NICK ARMITAGE COLUMN
I was fifteen in April 1989. Only in the previous couple of years had I been allowed to go to Goodison with my mates. Unfortunately a trip to see Everton play at Villa Park in the other semi was never on the cards for me. On that day I went shopping to town instead. I probably bought what I considered to be some stylish threads in Concept Man and a head banging album upstairs in the old HMV where Next now stands.
I took my Walkman with me to listen to the progress of the blues, but the batteries died, these were still the days when we had to buy batteries. Without headphones, and being able to sense my surroundings, I vividly recall that Liverpool City Centre just didn’t feel the same. Church Street was normally buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, but despite the glorious weather the place was noticeably flat. I got a bus home from the Gyratory some time after four.
As the bus pulled up to my stop I heard the driver had a radio on so I asked him the score, he said Everton won one nil. I wondered how he was so confident I was a blue, I didn’t have an Everton top on and I didn’t know the man from Adam, so I asked him.
The driver looked through me and told me that the Liverpool game had been cancelled, the radio reported that fans had died. My obvious conclusion was crowd trouble, but straight away he followed up by saying his lad was there and he just wanted to finish his shift and get home. As he spoke to me his face was utterly devoid of any expression and the look on his face shot a chill through my soul. I have never seen anyone conscious look so numb in all my life and I will never forget that man as long as I live.
I got home and walked through the front door, the radio was blaring in the kitchen and both downstairs televisions were on. That was unusual. My dad, who hated football, had his hands on his hips and looked visibly shaken. I sat down and started watching the newsflashes with the radio in the background. Even with blanket media coverage, nobody appeared to know exactly what was going on. The only thing that made any sense were the numbers, and those numbers just kept going up and up - 4, 6, 20, 30, up to 50………
When I returned to school I remember a special assembly where we were told that everyone in the school was fine — by fine they meant alive.
There were dozens of kids in my school at that match. That day I saw kids crying in offices and corridors, hugging each other on the yard and showing injuries to their mates. We looked to the teachers for guidance, but they were as lost as we were. In a school full of hard knocks, I had never witnessed an outpouring of emotion like that. Under normal circumstances you’d get your head flushed down the toilet for any sign of weakness, but hostilities ended that day and a hell of lot of young people took their first steps into adulthood.
In the days after I saw grown men openly weeping, a mate of mine said it was the first and only time he had seen his dad cry. None of what happened seemed real, but it was. Thatcher had ravaged the City of Liverpool through the 80s and this was the final kick in the teeth from an uncaring establishment, but the people of Merseyside stood shoulder to shoulder. At that time both clubs and their supporters everywhere united in a way that I am convinced no others could have.
Twenty years later the memories are still raw. It seems like yesterday, but it wasn’t.
John Aldridge said that for him, “football died that day.” It did for a lot of people but more importantly 96 sons, daughters, husbands and wives of the City of Liverpool needlessly lost their lives. It doesn’t matter which club they supported.
As it happened the 1989 FA Cup Final was a great game, but did anyone care when we lost the final; did any kopites care when they won it? Bill Shankly once said that football was more important than life or death — he couldn’t have been more wrong if he tried. All football pales into insignificance after the events of that tragic day.
One thing us Evertonians should never forget is that if a different ball had been pulled out a bag, it could have been a very different history for Everton Football Club. All football supporters, and particularly those from Merseyside, must never forget those 96.
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