First the truth. Now justice for the 96

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©BBC

On Saturday, April 15, 1989, I was home alone nursing a monstrous hangover – the night before had been my sister’s 16th birthday and I’d hosted a mad teenage party to celebrate her big day.

My brothers went for a hair of the dog to the local pub and I went for an afternoon nap.

Just after 4pm, my brothers rushed back in and told me to get up because “there’s a disaster happening at the Liverpool game”.

What unfolded at Hillsborough that afternoon has been the defining injustice of my generation.

96 fans who went to watch Liverpool play a game of football never went home. And 96 families who have spent the last 27 years battling every intransigent, arrogant cog of the British Establishment today finally began to get the truth and justice for their loved ones.

I admit that Hillsborough has always pained me more, affected me more deeply because my first thought, from the instant I switched on to see the horror unfold live on Grandstand, was “this could have been us.”

That applies to anyone who went to football matches anywhere in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.

Dilapidated stadiums, metal barriers, heavy-handed policing, clubs who only cared about soaking fans for their cash and were prepared to cram in as many as possible for big matches with scant regard for safety.

How there weren’t more disasters on a similar scale is a minor miracle.

On Sunday, April 16, 1989, I had a ticket to see Celtic take on Hibs in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park. My siblings and I gathered at my parents the day after Hillsborough to prepare to travel to the game together.

My mum, still red-eyed and reeling from the scale of the tragedy, grasped our hands as we sat at the kitchen table: “I could lose all of you. I could lose all of you.” She wasn’t just referring to me, my sister and brothers but to our extended family, cousins and all, who regularly met inside the ground at the same spot.

Today going to a football match is a much safer, infinitely more comfortable experience.

But there are still too many examples of how football fans are treated as second-class citizens and considered lesser by politicians, by the police and by the game’s rulers.

That attitude is what led to the horrific events at Hillsborough and the easily-accepted claims (in fact, downright lies), in the immediate aftermath that, of course, these were just drunken yobs whose own reckless behaviour caused the disaster in the first place.

Look at the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act brought in by the SNP government in Scotland, an Act that deliberately criminalises football fans.

Look at the cost of going to a game – fans in England have organised protests against spiralling ticket prices in the Premier League that price them out of supporting their team.

Look at how television dictates when games kick off, even when that means travelling fans can’t get home from the game.

The beautiful game is a lot more tarnished than it used to be.

Today’s verdict isn’t going to restore football’s lustre any time soon. But it should – it must – make the authorities pause and remember football fans deserve as much care and consideration as any other section of society.

And the game’s bigwigs should heed the words of the great Jock Stein: Football is nothing without fans.

#JFT96

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