by Martin Odoni

Originally written 12th May 2015

We frequently hear people who want discussion of the Hillsborough Disaster just to ‘go away’ (whatever that means), arguing that the only reason that it has not already disappeared into history is that it happened to the people of Liverpool. “Liverpool,” these people say, “is a self-pity city. Scousers just can’t get over it, and they won’t stop going on about it.”

This is a classic example of using lazy, Music-Hall stereotype as a substitute for evidence, of course, but even if that were a legitimate method-of-analysis, it would still not fit the scenario very well. This is because of one of those little details about the Disaster of which surprisingly few people are aware; only just over a third of the victims – thirty-seven – were themselves from Liverpool. It was the largest proportion, yes, but by and large, the breakdown of home-towns among the victims was very wide indeed.

You can widen the definition of ‘Liverpool’ to include the rest of Merseyside, if you are in the stubborn mood to keep making cynical, snide remarks about the supposed ‘maudlin’ outlook of Liverpudlians, but even then, the total proportion of the victims is still below two-thirds, at fifty-seven.

Mancunians – many of whom for reasons of petty historical rivalry are loud voices among the ‘Self-Pity-City’ jeers – should perhaps pause to consider that three of the victims were from the close fringes of Manchester – one from Bury, one from Stockport, one from Leigh. Sixteen others were from other parts of Lancashire and Cheshire, and could therefore be seen as being as much Mancunian as Liverpudlian. (Or even, dare I say it, people from Lancashire or Cheshire in their own right.)

People from Yorkshire, many of whom for reasons of geographic loyalty would like to push blame for the Disaster away from the local police force and onto the victims, might equally pause to consider that a further three of those who died were from Sheffield. Tony Bland, the last of the 96 to die, was also somewhat local, being from Keighley in West Yorkshire. (Also, two of the other victims were from Pinner in Middlesex, but they were the daughters of former chairman of the Hillsborough Families’ Support Group, Trevor Hicks, who is himself a Yorkshireman.)

Two victims were from Wales, two were from Staffordshire, two were from Leicestershire. One was from St. Albans, one from Worcestershire, one from Gloucestershire, one from Derbyshire. There was also one each from Bristol and Essex.

One of the victims, Colin Sefton of Skelmersdale, was not even a Liverpool supporter. He was actually a Tottenham Hotspur fan, and had only tagged along to the semi-final because a number of his friends were going, and they needed someone to drive them to Sheffield. By a bitter-sweet irony, Colin’s friends all survived.

Another victim, Inger Shah, was not even British by birth. She was born in Denmark, and although she spent much of her life in England and became a season ticket holder at Anfield, she was more an adopted-Londoner than a Liverpudlian.

(A full rundown of the 96 can be read here.)

Quite a cross-section of the nation, is it not? Far from encouraging idiotic prejudgements of people entirely on the basis of where they come from, this should only emphasise what should have been obvious to our myopic little country anyway, right from the opening minutes of the Disaster. It was not a tragedy just for Liverpool, either club or city, nor was it just a tragedy for the north-west of England. It was a national tragedy that had implications for families all over England and Wales. A great many of the bereaved relatives of those who died, while enduring the malicious accusations of being “whinging scousers” are neither whingers nor actually from Liverpool. Many of them are not Liverpool supporters, quite a few of them are not even football fans; some would not be able to tell a long throw-in from a lace throw-over.

The Hillsborough Disaster was not specifically about Liverpool, and it was scarcely at all about football. Those who say, “Get over it” are often making the mistake of assuming it is about both, and in doing so, they are potentially jeopardising themselves. What happened at Hillsborough – the state carelessly losing lives of people in its care – and in the years that followed – the state trying to hide its culpability – could have happened to anyone from anywhere in the country. So if the false conclusion of the original Coroner’s Inquest were simply left to stand, it would not only establish the precedent that Liverpool lives are expendable. It would have established the precedent that any lives in the care of the British state are expendable. Among the people jeopardised would be many of the same fools who kept crying, “Will you get over it?!?”

Be grateful, fools, that, so far, the bereaved and the traumatised survivors of Hillsborough have not followed your short-tempered instruction. Their campaign was not about a perceived chip on the shoulder of Liverpool, it was about reminding the state that ‘ordinary’ people still matter, and that when they die due to the bungling of authorities, those authorities can and should be held to account.

In forcing the state to be a good deal more careful with people’s lives in future, those people wronged by the Hillsborough Disaster may just have made your own lives that little bit safer.