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Remembered: The Hillsborough Disaster

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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The Hillsborough Disaster took place on 15th April 1989 and this year marks the 25th anniversary.  The Football Supporters’ Federation remembers the 96 victims of the disaster, our thoughts are with their friends and families. 

Many thousands of lives were irrevocably changed that day – from those who lost loved ones to supporters who suffered physical and mental injuries. This space on the FSF website gives fans who’d like to share their experiences of the day the opportunity to do just that. If you would like to contribute, simply email your story to: [email protected].

We plan to develop this page over the coming months and years, so that it becomes a permanent FSF space for fans to record their memories of the 15th April 1989. Read fans’ accounts below…

Dr Rogan Taylor is a Liverpool fan who was at the game. He was one of the key figures behind the formation of the Football Supporters’ Association (forerunner to the FSF) and lead the FSA during that time:

Another Saturday; another FA Cup semi-final. Against the club we beat in the semi last year, too. That was the train of thought for many Liverpool fans on the 15th April, 1989, as they crossed the Pennines and sought to stifle the memory of that embarrassing defeat to Wimbledon in the Final the previous year.

Liverpool had only won the FA Cup three times before. Over the previous twenty years or so, the competition had become diminished in the eyes of many fans; the League Championship and the European Cup occupying the twin peaks of our desire. We’d won the latter competition more often than the FA Cup, too.

It was a glorious spring day; the fresh sun blazing through the car and coach windows, as thousands of us got caught up in the huge hold-ups on the roads to Sheffield. In England; you’re not supposed to travel across the country easily; only journeys north and south are encouraged with decent, fast highways.

Our brothers and sisters from ‘across the park’ were travelling too; heading down to Aston Villa for the other semi against Norwich. If we both came through, there’d be a replay of the first ‘derby match FA Cup Final’ at Wembley, three years earlier, in ’86. We’d done alright then.

So the Blue and Red supporters were on the road; not at home. And half a million other football fans were on their way to league matches too. When the news first began to break of some ‘disturbances’ at Hillsborough, involving the Liverpool fans, probably only the families of scousers would be troubled.

When the game was stopped at 3.05pm and pictures on TV began to appear showing fans on the pitch behind the goal; some collapsed and clearly injured; whilst others were being hoisted by fans in the seats above the terraces to some kind of safety, alarm bells went off in thousands of Liverpool homes. Mothers of kids and adults who were at the game wandered out onto the streets to ask neighbours if they knew any more.

At Villa Park, too, those clutching small radios began to relay the bad news amongst their Evertonian comrades. There was growing concern on many faces. In a city like ours, loyalties are often divided within families, as the cars on the road to Wembley back in ‘86 illustrated so vividly, with both Red and Blue scarves trailing out of their rear windows, and inside two kids in rival colours sat, laughing and joking their way to London.

As the afternoon wore on and the news became blacker than black; the rest of the world began to take notice. As the initial death toll rose: 12 dead; then 22; then 40-something; then….My god, how bad can this get? Even worse than anyone ever imagined was the answer.

As the British fans left their matches that afternoon, the truth gradually dawned on them: Hillsborough was the worst football disaster in our country since the game first kicked off a century ago. Spurs fans, many of whom had a brush with death on Leppings Lane back in 1981, would have particularly felt it. And for the vast majority of fans, a huge collective shiver ran down the spine. Every well-travelled footie fan in the land knew how dangerous it could be at a match, especially on the terraces, and getting into and out of football grounds.

Crushing and heaving were commonplace at dozens of venues; police and club stewards often simply abandoned the fans to the lottery of surviving in tact from the convoluted, poorly planned and crap-designed exit routes. It wasn’t unusual to bruise, strain and even break bones on a Saturday afternoon. We were football fans for god’s sake: ‘un-people’; not worthy of real consideration when it came to comfort and safety. You paid yer money and took yer chance.

There were eventually, 96 dead Liverpool fans, and considerably more severely injured; some traumatised for life. And for probably millions of regular fans in the UK, Europe and South America, the day of the Hillsborough disaster was a mini-death for us all.

Alan Head is a Southampton fan who’s always had a soft spot for Liverpool. Like many other fans across the country, he first heard the news on the radio and listened in horror as the death toll rose:

Hillsborough is my President Kennedy moment, I received the news the same way as that momentous event (by radio) and remember exactly where I was, listening to it working in my local newsagent. The boss was Ron and we were both fans of football, talking endlessly, mostly about Saints but also about football in general.

Back then football felt more important than it does now. Maybe it was less games on TV and no Champions League but FA Cup semi-final day was a big day. When Saints weren’t at home I always enjoyed working on a Saturday, because it meant that we got the Pink Football Echo in shortly after 6pm and had a queue of like-minded souls ready to discuss the day’s events on the field.

I can’t remember if Saints were home or away that day because their match, usually so important to us, paled into insignificance as the news began filtering through from Hillsborough. First we heard of injuries; then deaths in single figures We both stood on heaving terraces week in, week out and I know I very quickly was put in to a cold sweat thinking of what was happening up there to those fans.

The next update I clearly remember listed deaths in the teens (possibly 16 or something like that) and then very quickly utter disbelief descended as the figure of 61 dead came over the radio. I remember saying that they’d read it wrong, transposed the figures or something, as I simply couldn’t believe that so many had died.

The queue for the Pink was shorter that evening, no-one cared if Saints had won or lost. And I think this is the point – I don’t recall any football rivalry coming in to it. There was no rivalry, just a sense of solidarity. We all knew that it was just a matter of luck that one or more of us hadn’t suffered a similar fate in cages like those of the Leppings Lane end.

In the days that followed I remember delivering the infamous edition of the Sun, and even in Southampton its circulation dropped.

Since then I’ve been a regular at The Dell and now St Marys. I’ve even been to a few games at Anfield in the Liverpool end due to having Liverpool-supporting mates. If I was forced to pick a second team it would be Liverpool, as I guess it would be for a lot of kids of the 70s. For that reason, as a football fan and as a human being, I feel an affinity with the 96 and their families.

Saints are at home to Cardiff on the 25th anniversary weekend. I’ll be standing on the Northam surrounded by mates I’ve seen at every match for years. Fortunately now something like Hillsborough could never happen again but I will look down the rows and visualise what 96 empty seats would look like and how I would feel not seeing those people again. It won’t come close to what mates of the 96 feel but I know it is going to be extremely emotional.

I just hope that by the time the 30th anniversary comes around we’ll finally have Justice for the 96.

Ian Todd is a Sunderland supporter and FSF National Council member. In 1989 Ian was Chairman of the National Federation of Football Supporters’ Clubs (which eventually combined with the Football Supporters’ Association to form the FSF):

Although I attended most of Sunderland’s games home and away, I had a job which involved weekends on call. As I recall we were away to Oldham that day so I was unable to attend and was instead at home, bleeper by my side watching TV, so I witnessed the event as it unfolded in all it’s unbelievable and unexpected trauma. As the then Chairman of the National Federation of Football Supporters’ Clubs, I realised how significant it would be for all fans of all clubs and how important it was that the Federation’s reaction, both immediate and ongoing, came across as measured and compassionate. It was horrific but compelling viewing with so many uncertainties at the time about the cause, other than the obvious barrier to escape provided by the safety fences. The scoreline from Boundary Park was no longer of significance to me and I knew when my phone rang it was more likely to be the media than my workplace.

Jenny Wheatley is a Liverpool fan who was listening to the game on radio:

I didn’t go that day, my parents couldn’t afford for us to but we listened on the radio, this was before Sky Sports and I was 15 at the time. We all sat around the living room me, my mum, dad and brother who is a Leicester City fan but in the 80s the semi-finals and finals were bigger occasions. I remember it being a nice day with a few clouds peering through, I was very excited as I was listening out for my favourite player Steve McMahon and so excited he was playing. After a few minutes you could sense by the commentators something was wrong and they weren’t sure whether it was going to carry on. There were many people on the pitch, we switched onto Grandstand on BBC1 to see if we could see anything, nothing much to be honest until later on, the news reports were constant throughout the night up until midnight when the station shut down, I went to bed feeling very very numb. I didn’t know anyone who went but as LFC are a family we all felt their pain.

Anthony Aston is a native Londoner and Spurs fan who spent the majority of his childhood in Norfolk. He was at the other semi-final that day at Villa Park to see Norwich City face Everton:

I will never forget the scoreboard flashing “Play suspended at Hillsborough” and to my eternal shame I just thought there was trouble. Hooliganism was still pretty rife in 1989 and it just seemed natural to assume so. I am so sorry.

Of course it was long before the days of mobile phones and the internet so when the rumours began towards half time, I was utterly shell-shocked but there was no genuine information coming through. The game at Villa Park was awful which is almost apt and to this day I wonder if the players knew what was unfolding not too far up the road.

I remember leaving the ground to get back to the coach and by that time, everyone knew what had happened. The journey back to Norwich was incredibly sombre with next to no sound for the three hours on the road. We all knew it could have been us. Even now, I shudder at the thought.

When I walked through the front door that evening, I don’t think my parents have ever been so pleased to see me. I can only imagine the absolute terror of Mums and Dads, brothers and sisters all over the country.

The following day was spent watching the horror and I have no shame in admitting I spent most of the time sobbing. I’ve never liked Liverpool FC, still don’t, but that day transcended tribal rivalry; we are all the same and the thought of lads and lasses never returning home from doing something they potentially lived for still resonates 25 years on.

We have all been lied to since, especially the families of those lost so I truly hope the truth will come out and those accountable finally step forward and accept their part in the worst sporting disaster ever. Justice for the 96.

Danny Rhodes is a Forest fan who was at the semi-final, his experiences on the day inspired his book Fan: When a football match changes your life forever:

I travelled to Hillsborough on 15th April 1989 as a 17-year-old Forest supporter looking forward to the prospect of witnessing my team beat Liverpool and make it to the FA Cup Final. They had every chance too. Forest were in magnificent form, League Cup winners and beaten just twice in twenty one games since the previous Christmas. There was a palpable feeling that the club could exorcise the mirror image semi-final defeat of a year earlier.
What we witnessed instead was this country’s worst sporting disaster.

I remember the bus journey from Sheffield Station to the ground. I remember the sun shining on Hillsborough park. I remember the steady anticipation filled, climbing up the steps to the back of the Kop and finding my place amongst the crowd. I remember us talking amongst ourselves about how the Liverpool end didn’t look right. This was clear from 2pm onwards.

I remember the crowd swelling as kick-off approached, the teams entering the pitch. I remember the game setting off at a tremendous pace, far different from the tactical, patient football you often see today. I remember Beardsley hitting the Forest bar. This was just further confirmation that it was going to be our day. And then, of course, everything changed.

For the next two hours we watched events unfold in the way a person might view a car wreck on an adjacent carriageway. We stood in a football stadium designed to give people a grandstand view, unable to move, unable to leave. We watched with a growing sense of dread and horror.

We stood for two hours like that. Somewhere around 5pm we left and made our way back down the Penistone Road, hearing the death toll rise as people listened on their radios in stationary cars. At Sheffield station we queued at a telephone box to call home, to let our families know we were okay and then we boarded the train to return to a life that would never quite be the same.

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