Steve Kelly lost his brother Michael at Hillsborough. Michael was a Liverpool fan but also obsessed with George Best. In this moving piece, Steve talks about why the lines between Manchester United and Liverpool shouldn’t matter when it comes to tragedy. Thank you for sharing your story, Steve.
I’m an Evertonian but I wasn’t at Villa Park on April 15, 1989, to see us play Norwich City in the FA Cup semi-final. I had a place in the London Marathon the following week and couldn’t afford to do both. I was a Liverpool taxi driver. My brother Michael, a Liverpool fan, was at Hillsborough watching his team against Nottingham Forest.
I was shopping with my wife on Allerton Road — one I’ve never been down since that day. There was a TV shop and I saw a crowd outside it. I thought there must have been a goal and went over. Instead, I saw Moira Stewart, the TV newsreader. There had been an incident at Hillsborough. We lived around the corner — life was good with a house in Penny Lane. The story started to unfold. People had died. Gates had been opened. I was mystified.
My brother Mike, 38, was there and I thought, “Our Mike will be OK. He’s a big lad. When something is going off he knows when to get out.” I was convinced he’d be all right and went to work in my cab that night. The city was flat. We were picking lads up who’d been at the game and taking them home. I didn’t charge but felt like I was giving basic counselling. There was hardly a mention of Everton getting to the FA Cup final.
I worked until 4am and there was a note on the coffee table, left by my wife.
Steve. Your Margaret rang. Could you give her a call at home?
Margaret was my cousin, but I didn’t want to ring at 4am. I woke up, bolt upright, at 7am. My wife looked startled.
“Did you ring Margaret?” she asked.
“They’re worried there has been no word from your Mike.”
“He’ll turn up, he’s like a bad penny,” I replied.
I phoned my mum and my sister answered. I reassured them, too. I thought he would have gone back home to Bristol, where he lived.
“Well, Mum is worried,” said my sister.
“There’s a number here, I’ll ring it,” I replied.
I couldn’t get through and rang some hospitals in Sheffield. Eventually, I got through to the number and spoke to someone at the police who said: “All the dead have been identified.”
“All the dead have been identified.”
“Can you suggest anything?”
“Have you rang around the hospitals?”
“Why don’t you do it again?”
So I did. I gave a description of Mike — his Mungo Jerry sideburns, my coat he’d been wearing, and that he had a scar on his stomach from an operation. I was told there was nobody by that description. I called a radio station in Bristol.
It was now 6pm and still no news. I told Christine that I was going to drive to Sheffield and we did. It was a beautiful hot and sunny day. I drove straight to the gates at Leppings Lane where a policeman had a huge overcoat on. He must have been boiling.
He saw me and said: “Move your fucking car.”
“Hang on a second lad…”
“I said move your fucking car.”
“I’m looking for my brother.”
“I don’t care. Move your fucking car.”
I threw my keys away and said: “Try and find the keys.”
My wife was upset. Another policeman came over, intervened, and listened to me. I told him why I was there and he told me to follow him to the Boys Club. There, I met with three social workers, while a policeman in the background did the formal business. He had reddish hair and I gave him a description of my brother again and again. He made more calls. After four calls, he tapped one of the social workers on the shoulder and had a chat with her. You could see his hand was shaking. I thought, ‘He knows something here.’
The social worker came over to me and asked: “Would you be prepared to look at some bodies?”
“What do you mean, ‘bodies’?”
“There are two bodies which have not been identified.”
“I thought you said they’d all been identified.”
“No, there’s a man and a woman.”
“What do you want me to look at a woman for? I’m here for my brother.”
“Will you look at the man?”
“If it clears this mess up.”
The policeman took me to the medical and legal centre and put me in touch with what I called “the suits” — the CID. They sat me down and started asking me questions. They asked me about his drinking habits. A policeman opened a drawer, pulled out a photo and threw it across to me, like he was dealing a card. The card spun around and the head landed towards me. I stopped it with my right hand. It was a picture of Mike in a body bag.
“That’s him!” I said, looking up. I went to put the picture in my pocket. The next thing, my hand was up my back and my head on the table. A copper took the picture off me and said: ‘That’s the property of South Yorkshire Police.’
I said: “I’m sorry, sorry. I thought you were giving it to me.”
We filled more forms in then they said: “We’ll take you down to view this individual.” We’d still not confirmed it was Mike, even though I knew it was. I saw the family of the girl walking out. We looked at each other. We just knew. I’ve seen them many times at the memorials since and never spoken to them, we just acknowledge each other.
We went into a narrow hall. All these coppers were there. One got me by my shoulders and asked if I was OK. Curtains were pulled back. Mike was on a tray with a purple shroud pulled over him. I saw his big sideburns and fell to my knees.
I stood up and walked over to him. I was stopped.
“Can I just see him? I want to give him a kiss, he’s been on his own all night. I’m his brother. I’ve come for him.”
“He’s the property of the coroner.”
“Is he fuck, mate. He’s my mother’s son. Let me see him.”
We waited for a bit. They walked me back down the corridor and asked me to fill forms in. I was polite and agreed. Then it dawned on me that I needed to call my mum. Now. That upset the police. I went into a room and made a phone call. The police came into the room. I told them to get out. They said they needed someone there, I told them to get out. We agreed that they left and the door stayed open. I called my mum, then went upstairs. More forms. It was getting on for 4am. I told the police I needed to see him again. They said no.
“You’ll have to carry me out if you don’t let me see him. Don’t think any of you can calm me if you don’t let me see him.” They relented. I asked if they could leave me with him. They wouldn’t. I told them I was going to come back every day until he came home. And I did that. I drove from Liverpool to Sheffield and back every day for five days to see him.
The funerals were next. Mike’s was the last one and a lot attended. We drove past the Kop, the streets were lined, a real show of emotion. They were wonderful but stories started to come out. I’d seen the headline in The Sun. I wouldn’t let any newspaper in the house. I cut the plug off the TV so my mum couldn’t watch anything to do with it — and told her it was broken. My mum had breast cancer. She just thought he’d been crushed.
I knew a nightmare had begun. That would be the start of a battle where we’re still trying to justify. I’ve met a lot of good people and that helps. But I hear chants about Hillsborough and they are so upsetting.
Mike was three years older than me. I’d go to Anfield with him to watch European games as a kid because Liverpool were in Europe and Everton weren’t. I saw Johan Cruyff play for Ajax at Anfield, Saint-Etienne too.
Mike rarely came to Goodison with me unless it was for one of two reasons: a) the derby where he could still support Liverpool and b) if George Best was playing. We both loved watching George Best. We watched him on the TV, we even got a train to Old Trafford as kids several times to watch him play. He was the fifth Beatle to us, we loved him, even though he played for Manchester United. When he won the European Cup and scored that goal, I took some heart that he was wearing blue — Everton’s colours! I wanted to be George Best and followed his career and sadly his demise. I’ve even been to his grave in Belfast to pay my respects.
I saw a picture of Best once in Liverpool and bought it. I respected those Manchester United players and I know some of them like Paddy Crerand used to come and watch Liverpool and even stand on the Kop in the 1960s. Times were different then, there was a rivalry and chanting but it was more fun than nasty.
Michael was a quiet lad, quite complex. Loved his own company, a deep thinker. Loved his books. He was on War and Peace and I was reading the Beano comic. Loved Liverpool and being at Old Trafford to watch cricket in the summer. He’d go to Manchester all the time to see Lancashire cricket.
He made me an Evertonian, too. I wanted my hair cut like Ian St John and had a picture of how I wanted my hair pinned up on my wall. Mike took the picture and put it on his own wall. He justified it by saying he was the Liverpudlian in the house, I was the Evertonian.
He joined the navy and would bring me gifts home from far and distant places. I was the only kid in our street with a proper Wrangler jacket. He’d buy me Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel records; my friends were envious.
He was retired out of the navy after damaging his eye. He lost his way a bit and hit the drink, then he got jobs down south in hotels, settling in Bristol. He got his life together, he had a good job for national freight. He had a stomach ulcer that burst a few weeks before Hillsborough. I wonder if that made him weaker, but he was still off doing his thing and loving his reds. Liverpool in the winter, Lancs in the summer and Bob Dylan at night.
At the inquest, I described him as a good family man and he was. I want to remember him now, not have to fight to clear his name.
I wasn’t at Hillsborough, but it has ruined my life. In 1989, I was happily married to a lovely woman. We had a nice house, our life was only going one way, upwards. My life would have been totally different to the one I’ve had. Now I’m in a one-bedroom house and don’t really go anywhere. Most people who know me do so because of Hillsborough. I gradually lost my friends from my previous life. It has been a very difficult journey and good friends got me through, but my life would have been a damn sight better if it wasn’t for Hillsborough.
I came back from Sheffield a different man. Something sparked inside me that said, “I’m going to fight this,” but I didn’t know how to. I started going to lots of meetings, started missing work. A wedge developed in our marriage until, after three years, she finally said: “Don’t you need to ease off a little bit? It’s not doing you any good.” And it wasn’t doing my health any good.
I replied: “No, he was my brother, I have to do it for him.” We split up. Thankfully, we remain very good friends.
I became an activist who didn’t know what he was doing. I was attending meetings for the sake of being there, to support others or listen to people who were more knowledgeable than me. I even said to another family member, “This is terrible, we’re going to take on a council,” not realising that we’d have to take on a government. We were naive, but we got a lot of support. People saw the cover-ups, the lies.
Four years after the disaster, a mate from football told me about the work he had in a care home. I asked him if he thought I could do that and he said he did. I became a support worker and, at 40, went to John Moores University and took a degree to become a social worker. I did that until I was 59 — that was when my new partner Pam got ill and I wanted to take care of her. She sadly passed away.
By that time, the Hillsborough inquests were going on, the trials of the South Yorkshire Police officers too. I felt so low at that point and started doing care work again, which I do for 15 hours a week. I’m also working hard on the Hillsborough Law (to offer more support to bereaved families and to put in place a duty of candour for all public officials) to push that on. I’m 69 now and want to give something back. And that something might be an interview like this.
I remember the Europa League game in 2016. As Liverpool fans went into Manchester, Hillsborough banners were hanging from the motorway bridges. I’d had enough after seeing that, of hearing and seeing the actions of these morons. It should be a crime, like racism or homophobia. It’s vile and so hurtful.
I contacted Merseyside Police, Manchester Police, UEFA, Liverpool and Everton. A lot was promised but nobody did anything. I was exasperated. A few months later, I contacted South Yorkshire Police to complain against the chairman of the returned police officers federation. I was kept on hold for 27 minutes.
Manchester knows about tragedy. In football, there was Munich. The community came together, football came together, but we’re in dark times. It shouldn’t be like this.
I got a letter from Kenny Dalglish in 2016 asking me to be present at the renaming of the Kemlyn Road stand to the Kenny Dalglish stand. I was made up. I like going to Anfield because my brother’s ashes are at the Kop end. We kept those ashes for a while before deciding to put them on the Kop. I actually thought, “Everton are never going to score at this end again because Mike’s ashes are there.” I’m pleased to say Andrei Kanchelskis scored in the first derby after his ashes were scattered!
I accepted Kenny’s invitation. I was offered champagne but always drink tea at these functions. A lady came up to me and said: “Excuse me, did you used to play for Liverpool?”
“No, I’m the other persuasion,” I replied.
“I’m an Evertonian.”
“Ah, so you played for Everton.”
“So do you mind asking me why you are here?”
I explained that I was one of the Hillsborough families.
She said, “Stay there. You have something in common with my husband. I’ll bring him over.” Her husband was talking to Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish. She brought him over and suddenly Bobby Charlton was talking to me.
“Norma’s right, we have something in common. Tragedy,” he said. He’d been affected by Munich. He was a lovely man. We spoke about Hillsborough, about Munich. I told him how envious I was of him playing football with my Everton hero, Ramon Wilson. I’d tried to model myself on him. Bobby told me Ramon was ill but that he was his best friend and that he visited him very regularly.
He brought Sir Alex Ferguson over. He said he’d seen me on TV and read about me in the press. He told me we should be proud of the way we campaigned for justice. His words meant the world to me. I only met him because of the horror of Hillsborough. He eased my pain.
Before he left, Bobby held my hand. He’s still got a grip. He said: “Keep up the good fight, you’ve done your brother proud.” It was an honour to meet Norma and Bobby, a beautiful man. That was a Scouser and an honorary Mancunian. We could embrace each other’s difficulties. Why can’t others? The people singing chants will get old one day and have issues in their own lives. They’ll need support themselves and maybe they will realise the damage they’ve done.
I don’t go to the match now or listen on the radio or watch on TV. You can hear the chants there. I’ve lost my love for it and that’s sad because those chanters have done that — the majority were probably not even born when Hillsborough happened.
The anniversaries come and go. We go to Anfield and there are all these wonderful gestures, but it’s like a new funeral every year. I think, “Here we go again.” Mike’s birthday was March 1. I hate March and I hate April. Mike’s had 34 funerals.
Some ask me if I’ve had enough. I’ve not. I just wanted people to admit their wrongdoing. I didn’t want them hung, drawn and quartered. I’m a forgiving man and I would have forgiven. And I wanted to hear the truth and for someone to be accountable — for history’s sake. I didn’t want anyone to go to jail, they were too old.
We didn’t get that. We want to bring out a law to stop this from happening again. I want my brother’s death — and the deaths of the 97 — to be a lasting legacy, not the butt of jokes.
I want people to be educated that it’s not right to sing about disasters — about Hillsborough or Munich — all fans. Those opposition fans, including Liverpool fans, who sang about Munich were equally misguided. I’ve heard Evertonians sing songs about Hillsborough and felt ashamed.
I just want to go to the match and not hear these songs. I’d sit next to any Manchester United fan, or any fan of any club. I have no axe to grind. Our Mike didn’t do anything to harm Manchester United. We loved Bestie.