Melton Times Sports Editor's Blog: The day football and I changed forever
When you’ve gone past your 30th, the coming of another birthday never quite has the excited anticipation it once had.
You can never recapture that stomach-churning giddiness of your childhood party, or the debauched post-18 celebrations which produced stomach churning for altogether different reasons.
But as I prepare to add another year to the tally this Sunday, the events of one particular birthday ensured I have approached every one that followed with a fresh perspective.
You see, my big day is April 15 - a date which in 1989 became a permanentscar in English football history.
I wasn’t among the families to lose a loved one at the Hillsborough Disaster, but those traumatic few long hours willing my older brother Martyn to come home will never leave me.
The day had started ordinarily enough as it did for everyone who had waved someone off on thatsunny spring morning.
As teens too young to travel to follow our favourite teams, my friend and I again had to settle for the terraces of Lincoln City and a late season Division Four game against Peterborough United.
As the game predictably plodded along goalless towards half-time, my friend tuned in his transistor radio to check on his beloved Liverpool.
Within minutes we both had an ear craned towards its tiny speaker. But not this time for news of goals.
The BBC commentary was hushed and sombre, almost bewildered, but most haunting of all, was the background wail ofsirens. I can still hear them.
Immediately thoughts turned to crowd trouble and pitch invasion. Liverpool had form after all, and hooliganism was still rife.
But numbers, surreal, awful numbers began to filter through of casualties.
Of Liverpool fans lying prostrate on advertising hoardings which, borne out of grim necessity, were now makeshift stretchers.
Something was badly wrong.
My head went into a spin. A rational mind would have assured me Martyn and hisfriends were safe.
They hadn’t been able to buy a ticket for the Leppings Lane end, the smaller section of Hillsborough’s terracing which Liverpool had been allocated.
Instead they were standing on the cavernous Kop among the Forest fans.
But their intention to swap tickets and join the Liverpool fans kept suffocating what was left of sensible thought.
As unlikely as it was, I was convinced they had found an obliging ticket tout and were in peril.
The kind, comforting words of my friend went unheard. The body’s fight or flight reflex, induced naturally by panic, left my heart thumping, loudly reverberating around my head.
I had to get home, for sanctuary and news.
After the slowest half-hour train journey of my life, I finally reached home, but there was no news.
We sat in silence around the dining table, my mum, dad and Martyn’s girlfriend Rachel. They say no news is good news, but not then.
Why didn’t he call? Where the hell was he? How was he?
The reason was simple; there were no mobile phones, and communication in and out of Sheffield was in chaos.
But such reasoning again required that elusive rational mind and none of those were left in that room.
It was just after 8pm, I think, when we heard the knock on the door.
I sat frozen while my dad disappeared into our hallway to bravely answer it.
Scarcely able to breath I waited desperately for a familiar voice.
Thankfully it came. He was home.
But for some that day, the voice that followed the knock at the door was unfamiliar.
For them it delivered news of unimaginable sadness.
So every birthday I may watch my youth slip further over the horizon, replaced by an uninvited era of middle age.
But what happened on April 15, 1989 ensures that each year I count every priceless blessing.