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The “phenomenal” work of the Hillsborough survivors’ support group

The Hillsborough disaster happened 35 years ago, killing 97 Liverpool fans. Those who survived are still suffering from the events to this day. They support each other in a support group

Peter Scarfe was 20 when he traveled to Sheffield 35 years ago for Liverpool FC’s FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest. It was there that the Hillsborough disaster occurred on April 15, 1989, claiming 97 lives among Reds fans. Two escaped the Pen 4 in the Leppings Lane End of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium: a 16-year-old in his company, whom he and others helped over the fence onto the pitch, and Scarfe himself. “I tried as hard as I could to keep my head up and get some air.” Many others can hardly talk about the traumatic experiences to this day. The Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance (HSA) is there for them. Scarfe is the chairman of this self-help group for survivors.

Around the anniversaries, such as the 35th this Monday, the feelings of grief and solidarity among the bereaved and survivors mix in a special, intense way. According to Scarfe, it’s like a funeral and the get-together that follows. “You share memories, talk to each other, give each other comfort.” The actual work of the group has no anniversary. Coming to terms, or rather dealing with the terrible past, is an ongoing process. The 180 or so members of the HSA are connected in various WhatsApp groups. The group, which is funded by donations, has made 250 therapy places possible since 2019 alone

What happened in Paris in 2022 “brought everything back to the surface “

There are regular meetings that are also attended by eyewitnesses from Nottingham, Forest fans who are still suffering endlessly from the events they had to witness. Supporters such as Peter Schriewersmann, the German co-owner of the Anfield 23 Hotel, provide them with overnight accommodation. The HSA can use a room in the stadium for their monthly meetings. The LFC Foundation, the club’s foundation, is heavily involved. Especially since the summer two years ago. “The organizational chaos at the Champions League final in Paris brought everything back to the surface,” says Scarfe. “It was the same at the Stade de France as it was at Hillsborough: once again there were bottle necks and congestion of people at entrances and fences. The fans were treated miserably and the Liverpool fans were accused of false allegations. “

Scarfe and other volunteers from the Survivors Support Alliance received numerous calls for psychological support. Two people took their own lives as a result of the scandal in the French capital. “Once again, false narratives were served,” says Scarfe. And must fear that this will happen again and again in view of the increasing bad habit of “tragedy chanting”, which he is trying to combat together with other organizations such as the national Football Supporters Association (FSA). Scarfe has noted that the hostility and taunting of Hillsborough victims has increased since the Reds have enjoyed more success and title wins in the Jurgen Klopp era.

Members of the HSA wave a distinctive flag in the Kop before home games. The initials “US” on it mean “Unity is strength”. Pictures of this regularly go around the world. What the self-help group actually achieves must happen in secret, in silence. Scarfe calls the helping effect of the special support program developed with psychotherapists for Liverpool fans who escaped the Hillsborough disaster “phenomenal”. He reports on cases of alcohol abuse and self-medication over the years. There is probably a high number of unreported cases, as thousands of Reds fans like Scarfe were at the Hillsborough stadium.

It is absolutely clear that the families of the victims and the fight for justice were at the center of the Hillsborough investigation. “We, the survivors, shouldered our own support for a long time. Many had to live with the guilt of having survived and not being able to help. They didn’t deserve that. We went to a soccer match and couldn’t be prepared for what happened there.”

To mark the 35th anniversary, Liverpool FC dedicated a stone bench, a small memorial, to the survivors and unveiled it at Anfield Stadium. The Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance is present on X and with a homepage. In addition to donations, part of their income comes from the sale of wristbands, T-shirts and hoodies.

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