Last week, 27 years after Hillsborough, the families of those who were unlawfully killed in the disaster were finally vindicated as jurors decided Liverpool fans did not contribute to the tragedy. A tragedy that was never just ‘a Scouse thing’, says Lynne Crook.
It’s taken a while to process the Hillsborough verdict and, even though it was the one that should always have been made, it’s almost a shock that it’s been made so decisively.
I’ve had an odd relationship with the Hillsborough issue over the years. I think the main reason being that it is always seen as ‘just that Scouse thing’. The enormity of what happened at Hillsborough was naturally going to be felt most deeply in the place where most of the victims lived, but making it ‘that Scouse thing’ seemed like such an easy way for anyone else to discount it.
In fact, I’ve never totally understood why it being ‘a Scouse thing’ makes anything so discountable. Liverpool is a whole city. A pretty big place. It’s got its good bits and bad bits, good people and bad people – just like any city. People who do terrible deeds and people who perform selfless, silent miracles, and a lot more of us somewhere in the middle – just like any people. Humans. Those people who died? Humans.
This was never just a Scouse thing. A significant number of the victims weren’t from Liverpool, for starters. And, of course, the major issue was the systematic cover-up by South Yorkshire Police. A large, powerful, apparently publicly accountable body which has now been proven to be deeply corrupt.
Not just then, but in the recent inquiries. How many other events have they policed? How many times might they have used the same intimidatory tactics on the vulnerable? How many times have senior officials taken these methods with them when they have moved forces?
This is an issue for everyone. Although a good proportion of Liverpool risked being branded gobby, bitter Scousers to let the rest of country hear the evidence for that.
And I know they’ve risked that branding, because I’ve heard it so many times. This is my peculiar relationship, you see. I don’t sound Scouse. I don’t even sound Liverpudlian. I’m like a Merseyside ninja. A Crosby native, I’ve just never picked up the accent.
“I was eight when Hillsborough happened. How the hell do you explain to someone that one of your earliest memories was scanning the pictures on the news report trying to see if you could spot your brother?”
I’ve been in the room while people have made those accusations, seriously or jokingly. I’ve been in the room when they’ve brought up all of the old arguments, normally based on misinformation from sections of the media at the time, who swallowed the version of events fed to them by the police (The Sun was only the most notoriously outlandish).
Even after the cracks started to appear in that story, there was always a ‘but…’, because without a ‘but…’, people would just have to admit they’d been wrong all the time. I often wonder if I’d have heard the same thing from them if I had a different accent.
More worryingly, most of these people weren’t stupid, Sun-reading knuckle-draggers. They would often consider themselves liberal, intelligent, educated, empathetic, creative people. If this story had been written in a tabloid about any other group, they would have derided it. Pointed out the flaws in the logic. Noted the disparities between sources, the clear establishment bias.
But somehow, for these liberal, intelligent, educated, empathetic, creative people, this was fair game. It spoke to some kind of prejudice they had picked up from somewhere, and they were happy to switch off the critical faculty they would employ elsewhere. Prejudice is a loaded word, but I can’t think of another.
I was in the room when these liberal, intelligent, educated, empathetic, creative people said that the Liverpool fans had it coming. That anyone who was still upset was a bitter, victimhood-appropriating Scouser who just couldn’t accept the truth. But that was fine. Because there’s no one Scouse here, and it’s just a Scouse thing, isn’t it?
As a non-Scouser, I listened while I was essentially told that it was fine that my brother and his mates could have died at 18. They were just drunken hooligans anyway, weren’t they? Must have been. They all were. There’d been trouble at other matches, so every last one of all those hundreds of individual people, all those humans, were all the same.
He’s an accountant, my brother, by the way. He has a little boy and a wife who rehomes greyhounds. He’s also a trustee of a children’s charity and enjoys running, although it seems like one of his knees might be going. Scum of the fucking earth, I think you’ll agree.
Before you ask, I rarely said anything. I learned quickly not to and because, to be honest, I just couldn’t. It’s a funny thing, but for gobby Scousers, I know a shocking number of people who just can’t talk about it. Not ‘don’t want to’, not ‘are avoiding it because they know they’re to blame’. Can’t. Can’t open their mouths and find the words to make you understand. Because how do you explain that to someone who doesn’t want to listen?
“I can’t even imagine what it has been like for the families of the victims. They are braver than me. To have gone through all that and then to go through the unceasing pressure of the next 27 years when the whole world is against you.”
I was eight when Hillsborough happened. How the hell do you explain to someone that one of your earliest memories was scanning the pictures on the news report trying to see if you could spot your brother?
How do you explain that your mum did that too, trying to spot her own son? How do you explain the wait for a phone call after what seemed like hours and hours because he had to find a payphone? And don’t ever ask me to explain how he looked when he got home, because I just can’t.
I don’t really know how he feels about all of this. He doesn’t talk about it. Even to his family.
And mine is just one little story. Think about how many people were at that match. How many times this can be multiplied. How many people have been so affected for so long. We were lucky. My brother had been to the match the year before and knew how bad the crushing had been then, so they turned around and came back out of the tunnel to avoid the crowding. A split-second decision.
Nevertheless, I still feel guilty that I should have said more, even when no one would listen, even though I was eight. I can’t even imagine what it has been like for the families of the victims. They are braver than me. To have gone through all that and then to go through the unceasing pressure of the next 27 years when the whole world is against you.
They never wanted pity. They wanted outrage. Outrage that the whole establishment could do this to cover up such arrogant negligence, smearing the innocent and taking away their voice. The families have fought to reclaim that voice, to tell everyone that it could have been anyone. It could have been you. That is not claiming victimhood. That is the opposite of victimhood, and they deserve thanks, not approbation.
Much though the city of Liverpool and all the supporters outside of that should feel justifiably proud of themselves, it was never really just a Scouse thing. It was a matter of people being made to do the right thing. I do now wonder if some of those liberal, intelligent, educated, empathetic, creative people might do the right thing and admit they were wrong.5070 Views
Born in Liverpool, Lynne has bounced her way around the north of England and through the venerable universities of Newcastle, Lancaster, Liverpool and now Salford while studying and teaching. She has written bits, performed bits and one day hopes to decide what she's going to do when she grows up.