Tuesday 15 April 2008, the 19th anniversary was yet another remarkable turn-out at Anfield. There has been some discussion about the Memorial Service, why people who are neither bereaved nor survivors attend … why others stay away. A few thoughts …
Each person who attends the Memorial and the many thousands who are there in their minds has her/his personal reason for going or not. Surely there is no right or wrong in this. Wherever people are on the day those who have lost loved ones or who survived the trauma of Hillsborough, its appalling immediate aftermath and the deep injustices that followed endure the pain, suffering and grief of an avoidable disaster compounded by the measured, deliberate and cynical cover-up that followed.
Families, be they bereaved or survivors, are divided on going to Anfield. For some it is too much to bear, others simply want to be alone with their memories and others are not well enough to make the journey. The Club makes an effort and the players attend the service but not the reception. I feel that’s the least those directly associated with the Club might do. It lays down a marker – that the Club at all levels, especially the owners, will and should remain committed to the memory of those who died and survived. This is not about football but about respect.
I go to the Memorial each year because through Hillsborough I have made many friends and it provides an opportunity to come together and show solidarity. On Tuesday as each candle was lit and the names respectfully read out for the nineteenth time my thoughts were with those around me on the Kop, those at home and the dreadful damage that Hillsborough has caused – and continues to cause – in the lives and relationships of so many people. Since Hillsborough mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and other relatives have died prematurely. Others are ill or have aged before their years. Whatever the expressions of support we know that loved ones cannot be brought back, that the bereaved and survivors cannot return to the life they had before 15 April 1989.
Phil Hammond, breaking down in his closing speech as he recalled the recent loss of a friend who had become a really significant support for his family as well as the HFSG, remained generous in his words of solidarity with the Omagh families in Northern Ireland. He reminded us of how Blues and Reds were brought together over the tragic loss of Rhys Jones. This isolates the embittered, vicious and hateful individuals who continue to blight football with their narrow-minded bigotry.
When TV pop-psychologists talk of ‘closure’ in these situations it brings home how little they understand of loss, of trauma and of recovery. Of course people live their lives and present a public face to the world but they can never have ‘closure’ in the sense of being free from their grief. It is remarkable just how resistant and resilient the bereaved and survivors of Hillsborough have been. But their strength, individually and collectively, should never be mis-represented as ‘closure’.
‘Being there’ for me is simply an expression of support and friendship to people who I wished I had never met in such circumstances. I never knew those who died but I know many who loved them dearly. I never knew most survivors before Hillsborough but have met and corresponded with many since. From talking regularly to families and survivors it is reassuring to hear that many draw some strength from the Memorial and the collective responses of warmth and resistance.
There or not, we are united in acknowledging those who died, the bereaved, the survivors and their families.
With love and respect, Phil and Family.