Today 15th April 2009 is the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed at a football ground at the start of the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottington Forest. The day has extra resonance for me as members of my own family were at the match and fortunately survived.
1989 was a difficult year for my family. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a mastectomy in the February. In early April my 80 year old mother was rushed into hospital in Liverpool with blocked circulation in the leg, which resulted in an amputation. I had taken the train up to Liverpool on the weekend of 14th April to see my mother and stayed with my sister and her family in Birkdale, near Southport.
On the morning of Saturday 15th April, my birthday, John, my brother in law was taking my niece Zoe and two others to Sheffield to the football match. I remember feeling rather envious of them going off to see such a fantastic match.
Helen and I went to Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool to see my mother. We were round her bed when at 3:15 there were reports that the game had been stopped because there were fans on the pitch. My first thoughts were of irritation that those football hooligans were at it again but there were no details. At 3:45 my sister drove me into Liverpool were I was going to bide my time until the visiting was allowed again in the evening. Meanwhile Helen drove home to Birkdale.
I wandered round the city centre, but on visiting the Bluecoat arts centre I heard that at least 74 were dead; I immediately rang my sister. Helen was distraught as John and Zoe had not rung in. I decided to go back to Birkdale to be my sister should she need me. That was a dreadful journey, but when I got there, I found that they had rung to say that they were safe.
Later I went back into Liverpool to catch the local train at Lime Street for Broadgreen. People were milling around anxiously awaiting the football trains coming back from Sheffield. A British Railways notice said that all football trains were all running to time. The anxiety was palpable. By that time the full death toll was known.
After spending the evening at the hospital, my brother drove me to Seaforth station to catch the train to Birkdale. I met two young boys on the train who were returning home from Sheffield - and had lost their friend.
When I got back, John and Zoe had returned. Amidst all the distress and tears and the harrowing tales, one thing that Zoe related that stands out was the support of the Police and the kindness people of Sheffield who invited strangers into their homes, comforted them, gave them tea, allowed them to use the bathroom and to phone home.
Sunday was a day of weeping on Merseyside. Radio City was all morning retelling the story of Hilsborough. The 11 am Mass at St Marie's Church, Southport was highly emotional. The Priest pointed to the five grains of incense on the Easter candle - the five wounds of Christ - and affirmed that with the Resurrection death was not the end of life.