It's a rare, sunny April morning in the North of England, and Jon-Paul, a 10-year old Scouser, is already up since dawn, constantly making sure the ticket that's been on the dinner table for weeks is still there. Nine o'clock and the songs have started, he's on the coach with family and friends, on the way to watch his beloved Liverpool play in yet another semi-final, with Nottingham Forest the only obstacle between them and Wembley. The journey's taking hours, as he's daydreaming about Beardsley's skills, Aldo's goals, and getting his parents' authorization to go to Wembley in May, so confident the Reds would beat Forest again.
For the second year running, 28,000 tickets have gone to Nottingham Forest, whose average attendance is 20,000 and 24,000 to Liverpool who filled Anfield up every week. The FA have even ignored the letter Peter Robinson (then Liverpool Chief Executive) sent appealing to them not to put Liverpool fans in the Leppings Lane End again.
It's getting nearer to kick-off, and the fans who had tickets in the Leppings Lane are still waiting to be let into the terrace. Stewards have abandoned their posts, and the police have lost control.
As soon as the main gate is opened, nearly two thousands fans pour in, through two central pens, making sure they're not missing kick-off. But the police won't close the gate. Thousands of other fans are still slowly trying to make their way to the ground, moving closer to their fate and having no clue about the mass of people that are packed so tightly some have already been asphyxiated and those at the front are having their heads crushed against the metal fence.
At six past three, a crash barrier stumbles. Some fans have already made their way to safety on the pitch, and the referee sends both teams to the dressing rooms. As the red tide grows tighter and tighter, the number of victims is increasing, while fans are helping each other out of this mayhem. There are unconscious corpses, grown men crying, and children screaming, looking for their parents. The police forces and their dogs, standing in front of the Forest fans, would only let a couple of ambulances into the ground after thirty minutes, while dozens are waiting outside. On the pitch, heroes in scarves are helplessly trying to revive friends, family, or strangers, begging for help to the coppers, while others are using advertising boards to carry the corpses to the exit.
Back on the coach, everyone is so shocked you could barely say a word. On the streets, people are crying, hugging each other or just howling in agony and anger. But there, in the middle of the coach and next to a window, is an empty seat.
It was Jon-Paul's.
There were 96 empty seats that day. 96 friends who went to a football match and never came home. And Jon-Paul, Steven Gerrard's cousin, was the youngest of them all. For the first and last time, Bill Shankly was proved wrong ; there are things that are just bigger than football.
But that was just the first round of pain. The families of the 96 had their sons killed once again when the national media blamed the Liverpool fans for killing their own, spreading out lies and anti-Scouse propaganda. Kelvin McKenzie, then at The Sun, published the infamous headline THE TRUTH, saying that Liverpool fans robbed their own, pissed on dead bodies and beat police officers up. The government, the FA and the South-Yorkshire police conspired in one of the biggest cover-ups in British history, a God-sent opportunity for Thatcher's secret plan of destroying Liverpool. For 23 years, the world has thought that Hillsborough had happened because of the disruptive behavior of drunken, ticket-less Liverpool supporters. For 23 years, the people of Liverpool have had to live with mockery, cliches and lack of respect to their dead, and the families were living in pain. And it was about time that changed.
After 23 years of protest, struggle and cry for Justice, the government, the FA, Sheffield Wednesday, South-Yorkshire Police and the rest of the country have officially and publicly apologized to the families and the people of Liverpool, but only after the release of documents that proves the total innocence of the Liverpool fans, blames the police and lack of organization for the disaster, and condemns the government and media for the lies they've been making up for two decades.
The documents also state that a shocking number of 41 lives could have been saved had the police allowed the medics into the ground on time. Hillsborough was the reason behind the abolishment of the standing areas in football stadiums, and 96 innocents men, women and children had to pay the price for the safe, middle-class football experience tourists enjoy today.
The thing is, Hillsborough was an accident waiting to happen, and it could have happened with fans of any club.
96 dead, over 700 injured, many suicides, and thousands of mentally scarred.
That is THE TRUTH.
Now, JUSTICE awaits.