In honour of justice…

Some time ago, I went to a concert that aimed to raise money for the Hillsborough disaster victims’ families. It was an inspiring evening and I got very emotional during it and after it. It was a true show of unity and hope, pulling together and believing a cause. Because I am not British I didn’t know much about the disaster before I went to the concert but after educating myself I was angry. I was angry at the police, I was angry at the Sun and I was angry at people who dismiss the disaster with a shrug. Those people weren’t going to a dangerous activity, they were going to the football to watch a match, something many of us do on a regular basis. How could such a simple and ordinary day have such a horrendous ending? In honour of the victims who finally got the truth out yesterday, the following is a piece I wrote when I was much taken by the events on the day. This was a tough piece to write but in light of justice we should all keep in mind that these families and friends of victims kept together to find the truth for 23 years. And that’s more than any journalist can hope for in a career. Thank you for getting the truth out.

The Clash: Raising awareness for the Hillsborough victims, originally published on Independent Blogs

Losing a loved one unexpectedly is always a tragedy, but even more so when their death is guised with cruel rumours in the mainstream press. When 96 Liverpool FC fans were crushed to death in Hillsborough in 1989, in what was supposed to be nothing more than a fun day at the football, the Sun’s front page the next day was not only staggeringly disrespectful in the way it was presented but it created deep wounds that have endured for two decades of campaigning for justice – a battle to have the truth recognized as the official version of events.

The cause came back home to Sheffield last Saturday, when Mick Jones of The Clash performed at a Justice for Hillsborough gig at The Leadmill, with Pete Wylies, Jon McClure and The Farm. Jones performed The Clash songs for the first time in 20 years to raise awareness of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. The gig is part of a six-date Justice Tour that is picking up supporters as it goes through the UK; in Manchester, the Stone Roses joined the group of musicians to show their support and in Sheffield, Jon McClure also joined the bill last minute.

The official version of events on that fateful day in 1989 have been disputed by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, enforcing the feeling that police should have been blamed for the overcrowding that led to the human crush. Persecution of Kelvin Mackenzie and the boycotting of the Sun are also big parts of the campaign; claims that Liverpool fans urinated on dead bodies and stopped authorities from aiding the injured splashed in the front page of the tabloid and Mackenzie’s retraction of his apology in 2007 make the Sun’s “biggest ever mistake” still very relevant to families and friends of the victims, the survivors and Liverpool FC fans. These claims, and others, were also published in other newspapers but the Sun not only printed them as fact but also in an extremely sensationalized fashion, disrespecting those who had lost their lives that day. In 2003, with the efforts of the Campaign, the boycott of the tabloid went national with an eight page spread in the Guardian about the fight for justice.

Survivors and victims’ families can also count on the Hillsborough Justice Campaign’s help in recovery; they provide legal advice and counselling. The charity’s website is also the home of survivor’s stories and relevant articles that have helped raise awareness of the disaster.

Jon McClure, from Reverend and the Makers, came onstage thanking everyone for coming out to get justice for Hillsborough. A known politically outspoken musician who has protested against the Iraq war and the BNP, McClure opened the gig with the classic Heavyweight Champion of the World, played with a solitary acoustic guitar. The audience, still settling down, sung along nostalgically; the Leadmill was curiously diverse in age, ranging from the very young looking teenagers to a much older crowd. The atmosphere was amicable, as if everyone was old friends and had come to Sheffield for a reunion.

Kristy, in her late forties, had driven all the way from Essex with her husband and daughter. She was a student in Liverpool at the time of the disaster and lived near Anfield, the stadium that is home of Liverpool FC.

“We watched the news in the morning, and I lived in Anfield – that’s an area full of students. And we started seeing loads of people flooding the streets, walking towards the football grounds, it was incredible. It was so sad, the sadness of the whole city that they felt they needed to come to the football grounds.”

Nostalgia and remembering simpler times before the disaster seemed to be the subject of the night as Kristy remembered the first time she ever saw the Clash live in 1985 and reminisced over The Farm’s fame in Liverpool at the time. She also pointed out that many of the t-shirts being sold that night encouraged the boycotting of The Sun and many news agencies in Liverpool still didn’t carry the tabloid newspaper.

“It’s really good that Mick Jones is doing this, for some one as big as him to come out and do this, it just shows how important the cause is,” she said.

After McClure’s short set of songs, The Farm, quite a big band in Liverpool in the 80’s, seemed ecstatic to be onstage playing for this particular cause. Front man Peter Hooton, a lifelong Liverpool FC fan, thanked people for coming, asked everyone to remember those who lost their lives in Hillsborough and gave a shout out to the people in Sheffield at the time.

“Thank you to the people of Sheffield who were wonderful on that day, and opened their doors so people could make phone calls, believe it or not it was a time before cell phones!”

The crowd cheers at that and there is a beautiful moment where the crowd sings along to The Farm’s All Together Now that seemed to reflect the mood of the night. A short set of 80’s rock songs is played before Liverpudlian Pete Wylie, sporting a black t shirt with the words “Justice 4 the 96” branded on, takes the stage and makes the most of his possession of the microphone.

“Kelvin Mackenzie, you lying piece of shit. You better run, motherfucker,” he yells to the crowd, after explaining they’re fighting for justice, “We’re playing songs with meaning. There’s a sense here of something that really matters.”

Companionship and friendship were tangible with every stroke of the guitar as these old friends played The Clash’s biggest hits for the first time in 20 years. Laughing and kidding around during the songs, the good feel of the band was infectious and the audience could not be enjoying themselves more. In particular when the punk rock band’s biggest hit “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” was played, the whole of Leadmill was jumping with excitement.

“None of us are getting paid; every penny of your ticket is going towards campaigning for justice.” He told the crowd in between songs. “We’re all mates here, so it’s no problem playing for free, that’s why we’re laughing during the song, I apologize if that ruins the songs. I can’t tell you how happy I am, it’s my teenage dream.”

All the money raised from the tickets for the legendary gig and the Justice for Hillsborough t-shirts will go towards aiding victims’ families and survivors; this includes legal battles to claim compensation, psychological counselling for those suffering of post traumatic stress and raising awareness of the events of that day.

Jones was in his element when playing his old band’s songs and clarified that his particular choice of set list isn’t a cry to go back to the 80’s.

“I want you to know we’re not playing these songs to be nostalgic, we’re playing these songs as if we had just learnt them in the van on the way here.”

After playing five The Clash songs, Jones and his friends ran off stage but there was no doubt an encore was to come. “We’re going to play this song again because it’s become the theme of this tour,” said Pete Wylie before they started playing “All Together Now” once again, bringing the Justice for Hillsborough gig to a beautiful but very emotional ending.

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