Ray Houghton welcomes Hillsborough verdict

Former Ireland star, who played in 1989, speaks candidly of fateful day and its impact

 

Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star Ray Houghton has welcomed the verdicts in the Hillsborough inquest and expressed hope that those found to have been responsible for the disaster, which cost 96 supporters their lives, will now be prosecuted.

“It’s been 27 long years for all the families waiting for the verdict,” said the 54-year-old who was a member of the Liverpool team that started in the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15th, 1989. “The fact they’ve had to wait this long I find incredible [but] the verdict is a good one for them, very clear and concise. That’s all they’ve wanted all along, to have accountability and the truth. For someone to tell them exactly what happened to their loved ones on that fateful day.

“So they’ve got the decision and let’s hope the people who are accountable for it are punished the way they should be. They should have been done 26 years ago. Why has it taken so long?”

The tragic events of that day had a profound effect on many of the players involved, although the teams did not witness much of the tragedy after having been taken from the pitch when it became clear that something serious was unfolding. At that stage nobody quite realised the appalling scale of the problem.

‘You’ll be going back on’

Houghton

“If you’d have asked the players then to end the season, we genuinely would have said okay. Nobody wanted to play on after that. The lads weren’t interesting in training. Some of the fans used to come down to the ground for autographs and we saw their faces in the pictures up against the fencing on the newspaper.”

Hillsborough disaster timeline

Players like John Aldridge, he says, who grew up in Liverpool, found it particularly difficult to cope in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and the striker, Houghton remembers, was unable to play for Ireland on one occasion because of the impact the events had had upon him.

For Houghton, things became tougher over time, with the player finding it increasingly difficult to attend functions in support of the relatives as the years passed.

“I did [attend them] before but I haven’t been for a while. I do find it difficult; very emotional. Even to the extent where I don’t like watching it on television. It brings back very painful memories. When you’re there on the day as a player [you ask yourself] could you have done more? Could the players have done more? But we just didn’t know.

“It’s always there in your mind, though. As much as you’ve had great moments in your career, this one stands out as the worst and it’s always going to be at the back of your mind.”

Truth and justice

“To live with what they have had to live with for 27 years must have been extremely difficult – wearing on your life,” he says. “I don’t think any of them have really lived.

“I was talking to a lady the other night and afterwards I spoke with some people who knew her and they told me it encompasses her life. All she talks about and all her thoughts are about what’s happened. She could tell you everything that has happened every day in court.

“She’s living her life through Hillsborough, she’s not lived her own life and that won’t stop tomorrow.

“Whether they can live a normal life now, I’m not so sure. All you are looking for is accountability. That’s what the families are looking for. They want truth and they want accountability. Who was in charge? Did they do their duty? Twenty-seven years to find a verdict is crazy. It shouldn’t happen anywhere in the world. This should have been dealt with.”