You don’t expect your child to go to a football match and never come back. Nor would you ever imagine you’d then have to spend 23 years campaigning for the truth as to exactly what happened on that fateful day, in the midst of lies and cover-ups and misinformation.
On 15th April 1989 a fatal crush occurred on the terraces of the Hillsborough football stadium. It was the worst disaster in British sporting history. 96 people died and hundreds more were injured. The disaster became known simply as Hillsborough.
Margaret Aspinall, from Liverpool, lost her 18-year-old son James in the Hillsborough disaster. As a member of the Hillsborough Family Support Group set up by bereaved relatives shortly after the tragedy, she has campaigned tirelessly for justice ever since, never missing a meeting and determined to uncover the truth as to exactly what happened.
I read Margaret’s account of Hillsborough, the moment she discovered her son had died and the battle she’s faced along with the rest of the bereaved families ever since, then sat for over an hour thinking that nothing I can write here can ever do it justice. I’ve stalled writing this post for three days, overcome by the emotion of it all and completely lost for words.
Margaret, 66, is my mum’s age. I have two brothers who were both teenagers, and football fans, at the time of Hillsborough. Some of their friends were at the Hillsborough match, the FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
We live in Nottinghamshire. Forest is our local team. My brothers just happened to support Sheffield Wednesday, not Forest, so they weren’t at that match. They could so easily have been if circumstances had been different.
Many local football fans, however, were there. They watched the tragedy unfold from the opposite stand, helpless to do anything to prevent it. Our local priest comforted many of the injured and dying and recounted the details to a packed congregation the following day, still deeply shocked by what he had seen.
For Margaret, of course, the memories are far more harrowing. James had attended the match with his father, Jim. Margaret didn’t hear from her husband until that evening. He hadn’t seen James, so went looking for him in hospitals and people’s houses.
By eight o’clock that evening there was still no sign of him. Margaret managed to get through to the coach company that had taken him and his friend to the match. They said all passengers were accounted for, so the whole family went to meet the coaches returning to Liverpool and see James return safely home.
He didn’t. Margaret learnt the next day that she had tragically lost her son. In Margaret’s words: ‘At six o’clock I took the dog for a walk and saw Jim coming round the corner with his head in his hands. I just started running. I thought, “Please don’t ever catch up with me because then my son could still be alive. If you catch me and tell me, then I’ll know he’s dead”.’
The Hillsborough Family Support Group met for the first time in June 1989. ‘I wanted to meet the other families but thought no one could be suffering as much as I was,’ admits Margaret. ‘But when I met the other relatives everyone looked old and I realised they were all still crying too’.
Finally, in September 2012, after 23 years of campaigning and battling for justice, the efforts of Margaret and the Group paid off. The Hillsborough Independent Panel Report stated that the fans were not to blame for the disaster and that some fans could have been saved if the correct procedures had been in place.
The Tesco Mum of the Year awards celebrates the achievements of inspirational and extraordinary women who have made a real difference to the lives of others. Margaret is without question an extremely deserving winner.
The judges sum it up perfectly: ‘Margaret’s utter determination to seek justice and her unbelievable strength in the face of such a tragedy make her a true inspiration.’
I’ll leave the final words to Margaret: ‘I know I’ll never get my son back, but I’ve finally got the truth. We’ve made sure that nothing like Hillsborough will ever happen again, and that’s a good legacy to leave behind.’
Read more about Margaret’s story over on the Tesco Magazine website.
I’m delighted to be an official blogger for the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards 2013.
Photo credit: Tesco Magazine.