Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remembering Hillsborough.



Many American friends have asked me about Hillsborough over the years. What happened, why it happened. How could such a tragedy be allowed to happen? Well today is the 20th anniversary of a day that changed football in England forever. 96 people died in pens like cattle with one common, shared tie. They supported Liverpool FC and were there to watch the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Hillsborough is the name of Sheffield Wednesday's historic football ground but after April 15th 1989, it became associated with a terrible event that ruined lives and brought the football world to a standstill.

Liverpool played Forest for a place in the final. Back then many football grounds had fences up, stopping supporters from reaching the pitch. A huge over-reaction to combat a few pitch invasions that had taken place. Hillsborough was no different. The result of such fencing basically creates a contained pen were supporters watched as if they were livestock, herded in and out.

Basically the Leppings Lane away section at Hillsborough held 2,000 people and 3,000 wanted to come in. Many of those extra people had fake tickets. The Police failed in their operation to control the fans and opened a gate allowing a surge of people to come in, head down a small tunnel to pens behind the goal. They just kept coming. By the time kick-off came, people were fighting for breath and crushed against each other with no escape.

Five minutes after kick-off a policeman ran onto the pitch and the game was stopped. What happened next will never leave the memories of anyone who watched TV for the rest of the day, let alone those at the game. A barrier between pens collapsed and the area behind the goal became a pile of people. Climbing over each other in attempts to escape. The people who had arrived early were crushed at the front. People lay dead on the pitch. Others were pulled to safety by supporters in the upper tier. The fear on the faces of those against the fences was haunting.

96 people, many of whom were children, lost their lives. The advertising hoardings became stretchers and the pitch the emergency room. The rescue effort was hampered by bad co-ordination and fire fighters/ambulance crews being unable to get access to the inside of the ground.

We'd been looking forward to a great game of football and now we were gasping for breath and grasping for survival. As we know, dozens of us were unsuccessful. One of those people may have been a man who, I'm guessing, was in his 60s. I spent half an hour pushed up against him with he in turn wedged against a crush bar. I never saw his face. I had my back to him throughout. But I'm haunted by his voice. He was pleading with me to give him space to allow him to breathe. He was screaming in agony telling me he was suffering a heart attack. - Survivor Mark Edwardson
A detailed summary of events can be found here and the stories of those there that day here.

An inquiry failed to really blame anyone for the disaster but it was clear that a lack of policing intelligence caused the crush when gate c was opened to relieve the congestion building outside of the ground. The inquiry found that the area behind the goal was only safe for 1600 people and not the 2200 who had tickets nor the 3000 trying to get in. Afterward, many stories of previous semi-finals there emerged along with complaints about crushing and over crowding to the FA.

Back in those days the semi-finals were both played at the same time. While the events of Hillsborough were unfolding, Norwich were at Villa Park playing Everton. But for one draw of the ball from the hat, I could so easily be talking about members of my family today.

Soon after the tragedy, all fences were removed and stadiums required to be all-seater. Little consolation for the surviving who had to deal with the loss of friends and the stress that came afterward. Many needed counseling and could not sleep or work with the sounds and images of the day that would be with them for ever.

For many, twenty years ago today at 10am Eastern time marks the day that football died. A day out to see their team became a living nightmare that ruined the lives of so many. The game we love so much and the focus of this website became painful memories and heartache to hundreds of family members who lost sons and daughters to a tragic event that should have been prevented.

As you go about your business today, and prepare to watch this afternoons Champions League matches, just spare a thought for the survivors and family members, who for many no longer have football to enjoy. Today they will all be remembered.

-Bigus

LB remembers it too, like it was yesterday. His thoughts to follow later today.

8 comments:

The NY Kid said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, BD. I started paying serious attention to English footy about a year or so after Hillsborough so all I knew about it was what I had read. It's one thing to realize the scope of the tragedy, but entirely another to try and imagine how it must have impacted English footy fans.

Autoglass said...

Beautifully said, mate. Thanks for educating us as to what really happened. So many Americans follow the game with passion, "Hillsborough" is one of those terms that everyone hears but few understand.

Phoenix said...

Thank you for making this post.

There is free coverage of the memorial service all day through LFCTV -- http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/splash/hillsboroughremembered_080409_2.shtml

Bigus Dickus said...

I watched this am. The photos at the end of the service were just heartbreaking. So many kids 13, 14, 15 years old.

Eladio said...

What's so disheartening to me, as an American who doesn't even remember when Hillsborough happened and really only started looking into the details of it after reading Fever Pitch, is that most non-Europeans (and maybe most non-English folks) try to simplify the entire disaster as being "just another example of English hooliganism". As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth, and it's a disservice to all the families and friends of the 96 to think that.

While I never try to convince my American friends that soccer should be enjoyed, watched, re-examined, etc, if they're not fans, I ALWAYS will try to educate those who don't know the story to see that the horrors of that day were caused NOT by unruly fans, but by incredibly poor planning, horrible gameday management by the police, and an incredibly slow response to what was happening.

The Hillsborough for Dummies website (http://www.hfdinfo.com/) is great repository of information.

c0rrine said...

this post was lovely
thank you

Tim said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this. It was a day that changed everything and if you regularly went to games like I did you realised it was only luck that meant you weren't in the leppings lane end that Saturday.

I would like to point out that the Lord Justice Taylor report did spell out that 'fake tickets' were not part of the issue as you inferred. The cause was linked exclusively to poor policing, late arrivals due to traffic delays and poor administration by SWFC.

A tragic day that feels only months ago when watching all the coverage online once more. 96 people went to see a match....and never went home. Tragic.

jjf3 said...

Thank you for writing this. I can't say that I know what it was like, or what it "meant" to Liverpool (or even a Canary fan like yourself), but I can understand the sheer horror and incomprehension of something like this happening at something called a "sporting event", especially when it falls at the hand of the "supposed" authorities. It still makes me feel ill today...and I have no intimate connection to it...