Many students will have heard of the Hillsborough disaster but few will have had any real emotional awareness of the event. i used the poem, ‘ The Ballad of Hillsborough’ in a lesson with some Year 9 students who were studying the Ballad form of poetry.
You have to watch how you play this one; at times I had to prevent myself from being florid in my description of the disaster. Sometimes, when you see the kids in front of you are genuinely interested in what you’re saying, it can be hard not to get carried away. But, there’s nothing worse than people who exploit death for any sort of gain so just watch it.
Anyway, here’s the poem. Use it in what way you will:
THE BALLAD OF HILLSBOROUGH
The Liverpool supporters
Were given the smaller end;
Crammed behnd the goalmouth,
The fans were tightly penned –
Penned, penned in their thousands,
Penned in under the sky
No one there had reckoned
That ninety-five would die.
The barriers all buckled,
They couldn’t take the strain
The cheers of jubilation
Turned into cries of pain.
And when at last they noticed,
The police unlocked a gate,
But the exit was too narrow,
And they’d opened it too late
The nation watched in horror,
Stunned with disbelief
As the shadows from the goalmouth
Stained a football pitch with grief.
An inquiry has been opened
To find out who’s to blame,
But for those who lost their dear ones
Nothing will be the same.
For nothing brings the dead back,
Post mortems, flowers or prayers,
It’s like reaching the top of the stairwell
And finding there are no stairs.
That drop into the darkness
Goes down and down and down;
And grief’s black water well there,
Inviting you to drown.
Never to see your loved ones,
Or hear them on the phone –
It’s hard to believe when it happens
That you’ll never walk alone.
But down at the Kop at Anfield,
The goalmouth shows it’s true:
The scarves around the crossbar
Are knotted red and blue.
Despite divided loyalties
Liverpool loved its own,
And every tribute there proclaims:
You’ll never walk alone –
Not by the banks of the Mersey
Nor down the terraced streets;
Beneath the great cathedrals
A city’s warm heart beats.
And now in the cold spring sunset,
The Liver Bird’s aflame
The Phoenix rose from the ashes;
A city can do the same.
I focused largely on the the rhyme scheme when I studied the poem. It was interesting to see student opinion on why a poem which describes such a tragic disaster would have such a ‘sing song’ feel to it, as created by the rhyme in the ballad. If this is an avenue that you’d like to pursue then do consider:
- The Ballad form as an oral form of poetry and the fact that rhyme would make an oratory performance easier to remember.
- The frequent references to You’ll Never Walk Alone, another song which Liverpool fans have adapted as their own. Can singing provide a sense of catharsis? Show students this clip of Liverpool fans singing the song on the 25th anniversary match of the tragedy and you’ll probably agree that it certainly does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3UPeulnY
- If a poem rhymes does it not reach a wider audience that includes young people whom otherwise might find textual insights to the tragedy inaccessible? After all, we’re not studying newspaper articles on the tragedy are we? No, we’re studying the poem.
- What’s the effect of the Juxtaposition between the ‘sing song’ tone of the poem and the tragic content? Does it make the tragedy seem all the more shocking? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Of course, there’s a plethora of other things you could use this poem for. What’s important is that if you use this poem, you use it sensitively. Good luck and let me know what you come up with.