Remembering Hillsborough

Tears are shed at Anfield during the Premiership match between Liverpool and Manchester City in memory of the 96 victims who never came home 25 years ago. By Ayon Sengupta.

The road is long with many a winding turn That leads us to who knows where Who knows where But I’m strong Strong enough to carry him He ain’t heavy He’s my brother…

— From the ballad ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’

In the end, there were tears; tears everywhere — in the stands, in the eyes of many more watching the match on television and in the eyes of the stoic Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard…

The 3-2 win over Manchester City took the Merseyside club a little closer to its first English Premier League crown in 24 years. The title now within the grasp of Brendan Rodgers’ men, a 100 percent record in the remaining four games will end a long wait at the Kop.

But the tears at Anfield — filled to the brim with 44,601 fans clamouring in the stands — were not only about coming closer to the realisation of a dream, but in remembrance of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium “crash” on April 15, 1989, who never came home.

The tragedy took place during a FA Cup semifinal game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Among the victims was Gerrard’s cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley, then only 10.

For some it was a day to publicly display their support for the families of the victims, whose long stand on the mishap had been vindicated.

The process for a new inquest into the tragedy began on March 31 with the selection of a jury — five men and six women — in Warrington. The inquest was ordered in December 2012 after verdicts of accidental deaths from the earlier probe, published in 1991, were quashed by the High Court in London in the wake of new evidence presented by the Hillsborough Independent Panel set up by the British government in December 2009.

The nine-member panel, headed by James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, on September 12, 2012, concluded that no Liverpool fan was responsible in any way for the disaster. It rubbished the police’s claims of drunken unruly fans forcing the situation, and stated the main cause of the disaster was “lack of police control.”

It also concluded that 164 witness statements were altered of which 116 were amended to remove or change negative comments about South Yorkshire Police. The Police was also found guilty of performing blood alcohol tests on victims, including children, and then running it through the national police database to “impugn their reputation.”

The report led to widespread condemnation and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, apologised on behalf of the government and Ed Milband on behalf of the opposition.

Football, a game of such joy, bringing in millions to the grounds across the globe on match days, has also taken the lives of thousands in various stadium accidents and rioting over the years. As recently as 2012, 74 people died and 1000 were injured in clashes between the supporters of Al-Masry and Al-Ahyl in Port Said, Egypt.

Closer home, 19 fans were crushed to death on August 16, 1980, after deadly clashes broke out in the stands during a local derby, between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, in Calcutta. On December 9, 2012, 40 people were injured when clashes broke out between the supporters of the two teams during an I-League clash at the Salt Lake Stadium and Mohun Bagan midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi was hit on the head by a brick and required emergency surgery.

Such incidents — easily avoidable if proper contingency plans are put in place to tackle the inflaming passion — though less over the years, remain a threat still to the sanctity of the game. The pains suffered are there to stay and the memories will haunt Gerrard and the others for the rest of their lives.