Liverpool: more than a football club
Being Liverpool. For the Hillsborough families, on this day of days, that means something infinitely more profound than a fly-on-the-wall documentary designed to sell the football club, as a second-rate soap opera, to a global audience.
I had intended to write about the perils of Brendan Rodgers being caricatured in the series as Anfield’s answer to David Brent. The Liverpool owners’ plan to create a “technical committee” of “football people” to advise the manager is dangerously dogmatic.
But, to be honest, it seemed wildly inappropriate. Liverpool FC underwent open-heart surgery in the city’s Anglican Cathedral today, when the families of the 96 victims were briefed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. It is 8,551 days since the disaster and a telling phrase once uttered by Bishop James Jones, the panel’s chair – “truth has its own power” – has never been more relevant.
This may sound perverse, but my first thought as the search for justice reached its pivotal point was for an Everton fan, Steve Kelly. His brother, Michael, was the last of the Hillsborough victims to be identified.
Steve found him in a cold church hall in Sheffield, after a 36-hour search, and was prevented from giving him a farewell kiss by a policeman who insisted the body was the coroner’s property.
Speak to him about the way lives have been shattered by grief, guilt and despair, and you will begin to understand the role of a football club in a tightly drawn community. It puts the froth and nonsense of the Premier League, and particularly the crass ‘brand-building’ exploits of the new Liverpool owners, into sharp perspective.
A former taxi driver, Steve has been retrained by the local social services department and now works, unpaid, counselling survivors of the tragedy on behalf of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. He’s based at their shop near the Kop. Some survivors pop in for tea and sympathy; others have darker demons to conquer. Several suicides have been directly attributable to the disaster.
Steve’s sister and mother succumbed to cancer without the emotional release of full disclosure of what happened in the Leppings Lane end, in the days, weeks, months and years afterwards.
Steve still finds solace in touching the golden letters of his brother’s name. It is the 10th on the right-hand side of the Hillsborough memorial outside the Shankly Gates. It is a form of immortality that should scour the soul and stir the conscience.
Rest in peace.
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Watch Liverpool live on BT Vision:
Liverpool v Man Utd, 1pm, 23 September, Sky Sports 1
Everton v Liverpool, 1pm, 28 October, Sky Sports 1
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