Penny For Your Thoughts?

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.

By akvbcfc

Discuss this post, and other items, in the Joys and Sorrows Forum.


12 Comments on Penny For Your Thoughts?

  1. Looking at the haunted look on mrs duckenfields face i get the impression that she would like all this trouble to “simply just go away “….and who can blame her . she thought she was marrying a police office who had the worthy attributes of a man who posessed both integrity and honour….when in fact what the poor woman had landed was a man/child hopelessly clinging to her skirts and whos only real ability is to contaminate a perfectly decent police force with his provoracation ,indecisivness and resoundingly squirming genius for not being accountable for his actions or responsible for his decisions….as for the infantile and naive hope that it will… “all just simply go away so we can just get on with our lives”…..well ! if mr duckenfield had held up his hands with a cry of ‘mea culpa’ then there would have been every possibility that, in time, this would have occurred as the healing process would have started automatically ;on both sides of this atrocious event… it is mr duckenfield has unnecessarily damaged everyone including those closest to him, professionally and personally…..i suspect the mindset is inexorable denial and the outcome …..ineffable grief and misery for all concerned…i feel nothing but pride and admiration for the families; their courage and dignity and resolve to continue onwards is enough to drive an old gooner like me to tears and im proud to be associated with them and the team who are in many ways the finest of us … for the poor beleagued south yorkshire police force i can only feel pity and suspicion and fear…as should every other decent fair mined person….and if they wish to win back the support and respect of the general public….they must succumb to the idiom of accountability and not just wait for this to “all just go away”….otherwise the indeleble spectre of pity suspicion and fear will be the only legacy handed down to the next generation of police officers of the S.Y.P……

  2. A good piece, akvbcfc, but I’d make just one point. You say that ‘some’ blame the Liverpool fans. In fact nobody does, apart from Kelvin McKenzie, the then editor of the Sun. The Taylor report exonerated the fans and made it clear that it was the fault of the police. McKenzie did ‘apologise’ for his sick front page that blamed ‘drunken Liverpool fans’ but only a few years ago he withdrew the ‘apology’ and claimed he only ofered it because Rupert Murdoch made him do so! It seems hard to believe that it happened twenty years ago as it all seems so fresh in the mind. I worked for Liverpool City Council at the time and was heavily involved in the post Hillsborough work it did.

  3. Thanks Pete, and I take your point. What I was referring to were the mindless idiots who post blogs on the internet with malicious lies about the fans who attended the game.

    N.B. it has emerged that the Cheif Constable of Yorkshire Police has accepted responsibility for the disaster in an extraordinary, but long overdue twist in this sad tale. This is the closest we may ever get to an apology:

    Meredydd Hughes, the current South Yorkshire chief constable, said the force fully accepted the findings of the Taylor report, that the police were primarily responsible for the disaster, and Taylor’s criticism that they failed to accept responsibility at the time. He said he is marking the forthcoming 20th anniversary by re-emphasising the need to learn from the mistakes at Hillsborough, and stressing the progress the police have made since in managing major events. He agreed to investigate whether there are other documents relating to Hillsborough which have not been publicly disclosed.

  4. How old are you akvbfc Are you old enough to have attended games before Hillsborough?
    I hold no sympathy to SWFC but it seems as you have made a judgement.
    I’ve heard several repeats of commentry from the day and a few mention fighting and trouble amounst liverpool fans. that is how the commentators jumped to conclusions before they realised the fans were dying. Even Alan Hansen said he told fans to get off the pitch because he thought they were causing trouble, till one told him people were dying.
    I will ask this question again: Are we as fans who used to attend in those times guilty of not doing enough to point out the trouble makers that led to fencing being introduced at every ground?

  5. I also understand the need to blame someone, and while SYP command are to blame for a lot – spare a thought for the policeman who ran on to the pitch to stop the game and other ordinary officers who did ther best to pull people out of the crush

  6. anston blades, i myself am less than 20 years old so I was not alive when Hillsborough happened.

    I understand your point 100% mate, i do feel for those policemen, but, at the same time, there was one decision which was made the wrong way. however, now, i do have sympathy for the policemen who are still hanted by it, and i have sympathy for the lone ambulanceman who couldn’t take all of the dead away because there were too many of them.

    Yes mate, some blame needs to lie with the fans, but i find it hard to fathom how if hooliganism was that bad, why wasnt the policing made better to deal with it?
    Adding to that, why were the police not equipped with better equiptment, not dodgy radios which barely worked? If they had been given decent equpitment, the ambulances and fire engines would not have been turned away and events may have followed a different direction.

    Everyone has to take some of the blame, but for me, the overiding issue in this debate is, why was that gate opened? However, nobody is perfect, that decision to open the gate was incorrect and I’m sure the policeman would admit to that. However, why did it take 20 years for anyone to take the blame? Why?

    I would like to point out, that if hooliganism was that bad (i have no doubt that from what you and other people say, it was bad), who should have acted in the first place to tackle it? The fans? Can one set of fans make a difference? I’d say no. I’d say that if it was that bad, then the FA and the football league should have been the ones to find the troublemakers and take action.

  7. Yes it was seen as a cool act to go against authority and invade pitches- Fans fault which led to fencing being introduced. that was part of the authorities solution to hooligans. at Bramall lane it was removed before the very next match and the 1 or 2 idiots that still thought it cool and used the opportunity to invade the pitch were shamed immediatly by the rest of us who felt the guilt of Hillsborough and realised we had to change. if you feel still let down by your club and its facilities i am sure it will change. I Myself marvel at the wonderful conditions we have now.
    It was so bad before Hillsborough.
    I Know someone who went to uni and had to do a massive investigation for his subject on the Hillsborough disaster. I will try to speak to him about his findings.

  8. It seems to me that the problem was not the opening of the gate, as I understand it people were being crushed against the walls of the stadium and the tragedy could easily have occurred outside the ground, but the failure to close the gangway to the 2 pens that were overfull.

  9. I think it was a combination of opening the gate with no plan for stewarding the fans as they went in. So everyone went for the most direct way to the terraces and as there were lateral barriers as well as the fences the pen in question in effect became a deadend tunnel. If they’d had stewards and delayed the kick off by 15 minutes it wouldn’t have happened. I think for the first few minutes everyone thought it looked like crowd trouble – I know I did.

  10. Over the next few seasons games were delayed by a few minutes if traffic problems seemed to indicate that away fans may be late. The fear of a crush if there was a rush to get in the groundwas a big worry for a time.

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