I wasn’t going to write anything about Hillsborough. The events of that day in England 23 years ago have nothing to do with the Hyundai A-League, and it seems somewhat cheap to try and find a way to crowbar a mention of it on this website.
But the A-League hype reel released this morning made me think about it again, about how I feel about football and our connections to the game and our clubs.
I’m from Merseyside originally and when I was growing up in the 1980s there were only two teams to choose from – and I wasn’t going to pick Tranmere. (That’s a joke, Toffees...) My big brother was a Liverpool supporter, as were most of the kids on my street, so I followed suit.
In those days Liverpool were the greatest club in England, perhaps in Europe. A title was expected most seasons; if not, then at least an FA Cup or some other silverware to add to the overstuffed trophy cabinet.
I’m proud to say that I stood on the Kop as a boy and watched the likes of Dalglish, Rush, Hansen and Barnes, even if it does make me sound like one of those football dinosaurs that goes on about the good old days.
I’ve still got my old Crown Paints kit from back then, although I have to admit it’s a bit tight these days.
England was in a deep recession at the time, with Liverpool suffering high rates of unemployment. But the consistent success of the football teams – both Liverpool and Everton – united the region and gave the people something to boast about. We were the best in the land and it seemed like it would go on forever.
Hillsborough changed all that. I wasn’t there that day but I know people who were. I watched it all unfold on TV, hardly able to comprehend quite was happening.
Football violence was common back then but as the truth emerged, it became clear that this was something much more serious.
I say “the truth” – but not according to the South Yorkshire Police force, various MPs and The Sun newspaper, whose disgusting lies and inhuman treatment of those involved has finally been revealed after 23 years.
The independent report released this week sheds full light on just how far these people went to protect themselves from the mistakes that cost 96 innocent people their lives, and how long certain sections of British society have tried to cover up their culpability in these needless, senseless deaths.
The families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough finally have the truth; now there must be justice for the 96.
Football affects me in ways that, when discussed logically, seem clearly ridiculous.
From the giddy days of successive championships, Liverpool FC have given me some of the most memorable times of my life: the pride at the all-Merseyside FA Cup finals in the late ‘80s; the sheer despair when we lost the title to Arsenal in ’89 (I went home from my friend’s house in tears); my wife running out to the living room in 2005 when she thought I was having a heart attack, only to find me prostrate on the floor, hyperventilating and tearful at the incredible comeback in the Champions League final.
Now I live in Australia, I regularly wake up at ungodly hours to express silent frustrations and glee at a TV screen showing events taking place on the other side of the world.
The passion and emotion football stirs in us is incredible, coming not only from the expression of our humanity through sport, but also from our connection to the clubs we support and invest so much in, even in this time of football clubs as corporations.
As a football journalist, I sometimes experience fatigue as the season drags on, but here we are again, just weeks out from the start of the A-League and I can’t help but get excited.
Yes, it’s not the Premier League, but it’s ours and we’re proud of it and just as passionate about our clubs.
When you head out to your first game of the A-League season, take a moment to think of those families who have been fighting for justice for 23 years and those they lost, and make sure you shout that little bit louder for your team.
Stand proud with other fans, regardless of which team they follow. Love the game, be proud of your club and sing the songs with everything you’ve got. You’ll never walk alone.
The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.