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  • Hillsborough

    Take a long, hard look.

    I am an Evertonian. I live in Liverpool. Sefton actually. Merseyside anyway.

    I don’t go to as many games as I used to. I gave my season ticket up a couple of years ago. To be truthful I got a bit sick of working all week to pay the wages of the likes of Pistone. They’re just not worthy of it.

    I’m off to Dublin in April though. Can’t wait. It’s not Istanbul but that’s hardly the point. There are not as many ‘I was there’ points to score. It’s watching the Blues, having a few scoops with an old friend in a city I’m very fond of. Do you still need to phone ahead for the Guinness?

    My elder brother, Gary, died at Hillsborough. Asphyxiation. The breath was crushed out of him by the sheer mass of bodies squashed into such a tight space. I’m getting angry thinking about it.

    He was no angel like, and I hope to God he did have a few bevies before the game.

    I don’t like to be reminded of it. I don’t much like the memories of seeing the disaster unfold on the telly, not realising he was there until my Dad said so. Even then, jokily saying ‘Our Gary’ll get me one of them’ about the numerous Police helmets littering the pitch.

    There was no phone call to say he was alright. This became more worrying as the day wore on. My Dad’s grim march around to the Pub. His return with the dreaded news, from his mates who had returned but couldn’t bring themselves to come to ours. I don’t blame them. What would they have said?

    My mother had kept her composure all day up until that point, busily ironing every bit of clothing in the house that wasn’t on someone’s back. Upon hearing the news which was a strained ‘There’s no other way of saying this. He’s dead’, all the days ironing got flung around the kitchen and the ironing board was upended.

    I escaped to the back garden and tried to fend off a particularly boisterous Jack Russell I kept there (for the rats in our council slum).

    The rest of the day is a bit sketchy. I realise now I was in shock. I was seeing a girl I’d known for years at the time. Not that serious, but in my thoughts enough for that to be the first place I turned to.

    The poor girl didn’t know what to do with me. I was pretty vacant. She probably just plied me with drink.

    Her dad, who I regard as one of my best friends now, came in. Not knowing about my news said ‘Have you seen what’s happened? Do you know anyone that’s gone?’. My girlfriend had to take him out of the room to explain. ‘Yeah’ I said to no one.

    I went to Sheffield the next day with my dad and a couple of uncles. The rest of my dad’s brothers who were scattered around the country all met up there to support us.

    My girlfriend still says I shouldn’t have gone, but as I said at the time ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw him. I’ve got to’.

    It was a weird dream like journey. I kept expecting him to be standing on some street corner, smiling saying ‘Where the fuck have youse been ay?’.

    It never happened and we set about making sure the person they had lying on some slab in this town was our Gary.

    They had some kind of community/church hall set up to deal with people like us. I suppose they were doing their best in a terrible situation but the last thing we needed was to be comforted by some stranger, with that serene look God botherers have, who knew nothing about us or the person we were looking for.

    ‘Listen mate, where’s the nearest pub?’ My Dad said. ‘There’s one across the road. Shall the young fellow stay here?’ Lazarus says. I was at the front going out the door.

    After a few pints we decided we’d better find the place where they were keeping the bodies.

    We were sitting around on couches in what I think was a morgue. There were a lot of people about, crying or with worried looks on their faces.

    A couple of fellas went past in white tunics. One of them was about Peter Crouch’s height and had something a bit queer about him. My uncle David said ‘I bet he does nights’. We all laughed. God you had to. The laughter didn’t last long and the smiles didn’t linger.

    We were ushered into a room. There was a glass viewing window with a curtain drawn across it, on the inside. As we stood in the dark, all nine or so, there were no jokes.

    The curtain went aside and there laid my elder brother, Gary. It was him alright. Or something with the life knocked out of it that resembled him.

    My Dad rested his hands on the window sill and put his nose up to the glass. I couldn’t handle it and fled the room. I was off up the street and our David came after me and brought me back.

    I asked my Dad days later why he did that and he said ‘Well, you have to make sure’.

    The events of 15th of April knocked the stuffing out of my Mum and Dad and they began visibly ageing. My relationship with my Dad is better now as we did clash at the time. My sister and I get on better than we did at the time too but what teenager is on more than grunting terms with their elder sister anyway?

    Not long after we were in one of the Cathedrals in town, can’t remember which one. They had us all lined up in some vestry as Thatcher and some Royal with the coldest hands I’ve ever shook, shook mine.

    The coldest hands I’ve ever felt and the coldest heart in the same room to shake the hands of a lad from Bootle. That wouldn’t happen while I was conscious nowadays but I was young and impressionable at the time. ‘So dreadfully sorry’ I think Maggie said. ‘Yeah, I fuckin bet yis are’ I can just about live with myself for not saying.

    Fair play to my Grandad who turned his back on the pair of them, and I’d pay money to revisit that sketch. God knows what Maggie and her mate thought. I hope they had a good think about it, but I doubt it.

    I better get to the point of this, if there is one. It feels alright writing about it for the readers who will take it for what it is, on a basic human level. Something I suspect some folk are lacking. Basic Humankindness. Not a word, but fuck it, this is my piece.

    We as a family started getting letters and tickets through about memorials. I was all for supporting my mother and father in this if that’s what they wanted to do. I’d already explained to my mother that I wasn’t going to visit a gravestone in Thornton every week, and she accepted it. Its single figures the amount of times I’ve been there. My mum and Dad go every week, that’s their decision.

    They also go to the memorial every year. One of the first ones I went to was at their yard and I remember thinking ‘Why?’ when we parked behind a taxi with Leicester plates.

    I’ve had to stand on the Kop while everyone around me sang that horrible dirge of theirs. I stood there with my mouth sealed. I’ve never been to one since. I’ve vowed to never go there again unless it’s for the Derby.

    What struck me was the amount of people on the Kop that day. It was full. 96 people died and they give around 5 tickets to each family. I don’t understand why you would want to be involved in something like that unless a relative or a friend had died. My mum got upset when some tit at the back was shouting about boycotting the upcoming Sheffield Wednesday game (over a plaque). She thought they were being disrespectful. Thanks lad, me mum swerved that game on your advice.

    At the start of the day, we were gathered in one of their lounges. Somehow we had managed to get in the wrong place and the players walked in and stood near us.

    I’ll never forget the sight of people standing their kids next to them and taking photographs. I was speechless. I suppose I wasn’t much better with my black Everton badge on.

    My Mum and Dad still go to these things, but even my Mum is getting a bit tired of the whole thing. My Sister and Aunty go and I normally give my ticket to my cousin, who was very close to Gary.

    I normally meet them in the Abbey or one of the many boozers along County Strasa afterwards. I bollocked my sister and (female) cousin for going on about being able to smell Baros’ aftershave last year. A couple of years before, Berger was the object of their attention.

    I reckon I could tout that ticket and some weirdo would pay good money for it too.

    There are probably weirdoes about that wish they had a relative that died that day, so that they could feel even more aggrieved on message boards. In the same way Brett Anderson will never forgive God for not letting him be Angie Bowie.

    I was in Sheffield recently to do with work. After I’d done what I was down there to do, I very nearly stayed on the tram to Leppings Lane. I decided not to in the end. It struck me that my brother, who I used to get a hiding off for wearing his clothes (he went off his head when he saw our Isle of Man holiday snaps and I’m standing there grinning in his Adidas top, with a fish I’d caught), got another for snapping the forks on his Raleigh Bomber in Derby Park (I never went home that night but sat in my mates shitting myself), got me caught dangling out of our bedroom window about to jump on a pile of privets my dad had chopped, on his insistence, was sleeping next to me in the same bed when a bed spring came through the mattress and gave me the scar I still have on my left knee, used to throw darts back that I threw at him, got me a hiding off my dad because he riled me to the point where I called him a ‘tool’ when I didn’t even know what it meant, used to laugh at me doing Southall impressions bouncing the ball off the wall and diving full stretch across the bed, died in a strange town at a horrible football ground with people sitting and shouting on the spot where he drew his last breath, once a fortnight and I wasn’t there to help him.

    On the journey back to Lime Street that evening there was a lad on the platform with a Liverpool scarf on. I naively thought this kid who was waiting for the same train as me had taken a sickie to visit Leppings Lane.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. The carriage I was in had a few people in scarves dotted about. One lad was sat in front of me.

    The ticket fella got talking to him and mentioned some European team and the penny dropped. This lad had travelled from Cambridge to watch the Mighty Reds and had changed trains at Sheffield. The lad didn’t know how to get to Anfield and the ticket fella said ‘There’ll probably be a few more getting on as we get near Warrington, you can follow them’.

    That kind of sketch makes my blood boil.

    At the FA Cup Final in 1989, me and my girlfriend went. We got free tickets from LFC. I had a few bevies that day, and joined isolated crowds in hurling more than a bit of abuse at the Met, who, to be fair, took it on the chin.

    The games a bit of a blur. My girl’s a Blue and I remember her being stood on her seat screaming.

    One thing that stands out from that day is during the minute’s silence, someone started playing reggae music full blast from somewhere. Cue shouts of ‘Fuckin shut up!’ and the like.

    I don’t like minute silences, there’s far too many of them and they’re never completely silent. This clapping larks a much better idea.

    The thought of armchair fans clapping at the telly is marvellous.

    A few things I’m going to leave you to chew on.

    I am an Evertonian. I live in Liverpool. I am a Scouser. What’s so hard to understand about that?

    No amount of profound banners, car stickers or cheap wristbands is going to bring our Gary back.

    It’s hard to explain to children why they would have had another Uncle only he was killed at a football match.

    Boycotting The Sun is pointless. The lazy bastard journo that wrote the offending crap and the editor who let it go have probably moved on and not missed a night’s kip over it.

    If you would read The Sun anyway, without the boycott you need to have a rethink of your world view.

    A gang of Mancs and assorted wools singing beauties such as ‘96 is not enough’ to a load of wools, Southerners and Scandinavians, and them getting wound up about it reeks of phoniness.

    I hope no-one ever sings anything similar near me. Then again, why would they at a match where Everton were playing?

    I hope my mother never gets to hear about other human beings singing songs about her dead son.

    Justice is never going to happen. Let it go. I’m trying really hard to. Some of you have even more reason to do so.

    I’ve visited Hillsborough since 1989. It was a horrible game, it rained, I sat in the home bottom bit with the Evertonians above me, and a mate shouting down to me who I thought was going to get me filled in.

    Bakayoko shot a sitter over the bar to cap an awful day I’d sooner forget. 3 points would have been nice, but the game summed up that season.

    I am proud to say I have sat in Wembley and sang ‘Merseyside’ at a Cup Final. I’ve also sat on the shoulders of a huge Watford fan when they were two Nil down. I was with my dad. I‘d like to take my kids to see Everton in a Cup Final one day. I’ll be fucking annoyed if it’s spoilt by a gang of dickheads.

    I’m still with the girl who looked after me on the night of 15th of April 1989. We have three kids. I couldn’t imagine how Id feel if I lost one of them. Let alone hear or hear about people singing songs about it. I hope it’s never called 4/15.

    She still plies me with drink.

    Take it Easy.

    Come on the Blue Boys.

    (From United We Stand, 2005)

    Gary Collins was 22 when he died.