JFK moments. Each generation has them, moments when you always remember where you were and what you were doing.
I can recall three: the death of Princess Di (in bed with a hangover) and Thatcher being forced out of office (on a tube train, saw it on the front of someone else’s Evening Standard) were two. For the third, I was at a mate’s house. His mum was out, so three of us were viewing a rather notorious video that was doing the rounds of our school. When we had reached the point where intrigue gave way to distaste, we switched it off to watch the TV instead. It was just after 3pm on 15th April 1989.
I was a boy and then a teenager in the 1980s. I went to my first football match with my Dad in the early 1980s. I went to my first match with my mates in the mid-late 1980s. I stood on terraces, was swept along in surges, lost then found my companions again, got squeezed through turnstiles. And in occasional panicky moments I thought to myself that if things went wrong, someone could get hurt. But I always dismissed that thought just as quickly – everyone looked out for each other, no-one would let anything really bad happen.
That something really bad did happen at Hillsborough. 96 people went to a football match and did not come home. Thousands more were never the same again. The people that supporters relied upon to know what they were doing and to do the right thing did neither. That they were allowed to lie and lie again about what happened is unforgivable, but sadly not surprising.
Hillsborough and its aftermath were the 1980s in microcosm, a seal on a decade of agitation, confrontation and demonisation.
On one side, football fans; along with trades unionists, CND supporters and left-leaning media types, part of the ‘enemy within’ treated as second class citizens by those in power. True, they didn’t always help themselves, but the brush of hooliganism tarred many an innocent match-going fan. Not only football fans, but Liverpool fans. A city cut adrift from the mainstream in the 1980s, a city that some senior politicians considered abandoning and allowing to ‘fail’. The home of a strong Militant left-wing movement that looked after its own to the disgust of the Conservative government.
And on the other side, the police and the gutter press, the two untouchables of the Thatcher years. The police, as Jack Straw said on the Today programme this morning, lied with impunity, safe in the knowledge that their position as the Prime Minister’s shock troops made them unassailable. The goodwill they had clocked up during the miners’ strike and the Wapping dispute, when they cracked heads for the government, bought them freedom to smear honest football supporters. The Sun, cheerleader in chief of the Thatcherite project, parroted everything they were told as it dovetailed nicely with their own agenda.
The government was only going to back one side in this. Despite exoneration by the Hillsborough report, they bear responsibility for failing to dig deeper and accepting what was blatantly a whitewash.
It should never have taken 23 years to get to the truth. The truth won’t bring back those 96 people or repair the countless shattered lives. But it is another light shone into the rotten corrupt heart of those years when Britain was a battleground. And the truth is on the side of the people, not the powerful. #JFT96 at last.