Hillsborough Remembered Pt 1: 15th April 1989.

Published: Apr 14, 2014 10:13am EDT
By Jason Bardwell, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Apr 14, 2014 @ 10:13am EDT

 

It will be 25 years ago tomorrow and I had only just turned 10 a few weeks before. I remember the images vividly though as reports came in, through the television, of trouble at the Sheffield Wednesday ground, Hillsborough. That was the neutral venue for one of that years FA Cup Semi Final matches, in this case Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest for a place in the Final. The game on that day would not finish and 96 Liverpool fans who went into the ground that sunny, Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t come back out alive. This is their story and over the next four days I will do my best to give you a feel for the events of that day and the justice still being pursued today.

 

THE GAME:

Liverpool were in for a domestic double going into this game. Top of the league on goal difference with Arsenal with only six games to go and, of course, one game away from Wembley and an FA Cup Final.

April 15th 1989 Liverpool took a break from the league to take on Nottingham Forest in Sheffield. Liverpool is 63 miles away from Sheffield and Nottingham is just over half that distance meaning an excited and early start for the Liverpool fans.

In English football for the previous few years there had been issues with crowd violence and a general hooligan element mixed in with the general football fan and so, to stop pitch invasions and keep crowd control the stadiums fans were separated into pens. A fence went around the outside of the pitch, much the same as you can still see in Italian soccer today, to stop pitch invasions. Seats were not provided as this would just be ripped up and thrown at the police and so the ritual for going to a football match was literally buy your ticket and take your chance. Even so, the events which unfolded at Hillsborough were far from the minds of most fans.

 

THE MISTAKES:

The Police outside were directing all Liverpool fans to enter at the Leppings Lane entrance. As there were many more Liverpool fans than Forest fans this caused a build up of Liverpool fans outside the first gate trying to get through the turn styles and then through the tunnel which led to the pen area.

The Chief Super Intendant on duty that day, in the control room, was a man by the name of David Duckenfield. It was he who had the final decision on the day and it was his decision to allow the side gates to be opened in order to relieve the pressure building in the crowd outside the ground. Had he also ordered the main tunnel closed also at that point then the fans streaming in would have had to filtered around to the other, almost empty, pens. However the crowd all went through the tunnel, towards an already jam packed pen and no way to get back out. As a result, the fans who had got in early and were at the front of the pen were starting to be crushed against first the barrier and then, eventually, the fence.

Some fans were then forced to climb over the fence and spill out onto the pitch due to the pressure behind them. Some fell as they were pushed and with that pressure once you had fallen I doubt you would have been able to get back up.

As a result of fans spilling onto the pitch, it was initially thought a pitch invasion was in progress, so more police were deployed to contain a potential pitch invasion rather than the Fire Brigade and Ambulance service to deal with what the actual event was. Even when those police saw what was going on communication seemed to fail and at this point there was an army of Ambulances outside the ground and yet only one would actually ever get to the field. Police on the outside of the ground were still under the impression that there was a pitch invasion going on and so even that one ambulance wasn’t on the pitch as quickly as it needed to be.

As a result highly trained medical professionals were feet away while CPR was left to the public and some police to administer. Advertising boards were used as makeshift stretchers and the gym at Hillsborough quickly became a makeshift morgue. At a time before the internet and cell phones, information was slow to get to the families and most saw just as much footage as I had on the TV before their telephone would ring if a relative found a payphone or there was a knock on the door by a family friend who could break the news in person.

Of the 96 to lose their lives that day the oldest was a 67 year old and the youngest was the same age as I was, 10. Jon Paul Gilhooley, the cousin of now Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard (who himself was only 8 at the time), had only known he was going a few hours before.

Disbelief and anger were the main emotions of family members directly after the event as you might expect and I imagine the sentence echoing through the hospital hallways and makeshift morgue were not to dissimilar to the line in the Hillsborough TV drama, ‘They cannot be dead. They only went to a football match!’


 

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Jason Bardwell
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