early goal from Daniel Sturridge had added an extra bounce to an already incredible atmosphere. Villarreal were rocking and would go on to lose the game comfortably 3-0.
About 25 minutes into the game, long after the first goal, the atmosphere had just started to settle a little. And behind us, in the Anfield Road end, a group started to chant ‘Stand up! For the 96!’ over and over again.
And so we did. Slowly but surely, the whole ground started to catch wind on what was going on. The chant got louder and louder. My Dad and I rose to our feet and just watched what was happening before us, letting it sink it. The game was still going on the pitch, but what we were apart of in the stands was even more powerful, and that is genuinely a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life.
The Bournemouth match this year was the first time in the Kop for the Hillsborough tributes, and for the first time on the anniversary, it was applause rather than silence. Below is my own footage.
I felt proud to be there. Proud to be singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and paying tribute to those people who sadly passed away at Hillsborough. It was an honour to be part of that mosaic, and I think moments like that are what make football so special.
So many people I know are so quick to dismiss football as something worth being passionate about. Without meaning to be sexist, a lot of those people are female and I can completely see why all they see of football is just ‘men running around and kicking a football about’ (a true quote from one of my friends, you might know people who’ve said similar things).
That’s fine. That’s their opinion, that how they view the sport. Whatever gender, that’s just because they’ve not been brought up with it in their lives. I was never brought up with Harry Potter, and people gasp when I tell them I haven’t read the books, it’s just one of those things.
However, when I show those people the clips and pictures from nights such as Dortmund, Villarreal and Bournemouth, even they begin to understand what sort of passion we all have for the game. There’s such a unity that is indescribable, you can’t find it anywhere else. When Anfield is packed now, there are on average 50,000 Liverpool fans inside that ground. That’s 50,000 people from all walks of life. They may have different upbringings, backgrounds, races, life-stories, but they are all there for that 90 minutes for one reason, to cheer on their team. And that sense is amplified on nights like those 3 games, when we remember those who were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough in 1989. When nights like those come along, even those who have no time for football recognise the immense power it has. They understand the passion in us fans.
Is it me, or is football’s ability to do that, to make even the usually uninterested stop and take notice of something powerful, just really beautiful?
By Ben Kelly – Twitter: @benkelly_10