This afternoon in England many people in Liverpool and countless others watching TV paused for two minutes of silence to remember the 96 Liverpool fans who perished at Hillsborough in 1989.
Many of us also paused to reflect on the courage, determination and single-minded belief of the families and their supporters for what they have achieved.
Despite all possible obstruction and not a little opacity and mendacity over the last 23 years; not to mention great personal and financial cost; they have succeeded in their honourable quest.
Unlike The Sun newspaper, which reported this shortly after the Hillsborough Disaster, the families wouldn't stop until they found the truth...the whole truth...and nothing but the truth...
Britain has for hundreds of years pioneered democracy and the tenets of arguably the best legal system in the world. Other countries have modeled their constitutions and legal systems on what is essentially the English legal system.
The three most fundamental principles of that system are:
- Everyone is entitled to a fair trial—the accused is innocent until proved guilty.
- The evidence is based on the truth and facts as far as possible, rather than circumstantial evidence or supposition.
- Transparency of proceedings and full disclosure wherever possible.
The publication of The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel today shows very clearly that the victims of the disaster and their families got none of these in any of the previous inquests or inquiries.
There will now be a waiting period while the attorney general and others decide what should happen next.
The families have been vindicated and there will now be civil and criminal proceedings to consider.
But whatever they have achieved and are yet to gain, they have done us all a favour: not just football, or even sports fans; but ordinary people, going about their daily lives and living as good citizens.
So, whatever else this article may cover, I'd like to thank those of you who have fought so hard and so long for truth and justice. The Hillsborough process before today has shamed us all and we must learn from that.
Your perseverance, dedication and above all love for your deceased relatives and friends have shown us how good and decent people can be in a world where values deteriorate daily.
As many people know, I am a Manchester United fan, but that was utterly irrelevant this afternoon, when I was a football supporter and an ordinary citizen.
I was at the Bradford City Fire Disaster, so Hillsborough touched me more than many. But separate from this I have gone on record many times berating the financial obscenity of football.
They have used their own money for 23 years to get justice and closure, while the institutions defending the charges have been financially supported by public money.
Those families have reminded us of the values that football has lost somewhere along the way. Football exists FOR the fans, not the owners, sponsors, players or commercial enterprise. Without the fans, whether directly in the grounds or indirectly through TV, there is no Premier League.
And that is one reason why the campaign for Financial Fair Play and, if necessary, players' wage caps, must succeed.
Because somewhere along the line the supporters have been forgotten.
The 96 fans who died in the Leppings Lane in 1989 and the many more who were injured were there for nothing more than the enjoyment of the most supported sport on the planet; and the team they loved with a passion.
Who could not be moved when the Anfield fans sing "You'll Never Walk Alone". In 1989 they lost 96 relatives and friends; in 1986 Bradford City fans lost 56 of theirs; in 1971 Rangers fans lost 66 of theirs, but the lessons weren't learned; and in 1958 United fans lost the heart and soul of arguably one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
So if at least one good comes out of today, let it be an end to the disgraceful and disgusting chants and songs about these disasters by opposing "fans". They stain the game we love.
Let us instead all unite in memory of 96 ordinary people who, like all of us, cared about their team with a passion.
We, they and the bereaved families are at one today. Let's mourn for a moment, celebrate the fulfilment of truth and justice and reflect on the other favours their tireless quest may have done us all.