A Young Fathers Account of his day of Horror at Hillsborough
We entered into The Leppings Lane end at roughly 2.15pm & made our way into the already overcrowded central pen. After 10 minutes or so, even us hardened Kopites decided it was far too packed & went back out through the tunnel to go into the left pen, which was less than half-full at the time. 15 minutes or so before kick-off, Gary went for a piss. The toilets were located up in the stands immediately above the terraced area. When he returned, he remarked on the amount of people still outside. From the rear of the stands, it was possible to see over the gates at the mass of Liverpool fans trying to make their into the ground. From our vantage point, we were only a few yards away from the same pen we’d left only 20 minutes or so earlier. It was clear to see even then that something was not right. There was very little singing, & people seemed to be quite distressed. I couldn’t understand why they’d want to put themselves through all that. Shortly before the match kicked-off, there was a rush of people around us. One guy commented on how he’d paid £6 for his ticket & the police had opened the gates without checking it.
When the game started, there was a surreal, uneasy atmosphere amongst those around me. We had one eye on the pitch & one on the events that were going on in the middle pen. Fans were being pulled up to safety by other supporters in the stands. We could see a few people who were unconscious, yet incredibly, the police seemed totally oblivious to what was going on. A few of us quickly made our way down to the front to try & make the police aware of the situation. One copper smashed his baton on the blue wire-meshing & told us to, “shut the fuck up you Scouse bastards”. After a few minutes, with more & more fans having to clamber to safety, it became only too obvious that something catastrophic was going on. With fans now spilling onto the pitch, the referee called a halt to the game.
The next 45 minutes or so were the most traumatic I’ve ever experienced in my life. We all stood there. Silent, motionless, but worse of all, totally helpless. I can’t think of a word that suitably describes the carnage that was taking place before us. Liverpool fans were ripping down advertising boards to use as stretchers to take injured & dying fans to the ambulances waiting outside the ground. There was no order to anything, no-one to take control. Of all the images I witnessed in that 45 minutes, there are 2 that still haunt me to this day – One is seeing the lifeless body of a young lad lying on the pitch just a few yards in front of me. It was difficult to ascertain his age because his shirt had been pulled up to cover his face by those who had tried, unsuccessfully, to save the young lad. I remember looking at his frail little body, with one of his trainers missing, & wondering why nobody was sitting with him, holding him until his mum & dad could take him home. The second one is watching a St Johns ambulance man trying desperately to resuscitate this guy, whilst his friend/brother/son/father watched in anguish at his attempts. After a few minutes, the St Johns guy stood up & slowly shook his head. The other bloke simply fell to his knees & buried his head into his hands & into the turf sobbing uncontrollably
We made our way quickly, & silently back to the car. Searching in desperation for a vacant phone-box so we could call our respective families to re-assure them that we were fine. However, every one we passed had about a dozen or so Liverpool fans waiting to use it. We decided to get into the car & drive further afield in the hope of finding a vacant phone-box. After a half a mile or so, we eventually found one. I parked the car at an awkward angle on the road, so much so that a local bus driver had difficulty in getting past. As we made our way to make our telephone call, the bus driver opened up the doors of his bus to make a point about my parking skills. I promptly lashed back with a mouthful of abuse, not really caring that much at the inconvenience I’d caused him.
I don’t really recall too much of the journey back home, except that we had the radio on, listening to the aftermath of the awful tragedy we’d only recently left. After I’d dropped Jimmy & Gary off, I arrived home shortly before 7pm. My wife flung her arms around me with a mixture of joy, relief, & sadness. I myself was still feeling too numb to really feel anything. It wasn’t until I went into the bedroom of my 2 week-old son & watched him sleeping peacefully, did I cry for the first time.
I slept for only a couple of hours that night. My sleep was broken by a dream I had concerning the bus-driver I’d verbally abused earlier on in the day. In it, he had the doors open on his bus, letting copious amounts of Liverpool fans on board. I could see them getting crushed, but he continued to do nothing. More & more were getting on, & more & more people were dying in front of me. I was screaming at the nearby police to do something about it, but they simply held me back, smiling as they did so.
The following day was when it really hit home. I’d experienced the shock, followed by the anger, now the grief took a grip. Radio City, Merseyside’s local radio station, played nothing but mellow music all day. No DJ’s, just regular news bulletins, which obviously covered only one story. I’d heard that Liverpool Football Club had opened it’s gates to allow supporters inside to pay their respects to those that had died. After a quick telephone call to Jimmy & Gary, they too felt it was the right thing to do. We made our way to Anfield, stopping on the way to buy flowers.
We placed our flowers on the goal-line at the Kop end, taking time to read some of the messages that had already been left. We then sat on the steps of the Kop along with a lot of fellow fans, sitting in quiet reflection of what had happened less than 24 hours earlier.
Hillsborough’s tragic events touched all football fans, who rightly acknowledge – ‘that could’ve been us’. Here, a Nottingham Forest fan tells what it was like, looking on, from the other end of the ground.
As a long-standing Nottingham Forest fan of over 40 years and who, despite emigrating to Vancouver, Canada in 1975, has managed to get back to attend all of Forest’s major triumphs in the eighties and early nineties – the Hillsborough disaster will long remain as the most poignant of memories.
In March of 1989 both parents passed away and I was forced to return to England for a period of 6 weeks to tie up the loose ends. During this time my eldest son (who was 21 at the time) had also arrived in England during the course of a round-the-world trip. We had secured tickets to the semi final and it was to be a first chance for us both to attend a big game together – he having inherited my passion for the Reds (of Nottingham). We rented a car and drove up the M1 from Nottingham and arrived in time for a good English pub lunch about a mile from the ground and having parked,walked the last mile to the stadium. As I remember it, it was a beautiful warm sunny day and despite the usual rivalry between opposing sets of fans – the atmosphere was typical of a major cup tie and everyone was intent on enjoying “the big day out”.
We hung around outside the main entrance for a while and soaked in the atmosphere before entering the stands behind the goal at the opposite end of the ground from Leppings Lane about 45 minutes before kick off. This of course was the Forest end and although the central section was fairly crowded we managed to find a reasonably clear space midway down and to the side – as my son was concerned about it getting too claustrophobic.
My first recollection of something being wrong at the Liverpool end, was the site of someone being hauled up from the terraces from the balcony of the second tier grandstand. Then we started to notice the police move in behind the goal and the first thought was that “trouble” was being caused by the “hooligan element”. This thought also seems to have occurred to the mass of Forest fans who started the usual harangue and taunts about the opposing supporters virtues – that is sickening feature at most games these days, and a lot of name calling and abuse was being hurled about. It was obviously hard to tell exactly what was going on but as soon as the teams came out, the focus changed as everybody stepped up into high gear with that nervous apprehension that precedes the kick-off of a big game.
I distinctly remember feeling that things weren’t right somehow and remarked to my son about it, who then pointed out people coming on to the pitch. By this time the game had started and it was apparent that the players and referee did not know what was happening – particularly as Liverpool came out with a storming attack on the Forest goal – nearest to us. By this time more and more activity behind the Leppings Lane goal was happening to the point where we realised the game would have to be stopped but it was still difficult not to think this was caused by hooliganism.
Rumours had started to sweep around the Forest end and some belligerent idiot next to us started yelling abuse about there being fans with no tickets breaking into the ground. This gathered momentum for a few minutes and I remember where a sole figure wearing a Liverpool scarf ran the full length of the pitch, rapidly followed by a horde of others, toward the Forest end. My immediate thought was that a riot was about to break out and my son and I moved further to the left so we would have a clear way to the exit at the back of the stand. After gesticulating wildly at the Forest supporters who, in their defence, were ignorant of what had truly happened, these ‘pitch invaders’ started breaking down the advertising hoardings along the touch-lines.
It was then I realised what was happening as they ran full tilt in pairs back to the Liverpool end with makeshift stretchers. It suddenly went really quiet as it dawned on every one that a serious situation was developing – and it pretty well stayed that way for the next half hour or so. What I found appalling was that no information came out over the loudspeaker system for what seemed ages. I remember hearing fire engine sirens and ambulances wailing for at least ten minutes before we saw their appearance. One ambulance came on and we could see people being carried on the makeshift stretchers as well as people helping each other to get away from the crowd behind the goal.
When Kenny Dalglish came on to announce that “we have a serious situation…” everyone was still thinking (or perhaps hoping) the game would re-start. Eventually it was announced that the game would be abandoned and would everybody leave quietly. I remember that rather than feeling disappointed, I was relieved that we had not been exposed to any trouble or violence and we headed back to the car. As soon as we turned on the radio it was a shock to learn they were reporting several deaths.
By the time we hit the motorway this was now being talked of as being as many as 50 dead. On arrival back in Nottingham some 40 minutes later, we were greeted by my father-in-law who had been anxiously waiting in the driveway looking for us. He had been watching all the events unfold on television and was obviously concerned by our safety. Word had also spread to Canada by this time and I remember immediately calling home to Vancouver to reassure my wife that we were safe.
Early the next morning I drove to Heathrow, picked up every copy of the Sunday newspapers and spent the entire 10 hour flight back to Vancouver reading about the dreadful events I had just witnessed. To say the least, I was thankful that my son and I had tickets at the opposite end, and my heart went out to any parent who had lost a son or daughter-it could easily have been us.
I recount all of this as first a parent who bleeds for those who lost loved ones, and second as a lover of the beautiful game who hopes that the lessons learned from this disaster will never be forgotten.
Justice for the families has not been done – nor seen to be done, and while maybe some steps will be taken to remedy this by today’s government announcements – there is no excuse for the years of cover-ups, inaction, and ineptitude. Lastly as a Forest fan, the memories of our epic cup battles with Liverpool will forever be tainted by the events of that day.
Peter Carney, an Avid Liverpool Fan, was lucky to escape death
Peter Carney narrowly avoided being crushed to death during the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool fans were killed at the start of their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. He now runs a campaign to bring justice for the survivors and the bereaved.
All my life I’ve been an avid Liverpool fan. My wife, Tina, had discovered she was pregnant about 10 days before the Hillsborough disaster and I was about to turn 30. On the day of the match it was beautifully bright and sunny and the stadium was a full house – around 40,000 fans. Our group of five split up, so just two of us headed for pen three, on the Leppings Lane end.
As we shuffled into the pitch-black, 8ft-wide tunnel there was a huge surge, and where the ground suddenly gave way to a steep slope everyone fell forward. The force was so great I entered the stadium with my back facing it. The pen was jam-packed with people. As I turned round to find my feet, there was another huge surge, and another, then everyone around me fell to the ground and people started screaming.
The game had just started, but a dangerous situation was developing. I could feel myself being crushed as the crowds grew more dense. I couldn’t raise my arms and my feet could barely touch the floor; then my chest felt very tight, as I found it hard to breathe. The people at the front were screaming at the police to let them out and I joined in, yelling at the top of my voice, but they ignored us. I saw one man trying to climb over the fence, only to be pushed back by the police.
I felt terrified. I gave up screaming for help, trying to conserve what air I had left in my lungs. Then I lost the blood supply to my legs, which went numb: I couldn’t feel anything waist downwards. All the pressure was on my chest. I tilted my head back and up to find air and saw the man beside me dying, his face changing colour. As I struggled to breathe, I thought I was about to die. I remember looking higher and higher up, towards the sky and the clouds. I had an out-of-body experience on a cloud, watching myself being crushed. Then everything went black.
I think I was passed back face down over the top of the crowd. I have a sensation of my chest being thumped by hands. I came round at the back of the stadium by the turnstiles, next to a dead man with his jacket draped over his head.
When I was told that 93 had died I felt totally dumbstruck. The final death toll was 96.
The near-death experience at Hillsborough became a pivotal part of my life and nothing felt normal any more. I went back to the stadium five times to pay tribute to the dead, acutely aware of surviving an almighty threat to my existence. I convinced myself it was Tina having my baby that had kept me alive. It took me months to sleep properly at night and I was on sick leave for six months from my job as a children’s supervisor. Sometimes I would lose my temper for no reason, or cry incessantly.
I started attending a survivor’s group each week. When my son Thomas was born, he was such a good focus; I felt I could work again. In the months following the disaster it became clear that the police planning of the match was a total cockup. The club had no safety certificate either, and the engineers had miscalculated the amount of people able to stand safely in the pens – so over 10,000 fans were herded into just two pens, instead of four. There were two inquests, the second of which was the longest ever recorded in British judicial history. Sandwiched in between was the Taylor inquiry. When the Taylor report came out, there was an outcry about a sentence written which talked about a ‘failure of control’ by senior police officers, but no prosecutions were called for at the time.
When Labour came to power they instituted a scrutiny of all the evidence from previous inquiries, along with any new evidence. But when the presiding judge, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, arrived in Liverpool and said, ‘I hope the families don’t turn up late like the fans did,’ our confidence plummeted. Everyone hoped for justice. But we didn’t get it. Even the private prosecution instigated by the bereaved families against two senior policemen for unlawful killing and wilful neglect was a farce.
The evidence given by Dr Ed Walker at the Stuart-Smith inquiry was enormously helpful to me, because he described exactly what it had felt like, and people could now understand what I’d been through. It also proved the inquiry’s decision that all of the victims were braindead by 3.15pm – which had cleared the authorities at the stadium of any failure of duty – was incorrect. But Stuart-Smith ignored it.
I’ve spent years trying to piece together how I survived Hillsborough. It always shocks me how on earth I got out, and the experience of it is still with me every day. Hillsborough turned my world inside out, upside down and back to front. Whenever I walk into a room, I have the exit already marked out.
Peter has done a lot in the fight for justice since Hillsborough and helped to form the HJC, a group spear headed by John Glover, father of Ian who was killed at the disaster and Joe who survived. The group had been formed after disagreements in the original HFSG about what direction the families should be moving in and also for the hundreds of survivors who had nowhere to go. Although Peter has since left the group he still continues to fight for Justice for all of the victims that day, the survivors and the many who have sadly taken their own lives.