25 years ago 96 football fans lost their lives at Hillsborough. Last week there were emotional commemorations of a tragedy that is felt across all of society. The campaign for justice has been hard fought and it’s difficult to imagine the trauma felt by those who lost their loved ones. Danny Rhodes was present that day and has created a work of fiction that sensitively deals with some of the many issues.
It’s 2004 and John Finch is distracted and distant in the school he teaches in. He’s avoiding talking to his girlfriend about an important matter and his life is becoming something of a mess. He’s unable to sleep, trudging up and down the stairs at all hours of the morning. He’s haunted at night by the image of a single ambulance going across the ground at Hillsborough. The events of that horrific day have cast a shadow over his life.
He left his home shortly after Hillsborough to make a new life for himself. Now, when he receives some bad news he returns to his old stomping ground. He’s keen to get some answers to the things that have been eating away at his soul for all these years but not everyone feels the same way. He turns up at the door of an old friend who wants nothing to do with him, preferring to leave the past stored away.
The 1990 World Cup was a time when the game won many new fans. There had been a war on football throught the 1980s, with the fans being branded as thugs. There’s an example of a misreporting of an attack here and Finch wonders if the editor would care if he found out the truth, a feeling that surely comes from the exceptionally inaccurate reports of Hillsborough.
Throughout the book we see some of John’s trips to various matches. Memories spill out of the various football programmes he looks back on. Football is a way of life, something that people look forward to all week. Danny Rhodes does a great job of capturing the exhilaration of a fan, while also highlighting the sacrifice this can involve, with loved ones often being cast aside in favour of a trip to the next match.
Danny Rhodes has clearly put his heart and soul into this book. He brilliantly conveys the loneliness involved in pursuing answers to events that took place many years ago and the cruel effect this can have on a person and on all of their relationships. It should have a deep effect on everyone that reads it.