It's April the 15th 1989, FA Cup Semi Final
It's at Hillsborough
and you open the match programme to see a picture of the Leppings Lane
end of the ground full of Liverpool supporters
, same round, same place.
One year ago in 1988.
The programme reads: "As you look around Hillsborough you will appreciate why it has been regarded for so long as the perfect venue for all kinds of important matches. It is a stadium
that befits such occasions and the large crowds
Liverpool had reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and were to play Nottingham Forest
at the Hillsborough Stadium, home to Sheffield Wednesday
Football Club. It was an identical scenario to the previous year when Liverpool had beaten Notts Forest
at the same ground.
are always in short demand for such a game but in this instance Liverpool fans had even scarcer resources to draw from. They had been located the Leppings Lane end of the ground - the smaller end. Given the level of support this was a woefully inadequate allocation of tickets. Although there was general disquiet about this decision by the FA
's, fans nevertheless resigned themselves to the fact. After all they had been through it all the year before and therefore many justifiably felt that they knew what to expect.
set off early and full of optimism on that sunny Saturday morning. Whether they had travelled by road or rail, having left their transport at designated sites they were escorted by police towards the ground. One bereaved father described the areas around the ground as having a 'carnival atmosphere
'. Sadly, this atmosphere would soon change.
The build up of fans around the Leppings Lane area increased dramatically around 2p.m. as people began to arrive in greater numbers. It also became known that many coaches were only just arriving having experienced delays from road works and police
searches along the way. Clearly a crowd safety issue was emerging. Yet police records indicate little real concern at this stage.
From 2.30p.m. the number of people at the turnstile
area was immense and orderly queuing was an impossibility. Fans being searched as they went in to the ground exacerbated this growing problem. Fans were entering a bottleneck
. 10,000 fans, three gates, and seven turnstiles - this was the disastrous situation that people with tickets for the Leppings Lane end were walking into. Add to this the number of people with tickets for the West Stand
(located above the terracing) who also had to enter by the same three gates and the recipe for disaster
increases even further.
Marshall was in overall command outside the ground. His record of the day reveals a heavy emphasis on the amount of alcohol
being consumed by Liverpool fans. This emphasis was to become the main observation of the police version of events of the day and was the opposite of fans recollections and subsequent forensic
As conditions worsened fans were increasingly distressed. Those on the inside were struggling to breathe
as the numbers swelled. Whilst on the outside the volume of those trying to enter at the Leppings lane end increased by the minute. An officer requested that the kick-off
be delayed in order to reassure the crowd that there was no urgency. The request was denied. An inspector asked that the exit gates be opened in order to relieve the pressure outside. Marshall was reluctant to take this course of action because it would allow uncontrolled access to the stadium.
Fans accounts of the scenes outside the Leppings lane area point almost universally to a lack of organisation and control. Trapped in a bottleneck, quite literally, they had nowhere to go except where the momentum of the crowd led them. The fear of fans caught in this situation outside can only be matched by those struggling to survive on the inside.
Eventually Marshall radioed through to Chief Superintendent Duckenfield
who was in overall command on the day (despite the fact that he had minimal experience of policing football
and absolutely no experience of such a big game) and requested that the exit gates be opened. Duckenfield hesitated (he would later give evidence stating that he 'froze
') but eventually gave the order: 'Open the gates'.
Once gate C had been opened police directed fans through the gate. The most obvious entrance to the terraces was through the tunnel opposite into pens 3 and 4. Evidence would later be given that in previous years police and/or stewards would stand at the entrance to the tunnel if these central pens had reached capacity and would direct fans to the side pens.
In 1989 however, no such direction took place as fans headed innocently into already overcrowded pens. It is quite incomprehensible that Duckenfield, failed to follow up the order to open gate C with instructions to allow for the swift increase in the volume of people entering that end of the ground. Indeed the reasoning capacity of Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield has to be seriously challenged when one considers his response to the situation in pens 3 and 4. Logic would inform the average person that the volume outside would be replicated inside once entrance was allowed and that therefore swift monitoring and control would be necessary if a catastrophe was to be averted.
however, does not seem to figure large in the consciousness of David Duckenfield. His response to seeing people spill out onto the perimeter track
from the crushing in the pens was to call for reinforcements
(including dog handlers
) as he thought there was a pitch invasion!
This response of Duckenfield is even more obscene
when it is realised that from his position in the control box he could clearly see the Leppings Lane end. Moreover, he had the advantage of CCTV
facilities. His later testimony that he was unaware that people were suffering and dying becomes totally unbelievable to those who have visited that control box
and know that it is possible see the colour of a person's eyes
in pens 3 and 4 such was the power of the zoom facilities on the cameras.
Inside the pens people were dead
. Faces were crushed
up against the perimeter fencing, the vomit
and blueness a clear sign of their condition. Fans were packed so tightly that many were dead standing up. Many still conscious
were trying to break down the fencing with their hands. Those who had managed to climb over the fencing or escape when a perimeter gate was briefly opened also struggled to free their fellow fans. This was the sight that met the 'reinforcements' that had responded to Duckenfields' call to stem the 'pitch invasion
Clearly aware of the gravity
of the situation many of these officers
began to assist in trying to get people out. It has to be stated at this point that this is in stark contrast to many of the police officers positioned initially at the perimeter fencing who ignored the obvious signs of distress and the screams for help even though they were literally an arms length from those dying. It also contrasts with the actions of those other officers who pushed fans back inside the pens when from which they had momentarily escaped when the perimeter gate opened. These actions more than anything else illustrate graphically the prevailing attitude to football supporters
by the police as an organisation
. The only rational explanation for the actions of these officers was, that deep within their psyche, police training
had conditioned them to view crowds in terms of crowd control
rather than crowd safety. Their actions during the Miners Strike
of 1984 and the Trafalgar Square Poll Tax demonstrations
support this view. They had also been conditioned to inextricably link football supporters and hooliganism. As we now know this 'conditioning' had the disastrous consequence of leading to the biggest sporting disaster in British history.
The pitch soon resembled a battleground
as bodies were laid out on the ground and the injured wandered around dazed and confused. Fans sought desperately to save lives. Apart from pleading with police to recognise the seriousness of the situation, they tore down advertising hoardings
to act as stretchers
and ferried fans to the far end of the pitch in the hope that they would receive treatment. Although ill - equipped to do so many fans attempted to resuscitate people themselves in the absence of professional medical assistance.
95 people died in the Hillsborough Disaster
Another victim, who had been in a persistent vegetative state
through injuries received, later increased that number to 96.
Of those who died, 89 were male
, 7 were female
In respect of age, the majority were under 30 years of age, and more than a third were under 20 years. The youngest to die was a boy of 10 years.
The cause of death was attributed to crush asphyxia
Most deaths occurred in pen 3, the remainder occurring in pen 4.
The majority of deaths occurred at the front of the pens.
730 people were injured inside the ground. 36 people sustained injuries outside the ground.
Thousands remain traumatised by the experience. Numerous suicides
can be attributed directly to Hillsborough.
The official cause of the Disaster was given as the failure of police control (see the Taylor Inquiry
Football games in general were organised in the context of crowd control at the expense of crowd safety. Football supporters were defined within the context of hooliganism
With specific reference to South Yorkshire Police
, it is obvious that they adhered to this framework and operated with a measure of complacency given that 1989 was a re-run of the semi-final of 1988.
However, many argue that Hillsborough was a Disaster waiting to happen. Also there were changes in 1989 - the senior police officer in overall command had very little experience of such an event. Also there was no process of filtering fans from outside the ground. Most importantly once gate C had been opened there was no attempt at directing fans away from the tunnel and to the side pens where there was still empty spaces. This situation when combined with the failure of the police to recognise and respond to the obvious visible signs of distress of the injured and dying, resulted in the 'Hillsborough Disaster'.