We didn’t plan it but the last three days have turned out to be especially poignant for us.
On Saturday we were at Trent Bridge to watch the third day of Somerset’s County Championship match with Nottinghamshire. Play was scheduled to last the full day but surprisingly, delightfully, ruthlessly Somerset completed an innings victory in mid-afternoon.
At just after 3pm (note the time) we left Trent Bridge and, in my case, was buzzing from the excitement of the win and the anticipation of another tilt at that elusive first championship. Nottingham Forest (the cricket club’s very near neighbours) had just kicked off their championship game with Blackburn Rovers.
It struck me that exactly 30 years ago on this very Saturday at exactly this time Forest had kicked off their FA Cup semi final at Hillsborough against Liverpool. The euphoria of Somerset’s win was punctured with the thought of those 96 people who like us that day and many days since went to support their team and never returned to their families. 96 people who travelled with joy in their hearts in anticipation of seeing their team reach another FA Cup Final on a bright April day just like the one we were experiencing.
From euphoria to a deep sadness that whenever I stop to think about it brings me to tears. But how more profound was the emotional transformation those fans experienced on 15th April 1989.
We set off on our way home but then found out that our planned route across country to Stoke and then picking up the M6 northbound was subject to long delays, so we decided to head up the M1 instead. That route would take us off the motorway at Sheffield and across the Peak District.
Neither of us had ever been to Hillsborough but it seemed like the opportunity presented to us should not be passed up. We parked in Leppings Lane, walked round to the memorial, left some flowers and walked back to the car. We didn’t need to speak, were both struggling to fight back the tears, both filled with a sadness that cannot be expressed in words, the sort of sadness that affects you physically as well as mentally.
Today at 3.06, standing at the memorial now at the foot of the huge new main stand at Anfield, as the city of Liverpool fell silent, I reflected again on my feelings on Saturday afternoon. And then I thought of those 96, of the unimaginable suffering and pain 30 years ago today, of their families, the loved ones to who they never returned.
So whoever you support, whatever sport you follow, please take a moment today to remember 96 fellow sports fans and count yourself lucky each and every time you go to support your team for what you experience.