Littlehampton’s Edwin James Festival Choir will be commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster with a performance of the musical play Their Scarves Were Red.
A Liverpudlian himself, vice chairman of the choir John Boardman admits that deciding to take part was no easy decision. His lifelong friend Dr John Ashton, now professor of public health at Liverpool University, provided medical assistance on that fateful day when a deadly crush at the FA Cup semi-final football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield resulted in 96 fatalities and 766 injuries – the worst disaster in British sporting history.
“The events surrounding the Hillsborough disaster have me, a normally-placid and easy-going man from Liverpool, expressing my anger”, John said. “At the time of the disaster, the vastly-overcrowded stadium had no valid safety certificate, despite difficulties with crowd management there previously. On that fateful day, the police and emergency services, controls and responses were grossly inadequate. My good friend at school and since is Dr John Ashton who went to the match with his two teenage sons and 23-year-old nephew.
“When medical assistance was asked for, John left the stand to help and pronounced six people dead and gave first aid to many others. Subsequently asked to give evidence at the Taylor Inquiry during which he was questioned about his medical background, John noticed a hand-written note on his police statement querying ‘safeguarding’ because he left his own family in the stand to provide assistance. Not only am I upset about the terrible loss of life, but also that those who helped and so easily could have been traumatised by the sheer scale of the disaster, should be treated so badly by the very people who should have been listening, not judging.”
When the piece was first programmed for the choir, John admits he wondered whether he would cope emotionally with performing it: “I think it was out of a sense of loyalty to the people that suffered loss and also the injustice and the treatment that my friend got.”
It was only in December that John determined to take part. Ironically, he will be taking the part of a doctor – and is glad to do so, as part of the commemoration. The trauma and the tragedy will never go away – and it is important that they don’t, John feels: “We were not living in the UK at the time. We were in Bermuda. But the thought that keeps coming back to me was that my son was at school in England, and I kept thinking to myself that he was 16 and a Liverpool fan. He could have been there.”Hence the need to remember: “It is like the war. I didn’t experience the war, but it is that same thing, thinking that these people that gave their lives for whatever reason should not be forgotten. I think that is so important.”
Their Scarves Were Red is part of the remembrance, John feels: “We are more used to singing traditional choral works, but the choir is very good at doing a range of things. It does songs from shows, Last Night of the Proms and pieces of classical choral work, and now this is thrown into the mix and we do it. It is very different for us, but it is very poignant and very well thought through.”
James Rushman, musical director of the Edwin James Festival Choir, said: “Their Scarves Were Red is a musical about a day in the life of two lads setting off from Brighton to go to the Liverpool game at Hillsborough which ended with 96 people losing their lives, including one of the two lads. Our two concerts will be held just two days away from the 30th anniversary of the disaster. The musical is moving, humorous and also uplifting.”
The musical will be performed at St James Church, Littlehampton on Friday, April 12 at 7.30pm and on Saturday, April 13 at 3pm. Tickets £10 (children under 16 £4) can be booked by telephoning 01243 582330.