Yesterday began with a rather immature text war between my brother and me. Given that we are both in our thirties and old enough to know better, what prompted us to insult each other continuously for two hours? The FA Cup Final, that’s what. While my friends tried to fathom my allegiance to a team that I have only seen play in the flesh once, from a place where I have only ever driven past once, I watched the game from behind my hands, while muttering a tantric chant of expletives. But later on I did give it rather more thought. More thought than that evening’s dinner, which I had quickly decided would be left over curry toasties with cheese.
My memories of football are at best hazy. I recall my brother’s top trump cards and his almost autistic ability to reel each one off verbatim. I remember his green Ray Clemence shirt which I coveted and he burnt a cigarette hole into and hid. I can feel the boredom of Saturday afternoons when my family should have been paying attention to me instead of watching key football matches and I vaguely remember a West Ham FA cup final where to the surprise of all my family my brother announced that he would be supporting West Ham and I felt betrayed because I was now the lone Liverpool supporter of the family.
Did that push me into becoming a supporter? I don’t know. That and a whole number of other factors, but yesterday I was grasping at anything in the hope that Liverpool would win, I had on red underwear, red socks, my stripy red and white t-shirt. As I relayed all these good omens to Carl the only real scouser in the whole pub I also added that Claire was reading Fever Pitch and that was a year that Liverpool won the FA cup final. “And when I came that close to killing my mother.” I held my fingers close together. We both remembered that year, we both looked off into that far distant corner of our eyes where memory is held and Carl muttered. “And that was the year of Hillsborough.” And I mumbled a yes in reply and that was the end of the subject.
But it’s far from over. Ever since Anne has suggested that I rewrite one of my stories, I’ve been struggling with it. What is it about? I’ve been stripping and re-stripping the glibness away from it in the hope of reaching whatever it is underneath that is trying to come through and last night it struck me. It’s about trauma. It’s the story that’s been pouring out of me ever since I picked up my pen again last August. Trauma, trauma, trauma, the midst of trauma. But when you explore something like that you live it. To write it, is to open yourself up and bare something. When the laptop lid is closed your imaginary situation leaves you gasping in pain. But I can’t stop it pouring out and each story has been a vignette of some aspect of trauma and the big one, the one I still can’t vocalise and verbalise, that came out buried under five thousand words of South London patter.
But back to 1989. The reason I wanted to kill my mother was because Liverpool lost the League Championship to Arsenal. They played terribly. I remember this, which is ridiculous because I can’t even remember who played them in that fantastically fortuitous Champion’s League Final last year. Arsenal scored in the last minute and my mother who hadn’t even been watching the match came by and said: “They deserved that.” I felt that Arsenal should have let them win. Arsenal probably felt that pressure too, but if they had done so it would have been obvious. I felt that the heart had gone out of the Liverpool players. The season was long overdue and in reality we had all had enough of football and terraces and chants and minute silences.
If I think back I realise that I should have been at work. No, I had quit my Saturday job at Woolies to revise for my ‘A’ levels. It was sunny, it always is. I had missed the beginning of the match. No I hadn’t, the three studio pundits were filling time with confusion. The match was delayed because of a pitch invasion. Comments had to be made, they were negative. Liverpool had a pretty bad press at that time, they were banned from Europe because of Heysel and this seemed to be just another example of Liverpool fans efforts to bring the game into disrepute. Every now and again there would be long angle shots of the fences bent beyond use as fans poured onto the pitch and the police poured onto the pitch and the players stood around with their hands on their hips the ball lying forgotten somewhere. Gradually the commentary changed. At some point the players had been guided off the pitch and the police were not stopping this pitch invasion they were pulling people out, there were ambulance men on the pitch, too many ambulance men. The football coverage was cut to another game and we were left with the promise of more news and a feeling of numbness.
By the six o’clock news it had become clear that the snippets we had witnessed at three was no pitch invasion but a disaster that we could not comprehend. As emergency phone numbers flashed onto the screen and we viewers were told which hospitals fans were taken too, I began to imagine the horror in full gory details. Over the next few days, the media filled in many of the gory details that my imagination could not provide. The Sun or Mirror -I can’t remember which- ran a front page spread of fans faces squeezed up against the fence their eyes bulging like frightened cattle. I felt sick looking at it, but all the same I looked.
I wasn’t there, but as a fan it’s as much my tragedy as the thousands of people who were there. People have forgotten it; did Claire and Jim know why Carl and I went silent yesterday? Did they even notice? It doesn’t really matter. The thing with trauma is that it does lie hiding under the skin and then something small, inconsequential brought all those memories flooding back yesterday. Trauma never goes away. At will I can conjure up the image of a pair of dead brown eyes, the sound of a rattle of breath escaping through an open mouth, my knees wet in a puddle of water. It’s always there; I’ve just learnt to live with it. Last summer when I couldn’t leave my apartment I knew somewhere that eventually dressing and eating and drinking would happen again; I would get over it. That’s what we say, but we don’t really get over it. We ignore it, we bury it, we cover it over, but it’s always there.
I’m still no closer to knowing what my story wants to say or whether it should even be said the way I’m trying to say it. But some things are clearer: it’s always sunny, it’s always there.