On a Friday the Thirteenth, in May 1988 I went to the offices of the F.A. at 16 Lancaster Gate in London to meet with the Communications Director Glen Kirton, who had offered me two tickets to the next day's F.A. Cup Final between Liverpool and Wimbledon.
A shock 1-0 defeat for Liverpool by unfashionable Wimbledon, and the first ever Cup Final penalty save by the Dons 'keeper Dave Beasant. Laurie Sanchez scored the only goal past Bruce Grobbelaar late in the first half.
Less than 11 months later Liverpool were in the news again and so was Kirton. He was the F.A. man in charge of the next season's semi-final at Hillsborough, Sheffield where 96 Liverpool fans died in the crush at the Leppings Lane End where they stood on the terraces in a stadium without a safety certificate.
TODAY I REVISITED HILLSBOROUGH FOR ONLY THE SECOND TIME IN 50 YEARS.
I wanted to see the stadium that I had been to in 1966 for a World Cup match West Germany 5 v Switzerland 0. My last visit was to watch Wednesday, THE OWLS in a Premier League match in 1995, the year before they hosted matches at EURO '96, where Kirton was Tournament Director.
I took the No. 53 bus on a short 10 minute ride to the stadium in the north west suburb of Owlerton (hence the nickname). Originally called The Wednesday since being formed in 1887 they were renamed as Sheffield Wednesday in 1929. The started playing on Wednesday's since many of their players had that day off work. I went round the back to the Leppings Lane End where I bumped into a member of the coaching staff who I asked for directions to the memorial.
Leppings Lane End is wedged in by some terraced houses and then by The River Don, which flows under a bridge from a road and a large park to the clubs' main entrance. This is all new since the tragedy and the Taylor Report 9 months or so later and the introduction of all seater stadiums.
It was and still is a very tight space. The opposite Kop End, much larger, was given to Nottingham Forest fans, who were travelling from the South, while The Reds were travelling over the Pennines from Merseyside from the North West, so that the fans would not meet up. Of course in those days policing was all to do with CROWD CONTROL, not CROWD SAFETY.
As has been proved, the Police lost control and suffered from dreadful leadership. The same with The Ambulance Service. There were no cell phones in those days, and the police did not have sufficient walkie talkies. Hundreds of police milled around with no command control, not knowing what was going on and what to do. Fans lined up at nearby houses and businesses who offered the free use of their private phones to get in touch with families back home.
In the reception area there is the original curved metal logo from a train engine 'Sheffield Wednesday' one of many 'namers', former trains with football club logos. A few large action photos plus THREE DIFFERENT large framed photos of new owner MILAN MANDARIC who bought the club for £1 pound two years ago.
Outside, across the bridge, I visited the pleasant quiet memorial to the 96 fans, decorated with flowers from the recent tributes and many scarves from clubs such as Liverpool, Everton, Wednesday, Sheffield United, Sunderland, MK Dons, Millwall, Aston Villa, Brentford, Dagenham and Redbridge, Wycombe Wanderers, Preston North End, Crystal Palace, Borussia Dortmund.... left by fans. Three bears with messages were on a wall, but one had fallen to the ground. I picked it up and put it back with the others, a baby blue Tony Bear, with a child's handwritten message;- 'The Lord is My Shepherd'.
On Sunday at Anfield the Hillsborough families met to decide future criminal and civil action. If the families take on Sheffield Wednesday and each receives a modest £1 million, the club would GO BUST. The same could happen to The Football Association, WHO KNOWINGLY ALLOWED THE MATCH TO TAKE PLACE. They would probably survive, maybe by selling Wembley Stadium to the NFL or CHELSEA ??? On Moday Home Secretary Theresa May indicated that the government would support procecutions.
As for the police, who lied and changed reports, hopefully at least they will lose their homes, lose jobs and pensions and maybe get locked up.??