At midday, those expecting Ian Payne’s Sunday Review show on Radio 5 Live were thrown into David Morley’s The Crowd, Morley’s tribute to the 96 men, women and children killed by the crush at a Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest match in 1989. This sickening tragedy looms large again, as the Hillsborough Independent Panel has now concluded that no fans were responsible for the deaths and that 164 witness statements were amended by the police. The poem was read by the actor Neil Fitzmaurice, himself a Hillsborough survivor, adding even greater resonance to the performance (David has made it available here).
It began, like a Greek epic, in the middle of things, ‘And today, as you walk to the match, I am beside you’. This epic technique lends the restrained vocabulary of the poem dignity and majesty: a fitting tribute to the perseverance of the families of the 96 Liverpool fans who were bereaved on the 15th April, 1989, in their quest for truth and justice. The poem echoes St Patrick’s Breastplate, as well as football chants, suggesting the continued presence of those who died standing shoulder to shoulder with those at the match.
There’s a bite here too, however, as the poem’s ‘you’ might initially be supposed to be the brotherhood of Liverpool fans: it isn’t. The 96 address Manchester United’s fans and say that ‘You will not chant them down again. / You will not chant them down in their sorrows. / You will not chant them back into the earth. / And today, as you walk to the match, they are beside you.’ This brotherhood was in evidence this afternoon as every player wore a 96 on his back. After a summer basking in the Olympic spirit, football’s tabloid dramas seemed sleazier than ever. However, this afternoon, football rose above this.