It’s the the anniversary of the worst day in our club’s history, and no matter how low we all feel now at the turmoil our club is in, we know it’s nothing, not even close, to the pain we felt back then.
Ninety-six people died. Ninety-six sons and daughters. Ninety-six people in one way or other just like us.
And they didn’t just die. They died in one of the most horrendous ways possible. When you sit and think about how it happened, when you momentarily picture yourself as if you were one of the victims, it fills you with a feeling that, well, I literally can’t find the words to describe. And trying to imagine it won’t even come close to the horrors those ninety-six fellow supporters went through.
And of course, although they might ask us not to, we also must not forget the survivors. They saw and felt and heard terrors no human should have to. At a football match.
April the Fifteenth 1989. Nineteen years ago. An FA Cup semi-final, played as always on a neutral pitch. Hillsborough was chosen, as it had been the previous year when these two sides met.
It wasn’t a venue chosen for any other reason than its capacity. There was nothing special about the place; it was just one of the biggest grounds in the league in terms of how many tickets could be sold.
I still remember my outrage at reading in the paper how the tickets had been allocated. Nottingham Forest had an average home gate of 21,000. Liverpool’s was something like 40,000. Nottingham Forest were given 28,000 tickets, 7,000 more than their average home gate. Liverpool were given 24,000 tickets, 4,000 less than Forest, and 16,000 less than their average home attendance.
My outrage was confined to just how hard it would be to get a ticket. How unjust it was for the tickets to be dished out this way. How it lacked any sense. Little did we know how unjust it would all turn out to be.
And my disappointment at not being able to get a ticket was eventually to become relief.
The decision to allocate tickets this way ultimately fell to the FA, but they acted on advice from South Yorkshire police. They wanted Forest fans to get the Penistone Road end, which contained what Wednesday also called their “Spion Kop”. LFC fans were to get the Leppings Lane end. The reasons given were to do with routing traffic as easily as possible.
Unfortunately no thought seemed to have been given by those traffic-conscious police to roadworks on the M62, which caused delays for Liverpool fans. Just to ensure delays, there had been more hold-ups from police searches of coaches. At 2.30pm, with half-an-hour until kick-off, a large crowd of supporters had built up outside the ground, at the Leppings Lane end.
Supporters were anxious to get in, having had to contend with the delays from the motorway, and knowing kick-off was close.
The Leppings Lane end was divided into five sections, which they called pens, appropriate for the way authorities of the time viewed football supporters as animals one and all. Properly managed, there was no reason why those five pens couldn’t hold the supporters who were trying to get in.
Standing up at a football match wasn’t for the faint-hearted, but never once in my whole life did I ever – even after Hillsborough – feel any danger in standing on the Anfield Kop. Somehow, I don’t even know how really, you could move yards forwards and backwards as the crowd moved, like waves hitting a beach, somehow almost always ending up back where you started. Well, near enough to where you started.
For most Anfield games we’d arrive at the ground well before kick-off, paying on the gate with cash, when the gate eventually opened what seemed hours after our arrival. It took an age for the Kop to fill, slowly but steadily, the buzz of the crowd growing in volume, but because it was one great big wide terrace, there was never really any kind of problem, no matter how full it got.
This can’t have been the case at Hillsborough. Those inhumane pens split the support into five – but there was nothing to control which of the five sections people would go into. At Anfield if too many people tried to jostle their way to the point behind the goal then the crowd would just effectively spread a little wider. But at Hillsborough everyone headed for the centre, without anyone counting or controlling the numbers. Part of the cause for this was the poor signage in the ground, it was unclear to anyone unfamiliar with the Hillsborough how the central tunnel wasn’t the only way to get to the terraces.
The problem was that despite the late arrival of fans the kick-off wasn’t delayed. Let’s face it, supporters weren’t customers, there to be looked after by those who took their money. Imagine a theatre knowing that thousands of its audience were stuck outside through no fault of their own as the curtain was due to go up, would they go ahead on time, or would they wait? Would it hurt to wait fifteen minutes, maybe thirty, to kick the match off?
This was before live TV had taken the game over. The only live FA Cup games shown on TV then were the final and any of its replays. The semis were both played at 3pm on Saturday, but what harm could have come from a short delay? It’s not like – for example – final league games of the season where an advantage might be gained by one side knowing how their rival’s game was going. Why didn’t they hold on a little longer?
It was described as having been a carnival atmosphere outside the ground, but that’s all well and good – people hadn’t travelled to stand outside the ground. And it sounded like things were getting started.
Police later tried to claim the crowd of supporters were predominately drunk, a claim strongly disputed by those there.
Twenty minutes before kick-off and the pens 3 and 4 were full. This had actually been spotted and commented on by the BBC’s match commentator for the recorded highlights that had been due to be shown. Chief Superintendent David Duckinfield also saw this, from the police control room.
In fact not only were the pens full, they were too full. Their stated capacity was later found by the HSE to be overstated, but nobody was counting, or controlling, the numbers entering those pens.
One police officer did ask for a delay to the kick-off to be announced, feeling that this would reduce the panic from those outside the ground fearing they would miss kick-off, but his request was refused.
People inside the ground were already struggling to breathe as the pens filled up beyond their capacities. The other pens were nowhere near full. People outside were also feeling the effects of poor crowd control by the police and stewards, fans were literally unable to control where they went, momentum carrying them forward to the ground, causing crushing outside the ground too.
The police outside the ground of course could not know what was happening inside the ground. But they could see the problems that were being caused by the volume of people being carried towards the ground. Superintendent Marshall was tasked with the overall control of the outside of the ground, and radioed to the control room for permission to open the exit gates. Marshall could see no other way to stop the crush outside. Duckinfield didn’t answer immediately, in fact the word he used in evidence later was “froze”, but then issued the order: “Open the gates.”
And in doing so he ensured that ninety-six Liverpool supporters would die.
When supporters were allowed through the gates, immediately in front of them was that tunnel to those pens, 3 and 4. Nothing told them of any problems with this, and so that’s the way most supporters went. It was later said in evidence that in previous years that police or stewards had blocked this tunnel when the central pens had been full, instead sending fans to the side pens. For no good reason this was not the case in 1989.
Quite how Duckinfield failed to see the potential problems of allowing unrestricted access to an area of the ground that was clearly full has never been satisfactorily explained.
An extract from the HJC’s website:
Logic would inform the average person that the volume outside would be replicated inside once entrance was allowed and that therefore swift monitoring and control would be necessary if a catastrophe was to be averted.
Logic however, does not seem to figure large in the consciousness of David Duckenfield. His response to seeing people spill out onto the perimeter track from the crushing in the pens was to call for reinforcements (including dog handlers) as he thought there was a pitch invasion!
This response of Duckenfield is even more obscene when it is realised that from his position in the control box he could clearly see the Leppings Lane end. Moreover, he had the advantage of CCTV with zoom facilities. His later testimony that he was unaware that people were suffering and dying becomes totally unbelievable to those who have visited that control box and know that it is possible see the colour of a person’s eyes in pens 3 and 4 such was the power of the zoom facilities on the cameras.
Inside the pens people were dead and dying. Faces were crushed up against the perimeter fencing, the vomit and blueness a clear sign of their condition. Fans were packed so tightly that many were dead standing up. Many still conscious were trying to break down the fencing with their hands. Those who had managed to climb over the fencing or escape when a perimeter gate was briefly opened also struggled to free their fellow fans. This was the sight that met the ‘reinforcements’ that had responded to Duckenfield’s call to stem the ‘pitch invasion’.
The response then from police was mixed. Some police did see the distress the supporters were in and did what they could to help get people out. Others ignored the unmistakeable signs of distress the fans were in, ignored the cries and screams for help, some even pushed fans back into the scenes of death when they had found a way out through the perimeter fencing.
This fencing was a normal site at football grounds, and at Anfield it had gaps in, certainly on the Kop, which would allow some kind of escape if needed. At Hillsborough the only gaps were protected by gates. The fencing was designed to keep the animal-like football fan inside his cage or at least that was the authorities’ perception. Fans were seen as hooligans, and that’s what many of the police there assumed was the case that day.
When browsing the website of a photo agency recently I came across a photo I’d not seen in some time. It had been on the front page of a national paper at the time, possibly “Today”, because I remember it was in colour. Two fans were up against the fence, one of them was so crushed up against the fence that the paint from the fence had actually come off onto this supporter’s face, the fence practically embedded into the mouth of a supporter so clearly in absolute agony. Seeing it again brought memories back of the moment you realised just what those all those words you’d read and all those reports you’d heard really meant.
People were dying as the game was being played. Fans couldn’t get the police to see what was happening. Eventually Bruce Grobbelaar realised and attracted the referee’s attention. The game was stopped at 3.06pm.
Liverpool fans had to take matters into their own hands. As they grabbed advertising hoardings to use as stretchers for the injured and dying, some of the police formed a line on the half-way line just in case any supporters decide to charge towards the opposition fans. From pen two some police officers climbed into pen three to try and help, some others tried to pull that lethal perimeter fence down.
Nobody was around to provide medical help. Some fans took a guess at how to resuscitate their fellow supporters, as others wandered around in a daze, in shock.
Some figures. 94 died that day, with 14-year-old Lee Nicol dying a few days later to become the 95th. His mother kept him going on a life support machine until the players had been to see him. Tony Bland became the 96th victim when his parents were finally granted the permission for his life support to be ended. He had been in a coma in a persistent vegetative state for four years.
The majority of the dead were males, under 30. Seven who died were female, the youngest of the victims just ten.
Officially 730 people were injured inside the ground, another 36 outside the ground. Those who died were declared as having done so from crush asphyxia.
The traumatisation of seeing and being near the events of that day hit thousands of fans, who continue to suffer to this day, and of those who were traumatised a number later committed suicide, with the cause linked to their experiences at Hillsborough.
Although live football was a rarity at the time, the BBC cameras were there and when it became clear what was happening provided continuing coverage of the disaster unfolding. Figures were flashed up as estimates were made of the dead.
I remember I had ended up sitting in a pub, and that’s where I saw what happened. I was with a blue at the time, and he said “What are your lot doing again?” But it wasn’t hooliganism. Some would say it was murder. It was so easily avoidable. Yet justice has still not been done.
The police lied to cover up their failings. The Taylor report would later attribute the disaster to a failure of police control, but on the day of the disaster itself, and shortly after, efforts were made to blame it on hooliganism.
The FA’s chief executive at the time was Graham Kelly. He was obviously concerned, perhaps thinking the same as my Evertonian mate had just done. He went to the police control room at 3.15 and was told by Duckinfield that the supporters forced or rushed the gate. He lied. He’d told his officers to open it. But Kelly took the word of someone who was not supposed to lie about such an error, and when he was interviewed by the BBC shortly afterwards he repeated what Duckinfield had told him. With the addition of those claims of fans being drunk, the word got out that the drunken Liverpool supporters had forced the gate open and caused the deaths of their own fans.
This myth grew yet more. Kelvin McKenzie was then editor of The Sun ‘newspaper’, and he was so desperate to attack the already suffering bereaved and survivors, and to sell papers, that he put a headline out that will never be forgotten. A series of lies, entitled “The Truth”. It accused fans of pick-pocketing from and urinating on the dead. Of being drunk and rushing the gate. Of assaulting the police and what ambulance staff were eventually allowed on. Of stealing equipment from the press. It all came from unnamed police officers. And it was all untrue.
Although the Sun wasn’t the only paper to report the story, it was the only one not to realise, or admit, that it had been lied to as part of a police attempt to deflect their blame from their manslaughter. To this day it remains a boycotted publication on Merseyside. 19 years of poor sales caused by one man’s decision to repeat another man’s lies. Lies that some still perpetrate many years later.
It took Sheffield Wednesday ten years to erect a memorial to the ninety-six innocent fans who had died at their ground. Ten years.
The inquest into the deaths was designed to provide anything but justice.
But not all the world were so uncaring. Anfield became a sea of flowers as well-wishers from the world over, supporters of other clubs or not even football supporters at all, came to leave their tributes. Walking around the outside of the Anfield pitch in a stadium normally so full of life, so full of joy, but now so quiet despite still great numbers of people present was something that was unique. The feeling was overwhelming. Memories feel like yesterday of a lady crying inconsolably some way away, her anguish echoing inside the ground. The air even felt strange, felt thicker than normal somehow, it’s extremely hard to describe. I saw my usual spot on the Kop, like most did who were regular Kopites at the time I suppose, and reflected on how lucky I was to be there. And how lucky I was not to be looking at the spot where someone I cared for would normally stand.
Before this I remember going back to work in fear of finding people I used to talk about the match with not being there. I remember people spotting me in work and looking at me realising I was okay, they must have wondered all weekend if I’d been there and been hurt. I later that first day back at work found out another lad the same age as I was had been killed. I’d barely spoken to him, barely knew him, but we’d exchanged comments a few times in passing as we both spotted each other’s Liverpool scarves. The way people had been with me, people I’d barely noticed in work before who had shown such obvious relief I was okay, my own parents who were showing me more attention than I’d noticed in a while, the phone had been busy that Saturday night apparently too, the college mates who’d been concerned but trying to show it a little less – elsewhere there were people not getting that sense of relief. Ninety-six people were dead or dying, and when I thought of how many people had been relieved at my safety, I started to think of just how many people were going through entirely different emotions.
That unforgettable tribute to the dead that filled the famous and sacred turf at Anfield contained souvenirs and memorabilia from clubs around the world. A lot of clubs made a lot of huge gestures over time, one that I only learned of recently was in Italy.
It was the Wednesday after, the 19th, and Real Madrid were playing in a European Cup semi-final against AC Milan at the San Siro. The referee blew the whistle after six minutes to stop the game. Six minutes in recognition of the point at which the referee had stopped our own fatal game. A minute’s silence began, but it didn’t stay silent for the whole minute. The Curva Sud started to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” An amazing gesture, unbelievably poignant to see. You may find it’s quite emotional to watch.
The players of Liverpool football club came in for deserved praise in the time that followed the disaster. There were nearly a hundred funerals to attend. And every single funeral had a representative of the squad at it.
John Barnes says he attended eight funerals, and that prior to this he’d never attended a funeral in his life. “After each funeral I attended, when another set of parents buried a beloved son or daughter, when another grieving family mourned a relative who died following Liverpool, I would come home and climb into bed with my eldest son, Jamie, just to hold him, just to hear him breathing. We slept curled up together, Jordan, my second son, was just a baby and I would cradle him in my arms. For months after Hillsborough, I couldn’t bear to be apart from my two sons. If one of them fell over, I ran across and hugged him, soothed him, showed him my love. Scarred into my mind was the image of those parents who could not hold their loved ones any more, who could not see them smile and grow up. That thought devastated me. So I hugged my children tight.”
John Aldridge can’t remember how many funerals he went to. He remembers how it hit players that something awful had taken place: “I was the Liverpool player furthest away from the Leppings Lane terrace when a fan decked out in Liverpool red approached Ray Houghton and shouted something at him. I assumed it was some kind of pitch invasion. The last action I could remember was Peter Beardsley hitting the crossbar with a fierce shot. But soon a policeman with a look of concern approached referee Ray Lewis and began talking to him. The game was brought to a halt. I remember Steve Nicol saying something to the referee, though I was too far away to hear anything. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. At six minutes past three, the players were ushered off the field and into the dressing-rooms. A lot of people suspected crowd trouble but even then, even before the full facts had emerged, there was a kind of eerie atmosphere that suggested something far worse had taken place. On our way into the dressing-rooms we had the first inkling that, far from crowd trouble being the reason for the delay, there had in fact been a tragedy. I overheard people talking of serious injuries to Liverpool fans and, worse still, deaths. Deaths? At a football match? I could not comprehend it. I was still convinced a barrier had collapsed and we’d only been taken off for fifteen minutes or so. If only that was true. I could not have been more wrong. This was fast developing into the worst disaster in English football history.”
Alan Hansen remembers going to a dozen funerals, and also the first victim that he saw: “The first person we were asked to see was a 14-year-old boy, who was on a life-support machine. There was no hope for him, but his mother requested that he be kept on the machine until we arrived. Though he was not conscious, we sat there talking to him for a few minutes. Then someone announced that he was dead and started putting a screen around his bed.
“At that point, I lost it completely, I cried my eyes out. I tried to say something to comfort the mother, but I almost felt that she was comforting me. She kept thanking me for coming to see him, and telling me how much he loved Liverpool – the strength she showed was incredible. Then I went into another ward, and reached a man’s bed just as he was regaining consciousness. He recognized me instantly, hand his first words to me were, ‘If you reach the Cup final, can you get me a ticket?’
“I did a lot of crying in the weeks ahead. I attended 12 funerals, but instead of becoming hardened to them, I found them increasingly difficult to handle. One of the problems for me was knowing what to say to the families and friends of the deceased. I thought I was supposed to be there to provide some form of counselling but I tended to get as upset as they did.”
Kenny Dalglish lost count of the funerals he went to, remembering he went to four in one day. He recalled one of the many moments that the enormity of what happened hit him: “One morning, before everyone was in, I went out on to the pitch and tied my children’s teddy bears around a goalpost at the Kop end. The goals, the pitch and the whole Kop were covered in flowers, scarves and tributes. I remember describing it as the ‘saddest and most beautiful sight’ I had ever seen. It really was like that. It was sad because of the reason why the tributes were there, but it was magnificent to see them. On the Friday night, after everybody had gone, I walked through the Kop with Kelly, Paul and Marina’s dad, Pat. Paul looked at all the tributes, the flowers, the scarves and said: ‘Why did it have to happen to us?’ Kelly, Paul and I stood at the back of the Kop with tears falling down our faces. Walking through the Kop was so emotional. A lot of tributes had been left by people in the place where their loved one had stood. People who had lost the person they stood next to to watch games would leave something special in remembrance. Seeing two oranges left beside one of the barriers really moved me. It was difficult not to weep on coming across little tributes like that. They were so insignificant and yet so full of meaning. Perhaps the two people took it in turn to bring oranges to matches, something to share at half-time. That really got to me. I wondered whether the person who laid the oranges ever returned to the Kop. I came across somebody’s boots, left there by his mourning family. Everywhere I walked there were endless messages, each of which embodied someone else’s grief. It was so difficult to pass through.”
Kenny’s days at Anfield came to an end a couple of years after Hillsborough, his leadership and strength had been called upon and relied upon as he helped families and survivors through those awful dark days. He cemented that place he has as a rare genuine legend, a word we overuse, but the burden of being a shoulder for so many to cry on took its toll and he left mid-season, to take a complete break from football.
The first game at Anfield after the disaster was quite some time later, with the fences removed almost ceremoniously by workmen beforehand. Prior to that the flowers and tributes had been taken from the pitch. There was a minute’s silence before the game. Again, an emotional memory.
We went on to win the FA Cup in the end, after we’d beaten Forest in the re-arranged semi-final. It was Everton we beat at Wembley, and it was probably fitting that they were our opponents given that so many of their own supporters were hit with the losses of friends and loved ones. Arsenal ended our chances of winning the double in the belated last game of the league season, needing to beat us 2-0 at Anfield to do so. They managed it, and although there was genuine disappointment at losing the game, afterwards it felt like it really didn’t matter. Football would never be the same again.
Whatever happens to the club during this period of troubles it now finds itself in, it can’t come close to what happened nineteen years ago. We’re lucky to be here to complain and worry about what’s happening to the club, we’re lucky to have seen all the good and all the bad those nineteen years of football have brought us.
For one day, at least, there needs to be cease-fire. There needs to be some unity at all levels. Those ninety-six people are who we should be thinking of today. And I’m sure for most of us that will be the case.
Ninety-six legends. They’ll never be forgotten. They’ll never walk alone.
Rest in peace.
- Jon-Paul Gilhooley 10
- Philip Hammond 14
- Lee Nicol 14
- Thomas Anthony Howard 14
- Paul Brian Murray 14
- Adam Edward Spearritt 14
- Kevin Tyrrell 15
- Peter Andrew Harrison 15
- Victoria Jane Hicks 15
- Philip John Steele 15
- Kevin Daniel Williams 15
- Kester Roger Marcus Ball 16
- Nicholas Michael Hewitt 16
- Martin Kevin Traynor 16
- Simon Bell 17
- Keith McGrath 17
- Carl Darren Hewitt 17
- Stephen Francis O’Neill 17
- Steven Joseph Robinson 17
- Henry Charles Rogers 17
- Stuart Paul William Thompson 17
- Graham John Wright 17
- Carl Brown 18
- Paul Clark 18
- John McBrien 18
- Jonathon Owens 18
- James Gary Aspinall 18
- Christopher Barry Devonside 18
- Gary Philip Jones 18
- Carl David Lewis 18
- Colin Wafer 19
- Colin Mark Ashcroft 19
- Paul William Carlile 19
- Gary Christopher Church 19
- James Philip Delaney 19
- Sarah Louise Hicks 19
- David William Mather 19
- Ian David Whelan 19
- Stephen Paul Copoc 20
- Ian Thomas Glover 20
- Gordon Rodney Horn 20
- Peter McDonnell 21
- Paul David Brady 21
- Thomas Steven Fox 21
- Marion Hazel McCabe 21
- Joseph Daniel McCarthy 21
- Carl William Rimmer 21
- Peter Francis Tootle 21
- Tony Bland 22
- Gary Collins 22
- David John Benson 22
- David William Birtle 22
- Tracey Elizabeth Cox 23
- William Roy Pemberton 23
- Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton 23
- David Leonard Thomas 23
- Peter Andrew Burkett 24
- Derrick George Godwin 24
- Graham John Roberts 24
- Richard Jones 25
- David Steven Brown 25
- Barry Sidney Bennett 26
- Andrew Mark Brookes 26
- Paul Anthony Hewitson 26
- Paula Ann Smith 26
- Christopher James Traynor 26
- Barry Glover 27
- Gary Harrison 27
- Christine Anne Jones 27
- Nicholas Peter Joynes 27
- Francis Joseph McAllister 27
- Alan McGlone 28
- Joseph Clark 29
- Christopher Edwards 29
- Alan Johnston 29
- James Robert Hennessy 29
- Anthony Peter Kelly 29
- Martin Kenneth Wild 29
- Peter Reuben Thompson 30
- Stephen Francis Harrison 31
- Eric Hankin 33
- Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons 34
- Roy Harry Hamilton 34
- Patrik John Thompson 35
- Inger Shah 38
- Michael David Kelly 38
- Brian Christopher Mathews 38
- David George Rimmer 38
- David Hawley 39
- Thomas Howard 39
- Arthur Horrocks 41
- Eric George Hughes 42
- Henry Thomas Burke 47
- Raymond Thomas Chapman 50
- John Alfred Anderson 62
- Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron 67