Hillsborough – a personal view

by , April 15, 2009

The time has come to put any petty squabbles aside.

On this day twenty years ago, I stood with some friends on the Spion Kop at Hillsborough.

From a cold, misty start in Nottingham, it turned quickly into a beautiful day. A gorgeous, sunny, warm, blue sky day. After last season’s disappointment, I looked forward to a positive result today.

Pretty much first into the Spion Kop when they opened the gates at 12. Noticed that when the 5 of us arrived we outnumbered the stewards by 4.

Gets to 2 o’clock, and it’s getting busy in our end. 100 yards away, it appeared that most Liverpool fans hadn’t arrived yet, since there was plenty of concrete visible in the left and right sections of the “away” end.

“International Rescue” by Fuzzbox played on the Tannoy. It got busier and tighter in our end. Liverpool fans were still to arrive by the looks of things.

I remember our fans – me and friends included – chanting “What’s it like to have no fans” and similar…it was clear that few of the dedicated Scousers had arrived, such was the empty space visible either side of the goal at the other end.

But there comes a point when having stood in, and looked at terraces for many years before this day, you realise that the middle section opposite you is rather densely packed.
Meanwhile where you are, you’re having trouble getting the Polo mints out of your pocket, owing to the press of people round you. Stood in FRONT of a crush barrier (thank you, Dad, for teaching me THAT one early in my terrace life), you’re uncomfortably squashed.

The players emerge, the teams are announced over the Tannoy, and you’re ready. I can barely move, such is the weight of people round me. At the other end, it’s apparent that a large number of Liverpool fans are going to miss at least the start of the game cos there’s still acres of terrace concrete visible from our end.

The game kicks off. Early chances cause the usual swaying on the terraces. The crush barriers divide the flowing waves of humanity into horizontal blocks. ‘Twas ever thus.

Forest force two corners in the opening couple of minutes and the expectation grows, only for a Liverpool break to dampen the spirit. A shot from Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley goes narrowly over the crossbar, and the usual surge behind the Scouse goal.

Only this one doesn’t end horizontally. For a moment the people stop flowing forward, then the horizontal line breaks forward in a curve.

Around this time, we can see Liverpool fans in the upper tier seats reaching down and pulling fans up from the terrace below – presumably, we think, to afford them a better view.

“What a bunch of w*****s!!” cry 20,000 standing Forest fans.

A few Liverpool fans start climbing over the front fence of the terrace and jump on to the area behind the goal. “What a bunch on w*****s!!”

More fans lifted up, more fans over the fence.

A policeman runs onto the pitch and says a few words to the referee, who leads the players off the pitch.


It is six minutes past three o’clock, on Saturday the 15th of April, 1989.


In my pocket is a small transistor radio. I manage to get it out and turn it on to Peter Jones who’s doing the commentary from this game on Radio 2 (is now Radio 5Live).

They are as bewildered as we are. Overcrowding. Fighting. Pitch Invasion. They don’t know.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, with seemingly hundreds or possibly thousands of people straning to listen to my radio’s little speaker, somes the awful report that…”we have unconfirmed rumours that three people have been seriously hurt in a crush behind the Liverpool goal”.

The chanting from the Forest end dies down, an ambulance appears from our right, and as the number of Liverpool supporters on the pitch grows, a line of policemen is deployed to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’.

We watch helplessly as injured people are brought towards our end of the pitch by fans and police, and laid down in the penalty area in front of us to recover. We can barely move in our end. My friend next to me was a qualified First Aider – his parents both Doctors. Even if he’d been able to get to the front of our end, it was clear that no-one was being allowed out of our end for any reason.

On my radio, the awful news breaks that…”…perhaps one person may have been killed and several others injured in a crush…but these are unconfirmed reports”.

We stand and watch as more and more injured fans are laid out to recover in the penalty area before us.


To my dying day I will remember a Liverpool fan in a white shirt being carried by 6 people, on a ripped-down yellow advertising hoarding. His black jacket was draped over him. As the carriers crossed the half-way line, the jacket slipped off and fell to the floor.

His bearers stopped, and carefully placed the “stretcher” on the ground. They picked up the coat, and with great dignity placed it carefully over the poor bugger’s head.

He was then carefully and respectfully picked up and carried to the area in front of us, and carefully placed on the ground, his coat moved to cover his head.

I think it was at that point that the full enormity of the situation dawned on all of us.

That guy was dead.


And he had been placed with the 40-50-60-or-so of the other “injured”, “recovering” people.

They were dead too.

All of them.


And there we were chanting abuse over their heads for the last half hour.


All of them.

Meanwhile the radio kept on with the doom-laden reports of “perhaps three people have been killed….” For once in my life, I knew better than the radio.

Come 4.15 or so, finally, FINALLY the PA cracks into life. “This is Kenny Dalglish.”

Fifty-five thousand people in the stadium. Apart from some distant cries from the other end, you could have heard a pin drop.

“This is Kenny Dalglish. Clearly a major disaster is happening here…. ” The rest of the speech is immaterial. It was met with warm applause from all remaining fans. He asked us to be patient for a while as the emergency services dealt with the injured, and that shortly the exit gates would be opened, and would we all please make our way calmly out of the ground and go home.

The radio is still telling me that perhaps 3 people have been killed, but this isn’t confirmed.

Half-past four, the exit gates are opened, and 20,000 shocked, stunned, quiet Forest fans make their sad, disbelieveing way to their cars, buses, vans.

On the radio, I think Peter Jones had realised what had happened. Barely able to restrain his own tears, he told a stunned nation that…”a young lad, about 9 years old has just come up to our commentary position, and asked if he can use our phone to call his mum, because he has lost his Dad.

Of course he can phone.”


“BBC Radio Sheffield, the news at Five O’Clock.

South Yorkshire Ambulance Service has confirmed that seventy-two football fans have been killed at this afternoon’s……………………………..”

We were at the traffic lights, in front of probably ten thousand Forest fans, all going home. I think most of us had that radio station on.
I got out of the car, and tried desperately to breathe in fresh air.

As I looked down the road, I wasn’t the only person throwing up.

Not quite sure how we got home that night, but I remain grateful to my friend Sunil for getting us home.

A bit of tea, and news and Match Of The Day on TV. No music, no fanfare. Just a dark screen, and a few still images:

Fans sitting, shell-shocked.
People hugging.
People crying.

Metal fencing.

A crush barrier, broken, bent forward in a curve.


Ninety-five fans died that afternoon.

Fans like me.

In the ground early, in order to get a good place to stand.

Killed by the unrelenting weight of humanity crushing the life and breath out of them.

The ninety-sixth victim, Tony Bland, died about three years later when his life support machine was turned off.


In loving and eternal memory of 96 poor sods who went to a football match, and never came home.