Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remembering The 96

Today is a very solemn day in the history of sports, as it was 20 years ago today that 96 Liverpool soccer fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England.

The day will be marked all over Great Britain, but especially in Liverpool. (Last night I wrapped my Liverpool scarf around the microphone stand at Trivia Night in memory of The 96.) On April 15, 1989, Liverpool was facing Nottingham Forest in the F.A. Cup semifinals, on a neutral site at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.

England was in the middle of its worst bouts of hooliganism, and most stadiums in the country put up fences to keep fans off the playing field. An estimated 5,000 fans tried to get in at the section reserved for the Liverpool fans, as opposition fans are segregated at all soccer matches in England. Many fans without tickets were able to get in in the ensuing surge of fans entering the stadium.

As the match began, the fans were packed in so tight in the terraces, or standing area behind the goal, that they began to suffocate and die. When the referee noticed fans trying to climb the fences to escape about six minutes into the match, it was stopped and emergency personnel entered the park, and the disaster was witnessed by the entire country, as it was to be broadcast on "Match of the Day" later in the day.

It was a tragic day of incredible carnage, as 96 fans died, with nearly 800 injured. The youngest death was a 10-year-old boy. I can remember being incredibly horrified by the pictures in the newspapers the next day, and I almost got physically ill by what I saw. I can still recall a photo of a young fan's face being pressed up against the fences. I'll never forget it.

Here is more on the Hillsborough tragedy from Wikipedia.

It was around that time that I became a Liverpool fan. (I've always thought there was a connection between Liverpool and Boston, and that's among the reasons I support them. But that's a discussion for another time.)

There was some controversy in the last few weeks, as Liverpool's match with Chelsea was originally scheduled for the 15th, but it was wisely switched to April 14th when the outcry from Liverpool and their supporters about not having to play on such a solemn day. (Liverpool would play to a 4-4 tie on Tuesday and were eliminated from the Champions League.)

So to honor those fans who lost their lives 20 years ago today, here are two YouTube clips sent to me by my friend Eddie. The first is a set of clips of the disaster and its aftermath, with a roll call of the 96 fans who perished at Hillsborough. The second is a stirring singing of "You'll Never Walk Alone," Liverpool's song, in honor of the fallen fans.

May God bless the victims and their families, and all supporters of the Liverpool Football Club.

May they all never walk alone.


Steel36 said...

Never mention "The Sun" tabloid in Liverpool. They ran a report after the disaster claiming that fans had pick pocketed victims and urinated on them. The headline read "THE TRUTH" But it wasn't true.

The sad irony is for one Jon Paul Gilhooly. He was only 10 years old and the youngest Hillsborough victim. His cousin is star Liverpool player Steven Gerrard,one of the best football players in England.

in the preface to his autobiography, Gerrard wrote "I play for Jon-Paul"

Footy in most of the world is a secular religion. It's like football or baseball in America.

"Football is not life and death, it's more than that" is a saying in England.

There was probable police incompetence by The South Yorkshire Police on that day. But to date, no one has been called to answer.

The Omnipotent Q said...

I watched some of the ceremonies from Anfield today on Sky Sports on FSC, and it was very touching. Man who lost two daughters talked about how it never gets easier and there was a reading of the names of The 96. Brought tears to my eyes, and memories of the 9/11 remembrances.

I believe Jon-Paul was the boy I saw in a photo in the paper the next day. Beyond sad.

The Sun makes the New York Post look very respectable. I read up on that story last night and it was very disturbing. I pray The 96 rest in peace.