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What began as the Champions League final, a pitch battle for club football’s most famous trophy between two heavyweights, ended as a battle for the truth. By the time fans queued outside, the French authorities’ lies had already begun.
The truth is important and Liverpool as a club understands it more than anyone. From the infamous moment Sun Newspaper headlines in April 1989 began a 30-year campaign for justice when the state colluded with sections of the press to perpetuate lies that have since been foisted on the city’s residents.
The details and the causes of what happened at Hillsborough are well known to Liverpool fans, not least because remembering those lost, keeping their memories alive and protecting the truth is the right thing to do. I was born after Hillsborough but grew up with that understanding. My family lost a friend in the disaster and we have been closely supporting the campaign for justice ever since. Hillsborough is why I got involved in politics and a day accompanying Andy Burnham brought me to Westminster for the first time.
While the police looked for trouble, fans did what they could to help each other.
I was there on Saturday, in front of the Stade de France, wedged at the now infamous Gate Z. After being trapped in an underpass between armed police officers and their vans for two hours, I went upstairs to the concourse and found myself cooped up in a queue outside the locked turnstile for another hour.
As fans escaped the tear gas in Turnstile Y behind me, those who had gone to Gate A, only to find it also closed, returned to Gate Z, resulting in a massive crowd gathering around the closed entrance. To rescue people from the situation, fans climbed onto media vehicles to take other supporters to safety, including a blind man who was being lifted over a van. I exited the queue at 9pm, which was supposed to be the original kick-off time, and after dodging roaming gangs picking people up, I requeued at Z and entered the stadium at 9:22pm. Then, I think, I watched a football game.
As French police violence and lawlessness raged in the hall, history weighed heavily on the people there. There was a collective knowledge of what could happen in a situation where the police had not only lost control but appeared to be trying to make the situation worse. All evening it was Liverpool fans supporting, informing, reassuring and protecting each other. I don’t doubt that there were unsavory characters – it was a crowd of 20,000 people, I can easily find any crowd that size – but the fans kept it from getting any worse. While the delay announcement at the stadium enraged those there – I arrived three hours before kick-off but was still late – it was the fans who kept their fellow supporters informed and reassured.
There was an anger that the lies had already begun, but a determination to record and remember what was happening. There was a collective thought process of ‘We can’t make them lie about what happened again’.
Subconsciously I remembered places, times, people. We only went to watch football. While the police looked for trouble, fans did what they could to help each other.
It was a strange feeling, a sense of fear and danger, but also a sense of responsibility, sensitive to inaccurate perception. The French authorities may continue their lies, but they will not succeed.
It’s up to all of us to make sure they aren’t. We only went to watch football.
Andrew Mitchell is Julie Elliott MP’s senior parliamentary researcher.
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