The Hillsborough Debate Has United Our Football Community

As both sides in the house put aside their loyalties for one important cause, so too did football supporters across the country.
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As both sides in the house put aside their loyalties for one important cause, so too did football supporters across the country.

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As MPs mulled over whether governmental documents relating to the Hillsborough Disaster should be released, the city of Liverpool was joined by supporters nationwide in holding its collective breath.

Last night I saw something remarkable. I sat for hours, glued to BBC Parliament studiously listening to politicians tell me facts that I already knew, I heard statements that I had already read, and was taken carefully through events I had already studied countless times myself.

For the first time in my 22 years on this planet, I wasn't listening to a friend or a family member telling me these details. I wasn't listening to fellow Liverpudlians, vociferous with anguish and frustration in a pub, or on the terraces of Anfield, I was listening to politicians. Fans of Manchester United, Everton, Tories, Liberals, Labour, even The Home Secretary and The Secretary of State for Culture. All unified in talking about an issue that has been central to my understanding of football and Liverpool FC since I was old enough to understand that we were the ones playing in red.

For me, this was possibly the most important aspect of last night's debate over the release of official documents surrounding the Hillsborough Disaster. For too long I, amongst thousands of others, have been sneered at and brushed off with scurrilous tales of 'drunken fans without tickets' and 'Scousers blaming anyone else but themselves'. No amount of quoting facts and figures or Lord Justice Taylor's official report into the disaster could flow this tide of bile, fuelled by certain sectors of the British press.

For over two decades, families of the 96 people lost at Hillsborough have fought to have their case heard, to combat these lies and misconceptions. Correcting people in the error of their ways has been a chore that they and I alike, would never tire of, but yesterday 22 years too late, finally they were given a platform to let people know that justice would be done. The lies told about their family members, the cover up staged by the authorities and the cavalcade of errors on that day, resulted in the death of their loved ones would be accounted for.

Throughout the debate, I watched as politicians from both sides of the house dismantled the myths surrounding the disaster. I regarded in awe as politicians, instead of bickering and squabbling, set about righting a wrong and correcting the mistakes of their predecessors. I watched some of the most emotional conversations I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw the people responsible for running this country, tackling issues I have argued and debated over hundreds of warm stale pints of lager, and for once, we were on the same side of the argument.

The debate provided some much needed international exposure of the facts of Hillsborough that have long been hidden from the public. At times it difficult to watch, emotional and exhausting, but overall it was astonishing.

Kelvin Mackenzie's despicable role in The S*n's publishing of it's infamous 'THE TRUTH' headline was brought under the spotlight, as well as Chief Inspector Duckenfield's attempts to shift blame in regards to the opening of an exit gate. The original coroner’s decision not to accept evidence after 3:15 on the day was also discussed, as well as the scandalous amendments made to police officers accounts of the tragedy amongst other facts which have long jarred with Liverpool fans' quest for justice. Not once did a politician disagree or offer a conflicting opinion. All in the house were in agreement that these were issues that need to be addressed, a miscarriage of justice that has lay untouched and dismissed for 22 long years.

Of course the most resonant speeches came from those MPs who were closest to the disaster and those affected, Labour's Steve Rotheram (MP for Walton and Liverpool fan who was present at Hillsborough) paused to recollect the names of those lost, refusing to label them just as 'The 96' and astonishingly recording each of their names for the first time in The House Of Commons since 1989. Andy Burnham, the man partly responsible for the launching of the independent panel, emotionally recalled his speech at the 20th anniversary memorial service, hailing his decision to speak in front of the Anfield crowd as one of the most 'difficult and important of his life'. Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South, received a round of applause from the public gallery at the end of her emotional speech in which she fought back tears proclaiming that the memory of those who died should 'never leave our hearts.'

The debate provided some much needed international exposure of the facts of Hillsborough that have long been hidden from the public. At times it difficult to watch, emotional and exhausting, but overall it was astonishing. To see people fighting the same corner that the people of Liverpool have been for so long was refreshing. The families of those affected now have fresh hope that one day they will see the truth, and justice will prevail.

The Hillsborough Tragedy is just a few months older than me, and this is the closest we have ever come to justice and the truth. Will this debate stop ignorant people believing the lies prompted by the 22 year old smear campaign? Will it provide closure and a sense of justice for those who lost loved ones? We will have to wait and see, but if not, at least we are one step closer to an acceptance of the true series of events on 15th April 1989.

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