I started supporting Liverpool F.C. because of my brother. Being a Bangladeshi, I did not grow up with the feverish obsession for the sport that many of my British university friends have. And, truth be told, sports did not intrigue me much as a child. I would be lying if I said that my support did not have its foundations in simply following the family tradition; my father was an avid fan too. But, the more I learned about the club’s past, the more I grew to admire and respect it. Soon enough, I went from calling myself a Liverpool fan to actually being one. My knowledge of tactics was not the best – and it is still woefully lacking – but my heart was in it. Cut me and I bleed Red.
Most of my friends favoured Manchester United, not unusual given that their dominance coincided with the time we were growing up. The ones who became interested in Premier League football in high school chose Chelsea to be their team. And I stayed with mine. While many of my classmates were basing their love on silverware that they could see being won, I was basing mine on history. My friends idolised Beckham and Lampard, Ferguson and Mourinho. I idolised Shankly and Paisley and Dalglish. I wanted to go to the Kop and when I finally went to attend a match at Anfield a few years ago, it was a moment of indescribable elation. For a while, I thought it was going to be my best memory of the club ever.
Liverpool has a unique place in my heart. It is not just a football team, it is a living, breathing entity. And, like any other living soul, it has its heartache as well as its joy. This year, when we are so close to Premiership glory for the first time in my lifetime, also marks the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough. I had first heard about the tragedy almost as soon as I was roped in to support the team. Seeing the tributes on television every year was a sombre reminder of the club’s darkest hour. Between the commemorations, the stories my brother and father would tell me, and the information I got from the internet, I learned the whole thing. And amidst the extreme sadness I felt for the 96, there was anger. How could the authorities try to cover up their failures? How could a popular publication – I refuse to call The Sun a newspaper – lie so blatantly and so maliciously? More importantly, how could there still have been no attempt to recompense, so long after the event?
Year after year, every April, I would join the calls ringing out from Merseyside. Justice for the 96. Justice for the 96. Justice for the 96. And, year after year, I would see our calls going unanswered. To say it was frustrating would be an understatement. Growing up, I hoped more than believed that things would one day get better for the families of the victims. When the process for closure finally began, it felt surreal. When the Hillsborough Independent Panel publicly released its findings in 2012, when the inquests were overturned, and when new inquests were called for, I knew that visiting Anfield was no longer going to be my best memory of Liverpool. Watching Steven Gerrard, whose 10-year-old cousin was the youngest of the 96, be his inspirational self against Manchester City on the 13th of April this year was not going to be it either. I dare say that if (and it is still a big IF, despite being in a good position) we do win the league this year, that will still only be second best.
My best memory of Liverpool F.C. will always be the pride I feel when I say I was there to see the calls for justice being heard. It will be the connection I feel with people I have not even met yet because we will all be able to say we stood together, even if some of us did very little while others shouldered most of the pain. It will be the lump in my throat when I see the number 96 written out in scarves on the pitch this year, the cracked voice when I am able to say “thank you” to another team’s fans for paying their respects, the tear in my eye whenever I see the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield, and the swelling in my chest when I call out, not just as a demand any more but as a victory cry, “Justice for the 96.”