akvbcfc looks at the tragic events from 20 years ago. I would like to add to his article and offer my thoughts to all those who are associated with Liverpool FC at this time, especially the family and friends of the victims.
The Pain Lives on
It has been 20 years, twenty years, two decades, since the horrific event. However, the pain lives on. The date, 15th April 1989 will forever live in the memory. The number 96, will always tug at the heartstrings of football fans everywhere.
If you don’t know what happened on that fateful day, then here is a summary of possibly the greatest footballing disaster of all time.
Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday. Outside the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, a large number of fans tried to get in to the ground as kick off approached on a vital day in the footballing calendar. As kick off approached, thousands of fans desperate to get in to the stadium were stuck outside and getting restless. There was a considerable build up of fans outside the Leppings Lane end, and police had a decision to make. Did they open the exit Gate C or not? Police Chief David Duckenfield was told that he had to order the opening of Gate C, but he was unsure. Did he refuse to open the gate and risk a number of deaths at the turnstiles outside the ground? Or, did he open the gate and risk a flood of fans going in to the stadium. Meanwhile, the crush was getting frantic. Fans were being crushed against gates, and walls. Children and women were screaming. There were 5,000 people outside the stadium desperately fearing for their lives. Duckenfield gave the message to open the gate. The results were absolutely horrific.
Fans flooded into the stadium, with no-one to check their tickets. Neither the police nor stewards were organised enough to cope. The fans flooded into the main two Pens behind the goal, Pens 3 and 4, but these pens were already dangerously overcrowded. Health and safety stated that no more than 1,500-1,600 fans should have been in Pens 3 and 4 respectively. There were over 3,000 fans in each pen.
The crush was becoming desperate. Fans didn’t know what to do and they were constantly being pushed forward by those behind. In all of this bedlam, the match actually kicked off. Fans tried to break down the perimeter fence behind the goal, facing the very real possibility of death. The police tried initially to try and stop the flow of fans onto the pitch, but they couldn’t. The time was 3.06 pm, and finally, a policeman came onto the pitch and told the referee, Ray Lewis, to stop the game immediately. Panic and confusion reigned; no-one knew what to do or how to do it. Ambulances couldn’t get onto the pitch due to numerous reasons, and fire engines which approached the ground were turned away by police officers who were unaware of the situation inside the ground. Why were they unaware? Their radio system was faulty.
Police and St John Ambulance volunteers did all they could to resuscitate fans. Some fans did everything they could to try and save the lives of their friends, their brothers, their fathers, their mothers and their sisters. Fans even used advertising boards as makeshift stretchers to try and get others fans to safety. The time was 3.27pm. It took until 4.01pm for the game to be officially abandoned, but no-one cared about the game now. There was something more important at stake.
This was at a time when mobile phones were not the norm. Technology was nowhere near advanced as it is now. However, there was coverage of the event. The BBC were at Hillsbrough, recording the game for Match of The Day, and when all of this happened, Grandstand, which was showing the snooker at the time, was stopped, and live coverage of the events in Sheffield were shown all around the country. Thousands and thousands watched on, in desperation, hoping and praying that it would all be alright, but knowing in the back of their minds that it would not be so. In Sheffield, people were dying.
Bodies of the dead were carried to a nearby gymnasium, where their pictures were taken and the pictures were put up outside the gym. It was up to friends and family members to identify the pictures and then the bodies. Numerous people had to travel hours and hours to get to Sheffield just to find out that their friend was one of those who had perished.
What can you say when something like this happens? The nation was in shock. The nation still is in shock. But, the question on the lips of everyone who was linked to Hillsborough is, Why? Why the hell did it happen?
Some blame the Liverpool fans, some blame the police. I wasn’t there, so I cannot tell you the real truth, but I can tell you a few facts. This was NOT an isolated incident. It happened before. There was a crush during the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Spurs and Wolves. The ground itself did not have an up-to-date safety certificate. The latest certificate at the time was from 10 years prior. Both Sheffield Wednesday and the council blamed each other for the lack of an up-to-date certificate, but the blame lies with them both. In 1986, a senior policeman warned that the access for fans entering the Lepping Lane stand was wholly “inadequate”. They were warned. Three years before it happened. Three whole years in advance. And what did they do? Absolutely nothing. After the event, what did Sheffield Wednesday do? Nothing. No-one resigned. Not even the safety officer. And no-one, no-one said sorry. The failure to act, led to the deaths of 96 innocent people. Nearly half of the dead, 38 in fact, were under the age of 20. Another 39 were between the ages of 20 and 29. Around 80% of those who died were under the age of 30. What a waste of precious life. And it could all have been avoided.
What happened next is one of the most famous investigations in football history. Not only were there inquests in every home, pub, bar and football ground up and down the land, it was announced that Lord Judge Taylor was to carry out an investigation into the disaster. He wrote two reports – the Interim Report, released in August 1989, and the more famous Final Report (commonly referred to as the Taylor Report) in January 1990. The Interim report dealt solely with Hillsborough and it tried to wade through the rumours and lies to find the truth.
From this report the way that Sheffield Wednesday was chosen as a host for the semi-final was revealed. An initial letter from the FA only referred to how the money would be split between Wednesday and the FA. There was no mention of security. There was no mention of police protection. It was all money, money, money. No surprise there then.
Two days after the event, Graham Kelly, from the FA wrote to all clubs asking them for an “immediate review of ground safety” after the Hillsborough tragedy…it was all a little too late.
Then, in 1990 with no-one sure of what exactly happened, Taylor produced his second report, commonly known as the Taylor Report. Taylor said that each club should be issued with £2 million to transform their stadia into all-seater stadia. However, unknown to many are the other points raised by Taylor in his report. Taylor said that transfer fees had reached a level which was regarded as “grotesque” and “certainly out of all proportion to the amounts spent on ground improvement”. In the weeks after Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday did this statement proud. They spent £800,000 on new players. And you’re telling me that this couldn’t have been spent on the ground?
Taylor also called for a “new ethos for football”, in combination with a “reassessment of policy” in the way that the game is run. However, he couldn’t have that. Why? Because time is money. There was money to be earnt, TV deals to be fixed and a breakaway from the League to be negotiated.
Taylor also said that it was “legitimate” to wonder whether directors are “genuinely interested in the welfare of their grass-roots supporters”. Directors are greedy. Yep, knew that one already.
One major gripe that fans had with Taylor is that they believed that prices would escalade because of Taylor’s call for all-seater stadia. They blamed him. Was it his fault? Not a chance. He pointed to Ibrox where Rangers charged fans just £6 for a seat. He proved that it was viable to have all-seater stadia with cheap tickets. It was the money hungry clubs who demanded more money. No big surprise there, then?
Taylor’s wishes were clear. He wanted all-seater stadia. He wanted safety at stadia to be controlled. He wanted public money to help. He wanted the way football was being run to be overhauled (with reference to the self-interests of club owners and those who ran the league). Well, 3 out of 4 ain’t bad is it?
Well, yes it is bad. It is terrible. Football hasn’t learnt anything. Taylor gave us a warning about the way football was going, and no-one has heeded it.
What is even worse is that 20 years on, the friends and families of the dead still await justice. And they will probably never get it. They had gone to watch a game of football, and they never returned. It’s not right. It just isn’t.
In 1986, a senior police officer gave a stern warning which was ignored by the masses. In 1990 Lord Justice Taylor gave a stern warning which was ignored by the masses. When will it stop? It took the lives of 96 innocent men and women to be lost, for football to learn…absolutely nothing.
Some Things are Just More Important
I would now go on to write about other events in the sporting world, but I cannot. I would write about how the FA’s selection process for referees is shambolic, and how the rules of a penalty should be adjusted. I would also write about how Mark Hughes has found himself caught in a lose-lose situation, but I just cannot. Why? Because sometimes, football doesn’t matter. Sometimes, some things are just more important.
20 years on, all we want, is justice for the 96.