On Wednesday 11 January 1989, I went to Loftus Road to see Manchester United play QPR in an FA Cup 3rd round replay.
As usual, we went for a pint in our favourite pub, ‘The Greyhound’ (or similar), on Shepherd’s Bush Green before finally spurning one last beer and reluctantly making our way to the ground. Loftus Road was packed. The United section behind the goal was full. Stewards opened up another section along up to the half-way line to accommodate the large away support.
When we eventually got past the turnstiles, we surged forward onto the small terrace, singing and chanting, looking forward to an exciting FA Cup-tie under floodlights.
Shortly before kick-off, more United fans were admitted into our section and there was another surge forward as they tried to get a decent view, I’m a big guy (6'2") and I was (literally) lifted off my feet until everyone found their place and settled down.
When Tony Gill and then Deiniol Graham scored for United, there was manic celebrations from all the United fans. Once again, I was lifted off my feet but I didn’t care - United had scored !
In the ensuing melee and chaos, a couple of people, including a young lady, lost their footing and fell onto the concrete terrace. When the celebrations subsided, these people were simply lifted back to their feet to continue their vocal support for United as they pressed for a winner.
Three months later, I watched TV pictures of an tragedy unfolding at a FA Cup semi-final held at Hillsborough where 96 football fans who, like me, had travelled to a football match, excited, apprehensive, nervous, to support their team.
Although I was saddened by the news from Hillsborough, I recall I was rather blase about the tragedy. After all, I didn’t support Liverpool and I suspect we all probably went out for a few pints that night as Match of The Day was curtailed.
On Monday, I found myself alone in the house and read a copy of The Independent and was confronted by stark, black and white images of young people pinned to those metal fences in pens 2 and 3 in Leppings Lane, gasping for breath, lifted off their feet, unable to stand, unable to move, unable to breathe.
Innocent, young, passionate, football fans, just like me at Loftus Road, supporting their team.
Dying. In front of me.
I stared again at the pictures, I read the stories about the mothers, the sons, the daughters, the fathers. Then, suddenly and spontaneously, I just broke down and cried like a baby.
That’s why, for all Manchester United’s rivalry with Liverpool and for all the jokes and for all the banter, I have never sung a ‘Hillsborough’ chant in my life.
May the 96 victims of Hillsborough rest in peace.