Hillsborough was the darkest day in the history of British football, but also the greatest turning point
- Credit: PA
I felt such happiness when the Hillsborough 'unlawfully killed' verdicts were announced at the end of a two-year inquest and a 27-year search for justice by the tenacious and magnificent families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died in 1989.
It was a victory far greater than any achieved on the pitch by their heroes. But while truth and vindication were essential in order to lift the shadow of lies, cover-ups and besmirching of the reputations of the dead, the families must draw additional comfort from knowing that their loved ones' deaths have for almost a quarter of a century been a force for good.
Very quickly the fences were cut down from the supporters' pens, removing one of the largest factors that contributed to the vicious circle of fans being treated like animals, therefore some behaving like animals.
Policing also changed. The era of police – not entirely surprising, given the provocation at times – treating football fans with aggressive disdain began to end. And by 1994, terraces had gone for top-flight clubs. To the frustration of many, myself included, sitting was the only option.
All-seater stadia do not always generate the same atmosphere as those with terraces, while there is something appealing about standing with your mates feeling part of an entity, rather than an individual. I'm a fan of the idea of safe standing areas being re-introduced at grounds, not least because whenever I go to a match I end up sitting next to a moaning bore. On a terrace, it is easy to slip away and find a new spot. But I do not join the legions of deluded people who recall some mythical golden era when football supporting was much more fun.
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For too often, it wasn't fun – it was frightening.
I was at Norwich City's FA Cup quarter final at West Ham in 1989, followed by the semi-final against Everton at Villa Park on the day that the Hillsborough disaster happened.
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Both matches were intimidating and sometimes terrifying experiences, punctuated by police aggression and dangerously overcrowded terraces.
Either place could have been the scene of a disaster. In truth, it was inevitable that tragedy would strike somewhere.
It struck at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989, which was, and is, the darkest day in the history of British football.
But it was also the greatest turning point.
Football was in danger of destroying itself in the 1980s, with dwindling crowds, violence by followers and fairly turgid fare on offer on the pitch.
Hillsborough forced football to change.
Today's well-appointed, family-friendly, fence-free and – above all – safe stadia are a tangible Hillsborough legacy. From that, we have seen the supporters coming back in greater numbers than ever before, while the array of players attracted to the Premier League is at times dazzling.
That 96 people had to die before change occurred is shameful. But at least change did occur – and we can now be far more certain that when we send our spouse, children or grandchildren off to watch the football, they will be safe and will come home.