For the second year in a row, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were drawn against each other to play in the semi-final of the F.A. Cup at Hillsborough, the home stadium of Sheffield Wednesday. The date was April 15th, 1989 with a scheduled 3.00pm kick off.
For the second year in a row I went to Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, for a memorial service for the 96 fans from Merseyside who went to that football match and came home in coffins, crushed to death on the terracing, behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. A year ago I sat on the Kop which was about half full for the service. This week I arrived about an hour early along with a torrent of fans of all ages, with walking sticks, in prams, and babies in arms, and after visiting the memorial with the eternal flame, the names of the 96 and thousands of scarfs, flags, flowers and messages, we gradually filled all four sides of the stadium, apart from two upper tiers, as about 35,000 showed up for the 20th anniversary of this tragedy- a MAN MADE TRAGEDY.
Yesterday the Assistant Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, Andy Holt, admitted for the first time that his police were at fault, and mistakes were made, which has always been denied for the last two decades. The then police superintendent in charge at Hillsborough on the fateful day, David Duckenfield, altered testimony, conveniently 'lost' video tapes, lied under oath and had an 'omerta' of police silence to hide the true facts.
At the Crown Court in Leeds in 2000, a private prosecution case against him was dropped when he claimed to be too unwell to continue to give tesitony under oath, and along with at least 20 other officers, retired on a full pension, claiming that they were so traumatised by that day that they could never work again. How many of them 'double dipped' and went on to other well paying jobs, while the families got no such justice or pay outs?
The Taylor Report soon after the tragedy concluded that there was police incompetence and lies, and suggested that all stadiums should be all seater, with well trained security officers, instead of police who were not trained or knew the stadiums, drafted in for the day. On that day there was a 10 foot high steel fence between the Leppings Lane spectators and the pitch. Liverpool, with an average attendance at their stadium of over twice that of Forest, were given a smaller share of tickets than Forest fans, who again were accomodated on the larger Spion Kop at the opposite end, which had 60 modern turnstiles, compared to the 27 old fashion ones at the Liverpool end.
One lie he told was that before the kick-off the gates were forced open by fans and 2,000 fans pored in to the central 'pen' while to the sides there was spare room. In fact he had ordered it opened. The match kicked off until 3.06 when the whistle was blown by the referee and the teams were asked to leave the pitch. 40 ambulances arrived from area hospitals but the police told them it was a hooligan problem and only one entered the field, to be overwhelmed. Most of the police present that day formed a corden in the Nottingham Forest end to prevent crowd trouble, and fans tore down advertising hordings to carry off their mates. Despite desperate pleas the police would not open the small gates to the pens to let fans onto the pitch.
The whole Liverpool squad and all the other teams, led by Pepe Reina, entered the Kop to take their seats. The church choir of St. Annes Stanley and the Bishop of Liverpool the Rt. Rev.James Jones led the service today and church bells in the city chimed 96 times, buses and cars stopped at 3.06 pm, for 2 minutes, as did shopkeepers and customers. It took 6 minutes to read the names of the 96 victims. Ten year old Jean-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest. He was named after the Pope and his 8 year old cousin Steven Gerrard learned about it that evening.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham is an Everton fan and was at the other F.A. Cup semi final the same day at Villa Park. He was emotional as he gave a speach to the crowd at Anfield that was frequently drowned out, with chants of JUSTICE!, JUSTICE!. The Prime Minister had asked him to come since he himself was at another memorial service at the same time in Aberdeen.
If you look at the photographs of the day, the pain in the faces of opposing coaches Kenny Dalglish and Brian Clough was apparent. The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotherham was very elequent. He was a fan at Hillsborough and a simple brickie(bricklayer) from Kirby at the time. He stated how his life had changed with a marriage, three lovely kids, and what a future the victims had missed out on.
John Glover lost his 20 year old son Ian, and the father and other son Joseph, then 22, were so traumatised and could not work for 10 years. The very first day that Joseph started work again he was crushed to death unloading a truck. Trevor Hughes, who lost two teenage daughters that day also spoke on behalf of the families and repeated their quest for justice.
The service and speeches lasted over an hour in the warm weather, and The Fields of Anfield Road was sung, Rafael Benitez, the present manager, laid a Liverpool scarf on the penalty spot and 96 red balloons were released. Finally, we all sang YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE, Rogers and Hammerstein from the musical Carousel, and everyone held up a scarf, mostly from Liverpool, but many from Everton and elsewhere. I have a large collection that have been presented to me in various countries, and I held up the red and navy scarf of Pogon Szczecin, one of the friendliest clubs that I visited last year.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just suspended the 30 year secrecy rule and ordered the cabinet to begin a new 'inquiry into the inquiry!! and Garston MP Maria Eagle backed by Andy Burnham have asked for an inquiry into the police 'black propoganda' that tried to put the blame on the Reds fans and not the police. Hopefully we will finally get some justice.
If you would like a free 16 page newspaper supplement of Hillsborough after 20 years, please let me know and I will send a copy.