We published our views earlier today on an article about Italian football violence that had included references to the Hillsborough disaster. The writer of the article, Ken Dilanian, was very quick to respond to us, explaining how he’d been given the wrong number of casualties and so on.
This is his reply:
Thanks for your note. I’m not sure this is the reply you are looking for, but I did research this incident, and in fact I read the Wikipedia article you referenced. I am well aware, therefore, that according to the government inquiry the cause of those tragic deaths was more complicated than fan violence. I don’t believe my article implied anything different. What it said was what experts on European football told me: That the Hillsborough disaster led to a crackdown on football violence and fan behavior in Britain. As for the figure of 93, I now see that I inadvertently used the initial figure (as indicated in the Associated Press account below). I see that the number has changed, and the BBC uses 96. I will therefore ask my editors to run a correction.
Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The following article is the one that Ken referred to in his note. This was obviously written in the early aftermath of the disaster, and it does make difficult reading, for various reasons. You’ll also see the early efforts being made to shift blame as quickly as possible to the football supporters (of both sides) that were at the game that day. This is the exact article without any alterations made by us:
The Associated Press
April 15, 1989, Saturday, AM cycle
SECTION: Sports News
LENGTH: 682 words
DATELINE: SHEFFIELD, England
In the bright sunshine of early spring, the cheers of English soccer fans turned to screams and then shock as a surging crowd crushed dozens to death in the stands Saturday.
Some were taken away on advertising billboards used as makeshift stretchers. Others lay motionless on the field as emergency medical teams tried desperately to save their lives as the English F.A. Cup semifinal turned into Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
Peter Wright, chief constable of the South Yorkshire Police said 93 people were killed and at least 200 injured.
One fan who survived sat in a corner of the stadium, numbed with shock, head in hands.
All around him, police gathered up clothing and belongings as ambulances sped across the green turf picking up bodies and ferrying the dead and injured to hospitals.
One doctor told of "sheer mayhem" when he ran to help the dying at Hillsborough Stadium.
"There was one chap I went to who was clinically dead," Dr. Glyn Phillips said. "He had no heartbeat."
Phillips said he managed to resuscitate the fan but added, "I don’t know what the state of his cerebral function is going to be."
The disaster occurred six minutes into the semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Hundreds of Liverpool fans who had no tickets surged through an open turnstile gate behind one of the goals to swell an already crowded section of the ground, soccer officials said.
Scores of fans were crushed or suffocated and within minutes, a crush barrier collapsed under the sheer weight of the crowd, sending hundreds of fans tumbling onto the concrete terracing and pouring on to the field.
The referee quickly took the players to the dressing rooms and 90 minutes later, the game was called off.
For a while, there was sporadic fighting between rival sets of fans, news reports said. Then, as the extent of the injuries became clear, the fighting stopped as officials and fans realized that what had happened had nothing to do with crowd violence, they said.
Supporters who survived accused game officials for allowing the unauthorized spectators into the stadium.
"It was ridiculous. They just opened the gates and waved them in," said one Liverpool fan who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I have two friends but I don’t know what’s happened to them. I was crushed up to one of the railings and got cuts to my arm but I was lucky to get out alive."
Another fan, 20-year-old Gary Stanley, said crowd control outside the ground was "crazy."
"There was complete madness and somehow the doors were opened," he said. "There were too many people in the section and I saw some people crushed against barriers. The arrangements were dreadful and I’ve still got a full ticket. I didn’t even have to show it to get in."
As police cleared the ground, fans wandered around aimlessly, their red-and-white scarves draped around their necks. Huge sections of the toughened steel barrier had been ripped away. Another part was bent out of shape like a pipe cleaner.
"Anybody whose chest was against that barrier would have been lucky to survive," said Dr. Bill Eastwood, consultant safety engineer for the Sheffield Wednesday club, which regularly plays at Hillsborough.
"It was a steel tube bent like a banana and assuming the person was 18 inches wide, there would have been 600 pounds of pressure on his chest."
Roger Taylor, chairman of Britain’s Football Association, said fans without tickets were allowed to approach turnstiles freely.
"When that happens at matches like this where demand for tickets far exceeds supply, you’re going to get a severe crushing at the turnstiles. That appears to have happened but no gates were broken down. They were opened. But I don’t know what took that decision."
As a full investigation was launched into one of Europe’s worst sporting tragedies, one of Britain’s top soccer officials summed up the feelings of a nation.
"I am deeply sorry that the day has ended this way," said English Football Association chief executive Graham Kelly. "We had six minutes of football and 1 1/2 hours of absolute bedlam."