James & bob

Hillsborough, Sheffield

Could you start by telling us about the original picture?

“It's taken at Hillsborough, home ground of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. It was at a Bristol Rovers game in League One, the season that we beat Sheffield United to promotion to the Championship, although they're still there - not that that's relevant!

The club had started doing crowd pictures on Facebook. They'd upload them and then you could tag yourself. I clocked the guy with this massive lens at the pitch side in the middle of this game. I nudged dad, so we pointed and waved, then this photo appeared on Facebook.

From being probably 12, Hillsborough was the thing I did with my Dad. For the next 20 odd years, come what may, most Saturdays, I would go back and me and dad would go to the match together and sit in the same seats, with our season tickets, throughout uni and after uni, and it's just a nice photo. It's captures us in and amongst the crowd.”

So would you say that Hillsborough was a particularly significant place for you both?

“Yeah, definitely. I suppose, it's not that our relationship was defined by football, but it was the thing that we gathered around and it was something that I didn't share with anybody else really. If ever Sheffield Wednesday had signed someone or there was news or whatever, he was the person I'd share that with. He wasn't good at initiating many things, but that was the thing you could initiate and then that would lead on to chatting about whatever. So, yeah, it was a special place, I don't recall that game in particular, but those two seats, 97 and 98, Row R, South Stand, they're our seats.”

Did you have a particular routine for a match day? Were there things that you did especially, as a routine for going to the game together?

“Yeah, it all followed a pattern, which changed a bit when I moved to Manchester. But I would always drive to his house, go in, chat with my step mum or sometimes some friends would join us for the game, and then Dad would make up a flask - he was a tight Yorkshireman, so we weren't spending money on the kiosks! Then we'd make our way down to the ground, park the car. Hillsborough is one of these old grounds in amongst the terraced houses, so you'd just find a parking space wherever you can and walk down the hill, over the bridge and into our seats. Then we'd chat to the people we'd sat around for the last 15 years or so. Dad had all sorts of routines, he wouldn't have a shower on match day: he always wore his Sheffield Wednesday boxer shorts, he'd always have his hat in his bag, so if we weren't doing well it was, 'Right, it's time for the hat', so he'd put his hat on.”

“I remember when the last fixture list came out, the last season when he was alive, in July when they release them, and suddenly that fixture list had me thinking which game would be his last. Suddenly you could measure a life in home games.”

 

Is it a place you go much now? Have you returned there many times?

“Since he passed away, the time I went with you was literally the first time I'd been back, not out of feeling like I couldn't face going there, just that, you know, as it turns out, my reason for going to Hillsborough wasn't as much about the football as it was about him. I've got a young family in Manchester, it's not a priority to do that, but it was a priority before.”

What did it feel like to go back?

“Mixed I suppose. You would've of thought it was really well planned, but, as you know, it wasn't really, it was a bit of a spontaneous thing, which I think was probably a good thing. So, even driving the rat runs that he showed me, and parking up was all part of the routine. I didn't feel sad, or particularly moved as such, but I suppose a bit nostalgic.

Going in, as it just so happened that day, a lot of my Dad's friends that sat a few rows in front were at a wedding, which in some ways I was pleased about, because it made it a bit less intense, and it also meant we could sit in their seats! The guys that we always sat with as season ticket holders were there, and it was really odd seeing them. He lasted a bit longer than we all thought he would, and longer than he thought he would, but the most emotional moment after his diagnosis, was when we got to the end of the Championship season in 2013. He'd been diagnosed at the end of October and he'd deteriorated that season, but he was there on the last game. He was very ill though. Sheffield Wednesday had stayed up, and he just kind of sat down, he kind of had a little look around and just began to cry and I think he thought at that point, that could well be his last game. I don't think the weight of the situation had escaped anybody, I think we all realised he was ill and he wasn't getting better, just even the way he was having to use a walker just to get to the seats, so it was obvious to everybody. I sort of said, 'Ahh Dad, come on, stand up, we'd best get a picture.' It was odd because our friends who were a few rows in front, because it was the last game of the season, everyone had taken their cameras. They'd turned around and taken a couple of pictures of us and I don't think I'd quite spotted it, but he was really upset, and as they saw that, they all started crying and then it was just a bit of a car crash from then on. It was just a very poignant moment. That's not the picture I chose because he doesn't look well, and it's not how I remember those match days.

On the day that you and I went, we were playing Charlton. We scored first, and that was the moment that, for the last 20 odd years, we'd jump up, and hug and just go crazy and shout and just be a bit ridiculous quite honestly, but as I jumped up that day, it was great to see the football and stuff, but it was a bit flat. Although it was nice to think, 'Yeah, we've scored, go on dad, there you go.'”

Obviously that place holds a huge range of emotions: that poignant moment where everyone's emotional at one end of the scale, compared to when you score a goal and celebrate at the other end of the scale. Was that what he was like as a person?

“No, he was actually not very good at showing...not necessarily not showing emotion, but everything would have a brave face on it. He was a performer, he was an opera singer, he did lots of amateur dramatics stuff and he was a singer, that was his main thing outside of work, so he liked to entertain. He was a real joker - any party he'd be doing impersonations, play spoons or slap his cheeks to play tunes, any of that sort of stuff. He was the joker. But when it came to anything deeply honest, it just wasn't a thing in our side of the family. So the highs and lows of Sheffield Wednesday was as broad as his range of emotions got.”

What was it like when I asked you to find a photograph? Did you know which one to choose or were there a few to pick between, or did you have to look through albums?

“No, to be honest, it was immediately: that was the one. There are other photos of me as a baby and stuff, although there aren't loads of photos. That one immediately came to mind. We're both dead happy on it and if you knew dad, well, it's just really appropriate.”

What was it like to retake it?

“It was just totally different. It wasn't like the first shot, which was in the midst of a game, super spontaneous, and was a fraction of a second in the hubbub of a match. This was, well apart from the stewards trying to clear us out, this was more prepped, so it wasn't as spontaneous. I don't know how I felt having the photo taken, a bit awkward 'cos I was the subject of it. We were on the actual seats, which was good, that's how I wanted it to be, and we had dad's shirt there, which actually I don't know if he ever wore at Hillsborough. He wasn't able to get to the games, he was in hospital at the time, but I bought it for him and so I'd taken it to him and he draped it over his bed with pride, and I think his nurse was a Sheffield Untied fan, so he took great delight in winding her up!”

"The one thing he did definitely grit his teeth and hold on for was Charlotte being born, 'cos they'd said that he wouldn't and he did, albeit only for the first few months, but he did.”

 

Have photographs of your dad been important in remembering him?

“It's kind of odd, because with my mum and dad getting divorced so early and then me not living with him, I actually don't have many photos. Going through his stuff and seeing photos and going through them was kind of nice, because for a long time, when I think about by dad, was when I was at his side when he passed away, which was nothing like him. My dad was always quite a big guy, and a big personality to go with it, and he was, come the end... Well, even his skin was grey, he was thin, gaunt, his torso was still quite bloated because of the cancer, his watch was dangling down by his elbow, his teeth were bad. But when I think about my dad, that's what is in my head. For the first time last week, I had a dream, and it started with that image, but then it moved to images that were much more him, like the photo that I used on his order of service, which was also taken at Hillsborough, although I had to photoshop the background out, because it didn't quite seem appropriate - although maybe it would have been!

Stumbling across photos of him playing parts on stage, or production shots, things like that where he's having fun, he's entertaining people, having those as a reminder has been really important. For that reason really: because for so long your flashbacks are of that last moment, and compared to the last 30 odd years, it's such a fleeting moment and it's not a fair reflection of the man. So in that respect they are quite important, I just wish I had more of them.

I don't know if this is different between mums and dads or men and women, but I guess he was behind the camera a lot of the time, and I know with me and my family, I'm behind the camera all the time, I'm not in the photos.”

Did it feel like a healthy thing to do, finding a picture, going back to Hillsborough, taking the picture?

“In some ways, it was really good that it was the first time that I'd been back to Hillsborough. I'd been to see away games this season but not back to Hillsborough, so, in some ways, to be able to make that, in a funny way, felt honouring. I think I had a moment after we scored, but I didn't find it hugely emotional, and I wasn't really expecting to, but I think it was a positive experience. To be able to go and look for his brick outside the stadium felt like an honouring moment, rather than just going to the match and going home again, being encouraged to think and reflect a bit was good.

It was a good intentional way of reflecting, which is really healthy. It’s important to take time to think about him, but when do you do that? Going through this process has been really good for that.”

“As silly as it sounds, so much of my relationship with my dad was, not based on football, but had some sort of lens through football, that it was just really appropriate to do that. I remember when the last fixture list came out, the last season when he was alive, in July when they release the fixture list, and suddenly that fixture list had me wondering which game would be the last. Suddenly you could measure a life in home games, which sounds ridiculous, but honestly, when that came out, suddenly it was like, well, so much of the rollercoaster is not knowing how much time you've got. Do we have weeks, do we have years, how do I deal with that? Particularly when I don't live next door to him, how do I get on with being part of my kids life and get alongside my dad, not knowing if I'm going to be doing this for the next 5 years or maybe we've only got 2 months? So do I need to be there every weekend or every other day, a week here, a week there? All we did know by that stage was that his care was palliative, they weren't going to try anything else, but even then everyone’s question is how long? But they either can't or won't answer. The one thing he did definitely grit his teeth and hold on for was Charlotte being born, 'cos they'd said that he wouldn't and he did, albeit only for the first few months, but he did.”