On the day of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster in 1989 I was a teenager, and like many others first heard on the radio, and then watched the TV news, as the tragic events unfolded. In common with all who had stood on the terraces of English football grounds in the 1980s, I could see that what was happening at the ground was a terribly extraordinary event – one clearly not incited by crowd trouble.
I also knew that on another given day it could have been me. I had spend my childhood in the 1980s at the front of those terraces, my face pressed up against those high fences that used to ring our grounds, so as to better see the faces of my heroes.
That is where the children stood, down the front. But it was something more than that. By 1989 the large majority of grounds in which football was played in England, and the experiences of going to watch a team play, had become inherently unsafe. The terrible events of 14 April 1989 had been foreshadowed on several occasions that decade and no lessons had been learned, or had wanted to be learnt.
The poem-cycle was born out of reading the daily transcripts produced online throughout The Second Hillsborough Inquest. Published by Smokestack Books on 1 April 2019 to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster, the book combines eyewitness testimonies of the survivors at that second inquest to create an epic-poem part oral history and part documentary theatre.
My ambition throughout has been for the work to listen to the resonances held in the collective memory of that fateful day, hear the poetry found in the hearts of the people who lived through this terrible experience, and try to weave these testimonies into a singular voice. Focusing on everyday life and language, grammar uncorrected, every line of the poem is drawn from over two hundred and sixty days of formal evidence presented to the specially convened court in Warrington.
By placing the reader within the building maelstrom of events, I hope the work can act to cement in the memory the exact time and location of the unfolding disaster. The sights and smells, the personal fears and acts of braveries.
Above all, my ambition was that the voices of that day would be preserved once the formal Inquest verdict was reached; that they will stand as a true survivors story and not become lost in the headline news of the verdicts. That in time those words can became a living testament to the events that occurred one dark day in our shared sporting and social history.
I’ve written much – sorry. It’s a topic and so close to my heart. But then if we cannot go on about Hillsborough, what can we go on about.