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For whom the bell tolls

Larry Neild looks back in sorrow on the April day that turned to darkness...

Published on April 15th 2009.


For whom the bell tolls

JOURNALISTS shouldn’t cry. We are trained to look at the facts, deliver the story and not get involved. Tragedy is something that happens to other people and we merely bring details to a world hungry for the facts.

Yet 20 years ago I broke the golden rule. I cried. And this week listening to accounts of Hillsborough my eyes again filled with tears, as though that terrible ordeal on April 15, 1989, happened just yesterday.

On Friday April 14, I was walking the dog in a south Liverpool park, happily chatting to a young gardener. The talk was of the next day’s cup clash and how he was looking forward to it.

Two days later I was talking to his parents. Steve Copoc was a son who had done them proud. Brought up in Speke, working for the council as a gardener, a career blossoming. Now he was gone.

And again, a few days earlier, I had been to collect some mail from the sorting office at Lark Lane and exchanged friendly banter with the manager, Phil Hammond. On the Sunday I was sitting in their living room, talking about the loss of their beloved son Philip, aged just 14.

I cried with them, as I had when I saw the episode unfold on a television screen just after 3pm on that fateful Saturday.

As the Great George bell at the Anglican cathedral strikes 96 times from 3.06pm on Wednesday, I will be thinking of the grandchildren the Hammonds never had, and the candle that Steve's family may light, and for the loved ones of each and every victim.

I am thinking of the unanswered questions still haunting the families, and will continue to haunt them for ever.

Can there ever be true justice for the families of the 96? If the answers they so desperately crave are ever to be forthcoming, will they feel any better?

Hillsborough was a combination of the

most awful factors which conspired to produce a tragedy of unbelievable proportions. It could have been avoided and should have been avoided.

In a way it was a tragedy waiting to happen, and its occurrence changed the rules to ensure a similar event is unlikely to happen on an English football terrace again.

Clearly, it was too high a price to pay for that lesson to be learned, too many innocent lives, many of them young lives, were sacrificed on some kind of altar of learning.

But we still expect ‘them’ – the authorities such as the Police, the FA, the people who regulate stadia - to know better and to have known better. An individual fan or attendee at a major function cannot control things, so we are at the mercy of other individuals and can only hope that when we put our lives in their hands they know what they are doing.

On April 15, 1989, the so-called experts failed, and a storm of tears descended on a city; tears of grief, tears of hopelessness and tears of anger.

This weekend, thousands of people will converge on football grounds, not just here, but around the world. One day there may be another tragedy and yet more lessons will have to be learned.

What concerns me is the lack of knowledge among the general public about public-safety strategies, because nobody tells us about it. You go on an aeroplane and before each and every journey you are taken through a safety drill. We get blase about it, thinking, “just as if”. Yet every time tens of thousands of people make that pilgrimage to a football stadium, 20 years after Hillsborough, we can do no more than hope (and pray) that the authorities have got things under control, should the worst happen (and there are plenty of modern-day scenarios to imagine).

My thoughts this week are with the families who suffered as a result of Hillsborough.

Tragedies like this don't just happen to other people.

*Ed's note: This is how Italian and Spanish football fans reacted to the tragedy during a minute's silence four days later.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AlanApril 14th 2009.

What a well written article and beautifully put. What more can I say than to commiserate with those who lost sons and daughters, or even wives or husbands.I was filling up before when watching the live coverage of the memorial service at Anfield on the BBC news channel, and was pleased to hear that the chief constable of north Yorkshire accepted the full blame for happened twenty years ago. Now reading this article I find myself filling up (even blubbing) again.Seeing all those scarves being waved at the memorial service makes feel that I have just got to get one next time I am in Liverpool, for Beatle Week in August.

AnonymousApril 14th 2009.

I wonder if that's what everyone thinks?

Anonymous 2April 14th 2009.

Nope, wrong. It was 1989.

zibuApril 14th 2009.

Important point here. We dwell too much on disaster and the grief that follows.Dont grieve, get angry and protest like hell until the complacent pigs in power squeal and are made to do something to improve things.

tipperApril 14th 2009.

time to stop this sick celebration of death. what is it about scousers that they revel in misery and disaster?feel sorry for the poor innocents of Iraq blasted to death by British soldiers on a mission to make Americans rich.dont snivel tears over a sorry disaster, get angry, vote out the maniacs who have led us to the brink of war with Islam.Be concerned about real and important world matters.

CorrespondentApril 14th 2009.

east lancs asks, "what do you propose?"Well, what I propose is that those surviving senior officers from the South Yorkshire force face criminal charges for their negligence; their culpability is beyond question. Also joining them in the dock should be those surviving members of the board of the Football Association, who ignored requests from Liverpool to reconsider the question of ticket allocation as well as the decision to award the Leppings Lane end to the Liverpool fans, despite the previous year's semi-final, where it was clear that such an arrangement was irrational & potentially dangerous.As the Professor notes, the cowards who helped cause the tragedy have resorted to smears, libels, legal tactics & evasion to escape justice. We rightly condemn the likes of MacKenzie for his odious claims. However, the source for that story, whom I've named on my blog, should also be made to pay for his actions.I'll be at Anfield later today.

AnonymousApril 14th 2009.

The real Madrid game was a year later

EmbarkOnApril 14th 2009.

This is a beautifully written article. The question of will justice ever be served is a great one that may never have an answer, which is the sad part. It seems like Hillsborough was just one of those events that needed to happen for change to take place. I found this video that looks at how some different news outlets are remember the tragedy www.newsy.com/…/…

MichaelApril 14th 2009.

That's an extremely poignant video clip proving that there is something very special about the realationships that football brings. Football unites in good and bad times. Ther was no internet or facebook groups to mobilise causes, people merely used their voices. Very emotional. As for justice, the Prof, and Correnspondent is right

grahamApril 14th 2009.

Sadly, I think it is now too late for real justice to be done. It would only be true justice if the establishment WANTED to see the families of the 96 victims treated with the respect they so richly deserve, and for the cowards that have treated them so shabbily to be punished appropriately.It is now abundantly clear that the establishment has closed ranks against the people that it is supposed to serve and be responsible to. We should take heed of this attitude, and be suspicious of any dealings that we have with its representatives, as their behaviour over the Hillsborough tragedy has proven that they do not have our interests at heart, just their own.I know this is a huge generalisation, but it isn't hard to find similar evidence in so many other aspects of our public representation.Hillsborough will remain a beacon of shame for this country - a stain that will never be eradicated.

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