The clock said 14:55, and the woman could see I was watching it. She was a grey-haired lady with a peculiar mix of an accent, there to talk to me about extra training I’m scheduled to do at work. She knew full well why I was watching the clock, since she was born in Bootle.
I put my coat on as I left the office, and noticed that my hands were shaking. At the time I couldn’t figure it out. I suppose part of me wasn’t sure if Nottingham would turn out and do the right thing, or even if some idiots would try to spoil what I knew would be emotional.
Rewind twenty years to the day.
Everyone in Liverpool seems to have known someone that went to that game. Liverpool’s a small city, maybe not in geographical size but certainly in closeness.
Like a tiny country crossed with a large village, it’s a peculiar mix of the cosmopolitan and the quaint. Everyone seems to know everyone, even if they’ve never actually met.
And I suppose that’s why I expected Nottingham not to live up to what it promised to do last week, at 3.06pm, on Wednesday April 15th, 2009. Nottingham isn’t part of Liverpool after all; it doesn’t have the same connections.
I also knew how I was feeling as I took each step closer to leaving the office. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t involved; I didn’t lose anyone in the horrors of that day.
Yet I was mourning, even before I saw the crowd in Nottingham’s Old Market Square. I tried to hold back the sadness and keep my eyes from watering when I saw the turnout. The centre of Nottingham was a mass of people, some in work clothes as I was, others in football kits, and draped across the Town Hall was a banner proclaiming that the city was united with Liverpool and Sheffield to remember Hillsborough.
I took my place among the crowd, and though I knew I was a rare Merseysider amongst a crowd of Midlanders, I suddenly felt as part of something as I ever did in Liverpool.
At 3.06pm, the city fell silent for two minutes. The buses and trams halted, and the bustling city fell so quiet that all I could hear was the fountains behind me. Then came the church bells, ringing out one for each of the 96 men, women and children that never came home from Sheffield.
But it was when, at the point that the bells eventually stopped chiming, the city played our song, I finally broke and felt the tears.
The crowd, as one, sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Men and women, some clutching Liverpool scarves aloft, but many others in Nottingham Forest shirts, Chelsea shirts, or Derby County shirts were singing for the dead. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the image of a stranger in an Aston Villa shirt, proudly holding his claret and blue scarf in the air, singing Liverpool’s song at the top of his voice a hundred miles away from Anfield.
And that was it. It was at that point that I realised was why I was mourning.
I may not have known any of the dead or their families, but I was born and grew up on the banks of the Mersey, and I can tell you now that Hillsborough is like a permanent dark cloud that sits above the great city. You see it every time you go to Anfield, you feel it every year at the same time. Like a wound that will never heal, it hurts everyone that grows up in its shadow.
And when you leave the city, it leaves with you. For twenty years I felt it, but on that day, April 15th, 2009, I saw others feeling it too. People with no connection with my city all had that dark cloud above them, because it didn’t matter that the victims were Reds.
They were human beings, and they didn’t deserve to die.
To Nottingham I give thanks, and to Sheffield too. And to all those beyond the three affected cities who likewise felt the cloud, I discovered that day that you certainly didn’t walk alone.