Twenty-three years ago today, a disaster occurred that would claim ninety-six lives, indelibly alter the character of one of Britains great sporting institutions and change the face of football in Britain forever. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 had an indelible effect on both Liverpool Football Club and British football in a wider sense, and to mark this years anniversary we have asked some people for their recollections of that dreadful day. Our thanks go to those that took the time to write these for us, and our thoughts today are with those that died and their families. The battle for justice for the ninety-six goes on.
– The words have been said a million times but they still ring true. Nobody should set out on a day to watch the game that gives such joy and pleasure but never return. I would say every football fan of the age of 35 or above will remember exactly where they were when news started filtering through Hillsborough of the stoppage of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. For me it was standing on the terraces of the South Bank at Upton Park watching West Ham head towards relegation with a defeat to Southampton.
It had been a poor season for West Ham, who had a squad including a young Paul Ince, an old Liam Brady and an off-the-rails Frank McAvennie and since Christmas the crowds had deserved the terraces of Upton Park. For the visit of Southampton, themselves in a relegation battle, the ground was less than half full. The South Bank, once the bastion of invincibility for the hardcore West Ham fans was almost deserted. We first head of an issue mid-way through the first half. One of the “terrace trannies” passed the word around that the game had been held up due to a pitch invasion. At half time the announcement to the crowd was that the game bad been abandoned due to a safety issue. Little did we know what was actually happening. Looking back now on the irony of watching a game on a barely half full terrace with no fences around the edge of the pitch whilst 150 miles north the very opposite was one of the reasons for the death of so many fans is still hard to believe.
The 2-1 defeat for West Ham was irrelevant once we knew the truth. There were no mobile phones to relay the concern from my parents that I was safe. A year previously I had been at the QPR v West Ham FA Cup match at Loftus Road where serious overcrowding had caused the stoppage of the game when the West Ham fans had to climb over the perimeter fence to avoid being crushed. Fortunately there wasn’t any fences around the pitch and this undoubtedly saved the lives of many fans. I didn’t go to another game that season. Stuart Fuller
– On April 15th 1989, aged eleven years old, I stood with my friend and her older brother on the roof of their garage watching ambulances snake their way into the nearby Northern General Hospital in Sheffield. We’d clambered up there because you could hear the sirens wailing for what felt like ages and it was definitely a sound we weren’t used to. We had no idea what was going on, but I can clearly remember standing in silence. It wasn’t until their dad told us something terrible had happened at Hillsborough and that their mum who was a theatre nurse had been called in to work that any of us knew the scale of what had happened.
My parents and my Aunt were at Elland Road while all this was unfolding for us. There the news started to filter in from fans who had radios. As social workers in Sheffield, they decided to leave the game early and make their way to the hospital to see if they could help. I recently asked my mum what happened when they arrived, she told me, “there were thousands of people milling around, many calling out for their loved ones and others shouting out descriptions of people they were desperately trying to find.” It was a sound that would haunt her so much that she never went back into a certain canteen at work. Neither my mum nor my Aunt came home from work that night, staying on to help in any way they could. Gina Millson
– We set off from Nottingham for another encounter with our regular foes, Liverpool. There was always a bit of animosity in the late 70s and 1980s between the two teams as, under Mr Clough, we had the temerity to challenge the monopoly from Merseyside. So, approaching Hillsborough, there was a tension in the air as both sets of supporters looked nervously at each other. Inside the ground the excitement began to build and we were all commenting upon how we managed to get the “bigger” end of the ground when, although we didn’t admit it, Liverpool had the bigger support and were the bigger team! So the Forest fans were gloating somewhat at having the big end of the ground to themselves. Suddenly optimism began to rise in the ranks.
As always in the ground and with it being an important cup game, there was a lot of “banter” between the fans and much mock bravado from some of the “big” lads around me towards their counterparts in the Liverpool end. There was much surging and swaying the crowd and the Liverpool fans appeared to be going for it big time. some of the Forest fans reacted as some of their fans began to spill over on to the pitch near the goal. We then all began to join in, not realising that something was going badly wrong. Then, in what appeared to be an instant but was probably much longer, the Forest fans began to quieten as if we all knew simultaneously that we were watching something truly dreadful evolve.
We didn’t know what to do. Surely we could help in some way as all our tribal instincts went out the window and we were in a stadium with fellow football fans who were in great distress and difficulty. In essence the best thing we could do was leave in an orderly way and we did. There were no phones, twitter, Facebook or anything else, so it was a case of back to the car and turn the radio on. Then we knew the enormity of what was happening and what we had just witnessed and we all fell silent and headed for the M1 south. Upon reflection, that day changed so much about supporting our different teams. There is still massive tribalism and desire to beat our rivals but, above all, we learned on that day as football supporters whichever team we support, we really need each other so much. Jeff Reynolds
– Saturday 15th April 1989, 3:00pm. A 14 year old boy’s bedroom in a Sheffield suburb. The boy is laid on his bed, portable TV on, Grandstand on, sound down. Hi-Fi on, sound up, tuned to Radio Sheffield. He is awaiting updates from the County Ground as his team, Sheffield United, chase three vital points in their promotion push against Northampton Town; whilst at the same time watching a bit of the other sporting action of the day. Then, within the space of about 10 or 15 minutes, the focus of his day all changes. Des Lynam appears unexpectedly on the screen in front of him and the picture switches to Hillsborough and the pitch, but there are no players there, just people and police. The Hi Fi is turned down and the television turned up and the true horror of what was happening 7 miles or so across the city starts to unravel in front of him.
From initial confusion in the reports as to what was happening and why, to the devastating images of bodies being carried across the pitch, people being lifted out of the Leppings Lane end, the shock and disbelief at what he was seeing leaves the boy immobilised in front of the small screen. The radio is switched off – now irrelevant, his own team and their result – insignificant. Nothing else really matters at that moment or for the next few hours. His mind drifts back to Valley Parade four years earlier and the appallingly detailed coverage on Yorkshire TV that had John Helm in tears at a point when the cameras should have been turned off and the microphone could have been put down. Just like then he knew he was watching a disaster on a huge scale and is helpless. Sadly it appears that so many of those at Hillsborough are too.
Later that evening he takes his usual walk to the local newsagent for a Green Un (Sheffield’s Saturday teatime football paper). The walk and fresh air is good. The classified results and the United report now a welcome distraction from the distressing pictures and casualty updates repeated on news programmes. The front page image that greets him is so graphic, so emotive it is indelibly burned into his retina such that he can still see it today. Young fans, his age maybe older, crushed against the fencing, gasping for breath, screaming for help. A shocking image that still feels wholly inappropriate now, even in an age where the boundaries of acceptability have been widely extended.
Young fans just like him that had gone to a match, who had stood where he would stand at Hillsborough and were now, almost probably, dead, through no fault of their own. Their final desperate moments captured by someone who could have helped but continued to do their job; taking pictures when people were having the life squeezed out of them. That newspaper image will stick with him forever. RIP the 96. Ian Rands
– I have been a Liverpool fan since childhood, although I go and watch my local team Bournemouth now. I was 13 on April 15th 1989. I was at a football match that day: Aldershot vs. Wolves. Not a very glamorous tie but because I was Liverpool mad, my mind was on the game at Hillsborough. The football team I played for was sponsored by Panda Drinks and we used to get tickets for matches where we would hand out drinks, Match magazines and Panini football stickers to fans through the fences before kick-off. When I knew my turn was going to be 15th April, and there was talk of covering the Liverpool game, I got very excited. I was so disappointed when the decision was taken to cover Aldershot because Hillsborough was too far to drive.
Having done our work, I was just settling into the game at the Recreation Ground when our manager, listening on a radio, told us that “there’s trouble at Hillsborough. Liverpool fans are being carried away on advertising hoardings. Must be fighting”. This was the first time I experienced the disaster being misreported, and I can’t believe that people are still be making this mistake 23 years later and counting. When the full horror of the tragedy started to unfold afterwards, I began to become obsessed by the disaster. I am not sure if it is guilt or what (I’m no psychologist), but something drove me to read every word written about the disaster; the Taylor report, witness accounts, media coverage, Anne Williams’ book, Phil Scraton’s book and many others.
As if the disaster itself wasn’t horrific enough, the treatment of the families and survivors and the lack of justice are truly sickening. Even my own friends have believed the Sun and other people’s lies over the years. I’ve had plenty of arguments with them trying to dispel the lies about drunk, ticketless fans fighting, answering questions such as why can’t Liverpool play on April 15th, why can’t the families just “move on.” Whilst I believe it is important to support your local team, my heart has always been with Liverpool. Every time I have visited Anfield since I’ve paid my respects to the Hillsborough memorial, which I think is now as much a part of the imagery of the Stadium as the Shankly Gates. When I see Kenny Dalglish getting a hard time in the media, having his character questioned by nouveau fans and radio phone-ins, I often wonder if people realised he attended over half of the funerals (including 4 in one day) and almost single-handedly held a city together in the aftermath.
Hillsborough has had a profound effect on me, and I wasn’t even there and didn’t know anyone there. So I can’t begin even to imagine how it feels for a survivor, or a bereaved family member. I just hope they get the justice they deserve soon, and that it goes some way to healing their wounds. Scott Burden
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