|The MEN Arena in 2006
Photo: public domain
Manchester-born singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon shares an initial reaction to the atrocities at the MEN Arena last night:
Manchester. Our city. Our vibrant music city. Another 21,000 sell-out night at the largest indoor arena in the UK. Most of us have watched gigs there, been through the foyer, traversed that walkway, a walkway that encapsulates the typically bizarre Mancunian relationship between an incongruous 1844 railway station and a 20-year-old sports and concert arena. Industrial revolution meets post-Madchester in one classic cameo.
It’s the morning after the night before. I’ve slept on and off through the night with the radio on. “Fatalities” at 11pm became “19 fatalities” at 1am (this one was too difficult to stomach) and has now become 22. I know a few people who were at the gig, but safely made it out. Some people are still looking for their kids. The local Holiday Inn housed 50 children who attended the gig unaccompanied by their parents, and is seeking to unite them. I saw people offering their city centre rooms on Facebook for people at the MEN Arena to take shelter overnight. Good people. Very good people.
As I reflect on last night, I’m haunted by that surreal experience of watching events unfold on TV, knowing nothing for sure, yet being certain that history was being written in front of my eyes.
At first it reminded me of the 1996 IRA bomb exploding in Manchester (I heard that from 10 miles away). And yet not one person was killed by that IRA bomb. That wasn’t luck. Back in those days, terrorists placed a phone call before detonating anything. It doesn’t bear thinking of that, the whole MEN arena would have been totally cleared had that been the case last night. No, these perpetrators are truly bastards. But far worse. I don’t wish to talk much about them.
My point is that this event feels very different. This assault has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, shopping centres and the businesses within, it’s about life and death. This is not our 1996, this is our 9/11. It cuts far deeper.
On a personal level, it’s sharply brought out the Mancunian in me. Nothing galvanised New Yorkers more than 9/11 and as I write this, every Mancunian is feeling it too. And we’re a strong bunch and a very proud city. Every friend who works in the city centre has gone into work today. Manchester will look exactly the same, but feel very, very different.
Enter Andy Burnham. Talk about an initiation from hell. He was elected Mayor of Manchester only a fortnight ago, and now finds himself saddled with the task of guiding this great city through this disaster and out the other side. I spent a few minutes last night Googling Andy Burnham, and I like what I read. He’s born on Merseyside and represented Leigh as MP, so what he lacks in mayoral experience, he makes up for in good Northern stock. He’s a man who decided to donate 15% of his mayoral salary to mental health charities. As an ex-psychiatrist, I take my hat off to a man like that. Unfortunately, demands on these services will be even higher in the aftermath of what has just happened, so he may want to review that figure, but I trust him.
I don’t know how our emotions will develop over the coming days or weeks. It’s only 14 hours old and the wounds are still very fresh. We’re reminded by the police we’re still not out of the woods as regards repeat attacks, yet we should go about our usual business. For many of us, tomorrow’s business will be supporting Manchester United in the Europa League Final. Not only will there be a minute’s silence for the victims of this atrocity, every fan will be singing their heart out for the city of Manchester and its beloved children tragically lost only a few hours ago.