At about 5 p.m. on April 15, 1989, Dean Bromley emerged, dazed, on to Leppings Lane in Sheffield, and surveyed the queues of people that snaked out of every shop. Reaching a florist, the 20-year-old Liverpool supporter asked if he could use the telephone to contact his parents. "It was surreal, looking around. It was post-apocalyptic," he says, revisiting memories that have not even begun to fade. "I remember slamming the phone down on my mother, because she wanted to know more and I couldn't give her any answers. Things were just happening; I'd never encountered anything like it. I felt so helpless."
Making our way over, along the Snake Pass
Goin' the match with yer mates, this was class
A bright sunny day, the semiifinal of the cup,
Nothin' would go wrong, we wouldn't slip up
Emotion snatches at Dean's words as he remembers carrying crushed Liverpool fans away from the west stand terraces on advertising hoardings, remembers the terror and the tears he saw shed, remembers the smell as he entered the gymnasium beneath the north stand that began as a makeshift treatment room and ended up a morgue; he has barely spoken to anybody about that afternoon in the 23 years since. The extract above comes from a poem written by his friend Earle Jackson at the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. He has always found it easier to get the words down on paper. "I still go to the game with lads I was with on that day. I still sit next to one of them," says Earle. "We never mention it to each other."
Both have begun to speak about an event that they, like so many others, "will never come to terms with" since becoming part of a team that will soon run three marathons in three days -- a route taking them from Hillsborough to Anfield -- to raise money for both the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group. That was the original plan, in any case; along the way they have found themselves educating younger football fans -- as well as reminding older fans -- about what happened in 1989.
Later this year the Hillsborough Independent Panel will publish its report on the disaster, the result of more than two years' work on various documents never previously released by the authorities, aimed at detailing the context, circumstances and aftermath of that day. It is hoped that this report will bring to a close almost a quarter of a century of nondisclosure and misinformation. Just last month, as the panel announced that the report due this Spring would instead come by Fall, some of the documents under scrutiny were leaked to BBC Radio 4. These apparently showed that the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been led by senior Merseyside Police officers to believe that "drunken Liverpool fans" were responsible for what happened.
"We started out with plans to raise thousands of pounds, but we've found it just as important to talk to people, to challenge assumptions that those were the bad old days of football and the fans must have been drunk," says Conor Brennan, the man in charge of press for the Hillsborough-Anfield Run, which has so far raised more than £5000 ($7936). "You talk to them about what actually happened in 1989 and they say 'I didn't know that', or 'I didn't understand that'."
The interim report from Lord Justice Taylor in 1989 found that "the great majority [of fans] were not drunk nor even the worse for drink," and blamed primarily the police handling of the crowd and the set-up at the ground, which had not been sufficiently improved since 1981, when 38 Tottenham Hotspur fans had been injured at an FA Cup semifinal against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Dean had been so anxious about conditions in the Leppings Lane end when Liverpool and Nottingham Forest met in the 1988 FA Cup semifinal that he moved out to the edges of the crowd and was grateful to find that he had a ticket for the north stand a year later.
Standing at the Hillsborough Memorial Mosaic at Anfield on the opening day of this season, Dom Williams decided that he would put his newfound passion for running to a good cause and began assembling a team of six runners to cover the 76 miles between Sheffield and Liverpool with support from nine others. Earle, a seasoned marathon runner, has been encouraging the others to leap into ice baths and don compression tights in order to last the distance over three consecutive days. But treading the route that 96 Liverpool supporters did not will be an emotional as much as a physical challenge. Sheffield Wednesday has given them permission to start from the Leppings Lane end of the pitch at Hillsborough.
"It'll be strange stood there on the pitch again, 23 years later," Earle says, after a moment's reflection. "It'll be good to have the run to focus on, though -- to have such a good reason for being there." He plans to work on a poem during the evenings, to channel the feelings that the journey will inevitably rouse. The key job for the support team once the run begins will be to keep bodies and minds from the worst of its effects. Thanks to Liverpool's FA Cup win over Stoke, Kenny Dalglish's team will be at Wembley when the fundraisers arrive at Anfield, but that won't dim the rush of adrenaline. "We'll be on our last legs, but the lift we'll get running through Liverpool..." Dom says, trailing off. He ran the final 16 miles a few weeks ago, in training. "On our last mile, you can see the top of the stadium; it sent a shiver up my spine."
Though the anniversary of Hillsborough is always well observed around the country, a minority -- evident in responses to coverage of the recent leak -- questions the ongoing campaign for answers about Hillsborough. "People say, 'It happened 20 years ago, why do you need to do this?' What are you looking for? Just let it go'," Conor says. "We can't let it go because there's an injustice that cries out to be righted. Once everything gets out into the cold light of day, and everybody knows why the CCTV tapes went missing, why there were no prosecutions, or accounting for anything over the years, I think the sore will be assuaged.
"Yes, it still hurts, but people will be able to exhale and say, 'Finally, justice'."
The Hillsborough -- Anfield Run will start on April 12 and finish at Anfield on April 14. Donations will be split equally between the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group.