It began as a day of excitement and hope for the travelling Liverpool fans, who were witnessing their team play the type of football that took them so nearly to a second ‘double’ of league and FA Cup in three years. It ended in tragedy though, as 96 fans lost their lives and 766 others suffered injuries.
For over two decades the lies of the South Yorkshire police, backed by the reactionary anti-football Government of the day, painted the innocent Liverpool fans as villains in this disaster until the enquiry of 2012 acquitted them of any blame. A further inquest was granted, with results expected in 2015 following the interviewing of surviving fans and family members, plus police representatives still alive to testify.
On Saturday 15th April 1989, Liverpool took on Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Semi-Final. The game was held at Hillsborough – the home of Sheffield Wednesday.
It was a ground that had reported potential issues concerning crowd control several years before, yet nothing had been done about it. The metal fences caging fans in due to the fear of the years of hooliganism in the British game were still in place. On this day a late arrival of some fans at the ground, combined with old and inadequate turnstyles being allocated to the Liverpool fans, saw a gate at the Leppings Lane end being opened by the police and fans diverted into two holding ‘pens’ that were already full as opposed to being spread across many of the 7 pens available. Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was the man who ordered the opening of this gate – a man who denied that action for years, claiming that drunken fans had ‘rushed the gate’.
As fans surged in to get a glimpse of their heroes (as the game had kicked off) fans at the front were pressed against the metal fence. A crush barrier then collapsed meaning fans started falling to the floor. After 6 minutes the game was stopped…
Of those that lost their lives, 94 of them died on the day, with two further victims dying later in hospital – indeed for one 22-year old victim, Tony Bland, he spent 4 years in hospital in a persistent vegetative state before his family decided to let him be at peace. The ages of those that died; children and adults, men and women, ranged from 10 to 67 years old.
As has been reported widely, the youngest fan, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the cousin of future Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, whilst the eldest was 67 year old Gerard Baron, brother of the late Liverpool player Kevin Baron. Two sisters, three pairs of brothers, and a father and son were also among those who died on the day.
There are many sites out there that have been campaigning for years to provide justice to the families of those that lose their lives. Here are some of those – let me know if I have missed any of these sites out.
http://jft96.com/ – moving site filled with tributes from loved ones, fans and well-wishers
http://www.liverpoolfc.com/hillsborough – official Liverpool site including details of each of the people that died in the tragedy.