Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Hillsborough - Still hurting after all these years

One sunny April morning I awoke, the birds were singing and I had thoughts of a trip to Sheffield to watch my all conquering team, Liverpool Football Club in the semi final of the FA Cup.

That was 21 years ago, 15 April 1989, but it seems like it was yesterday.

Picking up the coach by The Rocket we headed for Sheffield; the mood was buoyant, we were the best and we knew it, the day was set.

Our coach was heading for a pub on the outskirts of Sheffield where food was laid on for us by the manager, whose brother was a fellow passenger. We were there for about an hour and filled with chips, a few butties, and stories of past glory days, we headed to Hillsborough.

On the main road near to the ground the traffic was mayhem and the police were trying to redirect our coach to the Forest end, despite the protestations of the driver. We got off the coach at the top of Leppings Lane to make our way to the ground before he went to find suitable parking.

I was the only one in my party with a ticket for Leppings Lane, the others had secured stand tickets, so leaving them to go their way I went to put a few bets on before making the short walk to the ground.

Upon entering the outer enclosure, before the turnstiles, it soon became obvious that things weren’t right. There were no queues to the turnstiles it was just a mass of people, a mass that was being added to by the second as waves of supporters added the throng.

There was no order, women and children were crying because of the crush, blokes were shouting and remember that this is outside the ground.

A mounted policeman was trying to get people into queues but he was a waste of space in all honesty – they needed to stop people moving into the confined space and not shout at those in there already suffering the crush.

Eventually I arrived at a turnstile and for as long as I could I put my hands on the walls either side of the turnstile to allow kids and women under and into the turnstile so they were not pushed onto the wall. Finally, when I could hold no more, I went through the turnstile.

It was such a relief to be inside the ground, there was space and you could breathe. How things would change.

I had been to the semi final the previous year and had had an uncomfortable time on the Leppings Lane terrace – I was veteran on the Kop but this had been different. For this reason I had planned to go to the terrace to the left or right of the goal rather than stand behind it but having gone through the bedlam before the turnstile my plan was forgotten.

Like the previous year I headed down the tunnel, it was right in front of you, it drew you in. I took up my place to the right of tunnel and it wasn’t long before I sensed something was not right. Approaching kick off time memories of the previous year came back as the space became tighter and tighter. I decided then to get out – my plan was still there in the back of my mind I guess.

I squeezed my way as far to the right as I could and climbed over the railings into the corner pen, just as Peter Beardsley's shot hit the bar. I wouldn’t like to think of the consequences had he scored at that time.

This pen was right under the police control room, why couldn’t they see what was happening?

Manoeuvring through I, and many others, had been shouting to the police on the perimeter that the gates at the front needed to be opened. But to no avail. Some fans were trying to climb over onto the pitch but they just bellowed at them to get back in… I wonder how they can live with themselves.

Once I was in the sanctuary of the emptier pen I began helping people over the railings to safety until I felt I was being more of a hindrance as the numbers grew.

I comforted a couple of young lads whose dad was elsewhere in the ground and waited while the horror unfolded. I remember my mouth was so dry, like I had never experienced before or since. I shared Wrigley’s Doublemint with the lads – the things you remember…

My feelings of guilt and the vivid memories will never go away, and never a day passes when I don’t think of it, of those people, it flashes into my head and then it’s gone.

How could a beautiful sunny April day end so tragically?

I somehow managed to find my coach and listening to the radio as we made our way back home the numbers of dead and injured were rising. The coach was silent.

Arriving back at The Rocket we were embraced by some Everton fans returning from their semi final - strangers just pleased that some fellow Scouser's had returned from a football match.

On a sunny day, 15 April 1989, we lost ninety six friends. They set out to watch their invincible team just like me, but never to return. One day they will get justice because we will never forget.

Justice for the 96 - YNWA