Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hillsborough 20 Years Later: Drawing Inspiration from Tragedy

"Why Liverpool?" I am often asked this question about the team I chose to support. As a fan of the English game but with no logical ties to any city or team in Britain, I was drawn to LFC for two reasons. One is the tremendous respect the club has for history and traditions. The second is the amazing connection the players and organization have with the supporters. Although today is the 20th anniversary of the darkest day in the club’s history, these two aspects of the club come together in a very poignant manner each year on April 15.

On April 15, 1989, thousands of Liverpool supporters traveled to Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield for an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Ninety-six of those fans never returned, the victims of tragic overcrowding in the terraces behind one of the goals. At the time of the incident, English fans and Liverpool fans in particular had a infamous reputation for fan behavior, so many initialy assumed that the deaths were the result of hooliganism. But as the stories emerged, the world learned that hundreds of Liverpool fans acted heroically that day, doing all they could to save their fellow fans so that further lives were spared. Adding to the tragic nature of this event is that no individuals or organizations have ever been held accountable for the horrendous crowd control efforts that lead to the fatal overcrowding. The “Justice for the 96” campaign carries on strong to this day.

Last night I logged on to Liverpool’s team Web site to read the recap of the Reds’ thrilling 4-4 draw with Chelsea in the European Champions League quarterfinals. Although the game had ended only a few hours earlier, there was barely a mention of the match on the site. Instead the entire home page had been transformed into a digital tribute to the victims of Hillsborough. The site holds a moving collection of memories from the families of the victims, current and former players and coaches. The tribute is extensive and thoughtful; I hope you will take a moment to visit the site. Another compelling piece is a YouTube video that one fan put together two years ago. Some of the images of that day are quite disturbing, but the video tribute is very moving.

This perspective on the game— putting the memory and honor of the Hillsborough victims above all else on this day— is part of what makes Liverpool Football Club such an admirable organization. The lives of those 96 supporters are lost forever, but the club has done everything in its power to ensure that their memory will not be forgotten. Please join the club in keeping them in your thoughts today.

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