There have been many distinguished days in the rich history of Liverpool, but I do not recall one as important as yesterday. As I sat watching my television, utterly absorbed by the various statements as they followed one by one, it was impossible not to feel emotional as 23 years of campaigning was finally vindicated.
From the moment David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons to apologise for the events of April 15, 1989, through to the members of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and then the Hillsborough Family Support Group detailing the findings and reaction to the report into what really happened, the over-riding feeling was one of deep admiration.
When Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks of the HFSG spoke, the gravity of what they've experienced to reach that point and what it must have meant to the families is simply beyond comprehension for most of us.
They answered the questions coming their way by expressing an understandable combination of delight at what they had just read, despair that it had taken so long and anger towards those who had refused to not only acknowledge the truth, but had presented inaccurate versions of it.
It was clear to everyone what the new report means for the families, and tears do come to your eyes when you sense their renewed vigour and hope, balanced by the enduring feelings of loss, pain and, no doubt, fury.
I was a player at Hillsborough, but I would always defer my experience on that fateful day to those who have continued to suffer ever since. I have so much respect for the families and the campaigners who have fought so hard for the truth to come out.
For me as a player, it was a horrific day, a horrendous week, and deeply stressful six months trying to grasp what happened. Of course, the issue of Hillsborough has never been far from the mind of anyone with an affection for Liverpool Football Club in the years since, but in the most part it is when anniversaries come around or there are significant developments such as yesterday that it becomes your focus again.
For the families, it has been a living nightmare. Every day they have awoken to experience the same pain. They have dealt with the numerous obstacles put in their path as they fought for justice and each time they thought they could make progress, they encountered another brick wall, forcing them to conclude, understandably, that the British establishment had deserted them.
Somehow, they found the strength to pick themselves up and start again, dedicating their lives to force successive governments to listen.
I could not begin to understand how they have dealt with their grief over so many years or how they felt yesterday. If I lost my son or daughter in such circumstances, I doubt I would be looking at the last 23 years of lies and deceit and immediately start granting forgiveness to those who have perpetuated the misconceptions about that day. I have encountered ignorance about Hillsborough on many occasions, finding myself having to correct the inaccurate version of events.
Recently, I was at an event when the tragedy became a topic of conversation. "Yes, but really. It was the Liverpool fans who were responsible wasn't it," I was told.
You can put straight those who say this, but then feel deeply disturbed that such a view still exists. How could anyone fail to know the fans were blameless in 1989?
But regardless of how angry I feel hearing such views expressed, what must the families have suffered hearing similar for 23 years?
The report explicitly removes the excuse of ignorance for those who choose to misunderstand the tragedy. Each sentence in it reads as a tribute to the honesty, integrity and dignity of the families and is an acknowledgement of everything they have been saying since those first, scurrilous accusations surfaced.
It was a great day for them, and a great day for Liverpool as a city and football club. Finally, I hope the families have begun the process of finding the peace they have been denied for so long. (© Daily Telegraph, London)