Our 43 Don’t Need Justice, They Need Remembrance
April is a sad month for football. It’s a month in which, in 1989 and 2001, 139 football fans lost their lives trying to support the teams they love.
I am, of course, talking about the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster in Sheffield when, on April 15, 96 fans were crushed to death. 12 years later at Ellis Park on April 11th 2001, 43 more members of our football family were killed in another stadium tragedy.
I’m from Sheffield. I was born just a few months after the Hillsborough Disaster and had family members at the stadium. I have sat on the seats there more times than I can count, and have sat through many, many memorials remembering those who died.
It was a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a team my Uncle’s family supports. Because of this, Forest has been linked to my team, Sheffield Wednesday, and consequently my life, as soon as I adopted the blue and white stripes.
My city will never forget what happened that day, and even though I was born afterwards, neither will I.
The events were, to some extent, quite similar. Both days started as joyous occasions – an FA Cup semi-final and a Soweto Derby – but ended in despair when lives were tragically lost.
However, that is where the similarities end. In England, and also around the world, the Hillsborough Disaster is remembered every single year. There is a minute’s silence the weekend of the game, while banners are held up in stadiums worldwide to remember the fallen 96.
This weekend was the 25th anniversary of that tragic day at Hillsborough, and English football stood up and was counted. Every game started seven minutes late (the Liverpool v Forest game was halted after six minutes due to the crush), while a minute’s silence was held, immaculately, at football stadiums all over the country.
Manchester City fans, in a show of solidarity for their neighbours, created a banner pleading for ‘Justice for the 96’. They held it aloft during the top-of-the-table clash between City and Liverpool, even buying advertising space in the matchday programme to pay their respects.
At Hillsborough, where Sheffield Wednesday was playing Blackburn Rovers, 96 blue seats in the Leppings Lane end were changed to white. A single rose was placed upon each of them in order to make sure that the fallen were not forgotten.
In South Africa, to mark another year since we lost 43 football fans, the media was sent a press release by the league, Kaizer Chiefs posted a story on their website and Orlando Pirates stuck a picture on Twitter.
That was it. There was no show of solidarity from South Africa’s football fraternity to pay homage to the fans that died for their teams. There was no minute’s silence at any games over the weekend. There wasn’t even the forethought for the clubs to don black armbands to pay homage to those who lost their lives. There was nothing.
I’ll go as far as to say that some current football fans in South Africa don’t even know that the Ellis Park Tragedy even took place… but they know about Hillsborough.
It’s not their fault… it’s ours, all of us. Not nearly enough is made of what happened that day, and not enough respect is paid to the ones that died or their families.
At Soccer Laduma we paid our respects on social media, asking fans about their experiences of that sad day and how it is still touching people’s lives now. There were fans who were meant to go to the game but, for whatever reason, didn’t make it. There are those that watched it unfold on TV, and there were those who were in the stadium when the tragedy unfolded. For them the memories of it will remain forever.
So why are we, as a country, not paying our respects every year? Why are we not keeping the memory of those that died alive in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen again? Why was nothing done to say, “Rest In Peace. We’ll never forget you”?
Regardless of how they happened or whose fault each event may have been, the fact of the matter is that on both occasions football fans, just like you and I, went to a game and never went home.
Thousands have fought for justice for those 96, but we seem to barely remember our 43…
Soccer Laduma journalist