A point of view
This account is a personal one for me and is not meant to undermine any other view from others. Equally important, it is not intended to apportion blame to anybody connected with the events. This is a process that will continue in due course.
The aftermath of this occasion has affected my mental health and has led me to take the wrong decisions in my life, as I believe that due to the scars of trauma, I am only now learning how to overcome.
April 15th, 1989, was a day like any other spring day. Warm, sunny, filled with expectations from both sets of fans.
Dennis, Dad and I picked my mate up at his house. He appeared out of the door in his Celtic shirt and was as excited as a kid in a sweet shop. We set off to Sheffield and once mobile, the drive was smooth allowing us to arrive in good time. We headed to the pub where fellow supporters had gathered. The atmosphere was brilliant and more exciting than normal due to the nature of the event.
We arrived at the Leppings Lane end and surprisingly, it seemed a lot busier than normal. In addition to this, the stand-out moment was the one police horse and rider that I remember, controlling the massive crowd. We waited and queued with everyone else, however, something didn’t seem right. The crowd was boisterous but retrospectively, there was no movement for people accessing the turnstiles. Normally, this process would be relatively straightforward, but worryingly, the crowd had become incredibly condensed. The turnstiles accessing the ground were like the size of an archer’s peep-hole from a medieval castle, possibly why things were moving so slowly.
The pressure of crammed sardines was worsening and to our surprise, things became more relaxed. In light of this, the pressure of the ‘body next to body’ did lessen for a brief moment. As a matter of fact, a door had been opened at the side of the turnstiles and we were able to make our way into the stadium in an orderly manner which eased the pressure outside.
The Tunnel Wall…
However, on making our way into the foyer, the pitch became visible through a darkened tunnel with the amazing glow of green turf. We instinctively made our way towards it. The crowd was singing supportive sonnets to encourage the team to victory. Encouragingly, we shuffled past the tunnel entrance and were met by a wall of people, rooted in their positions. The movement slowed to where there was none at all. The sonnets turned to silence.
The remaining crowd at the turnstiles had made their way in and had been directed the same way. This was directed towards the tunnel where there seemed to be gridlock.
The swell was getting bigger and bigger and the pressure on the people at all areas of the crowd was increasing, pushed from pillar to post, swaying ‘too and fro’ with no control as this had been taken away from us due to the crowd build up. The game was about to start and we were all eager to see our heroes play.
A feeling of helplessness…
Time stopped for me shortly after Peter Beardsley hit the bar with his fierce shot. The act surged the crowd forward and then backward, like an ocean, ebbing and flowing continuously. The crowd’s chanting had become muffled, the smell of sweat and urine gradually became the norm as people were trapped inside the tunnel, unable to move unless directed to by the movements of the crowd. The heat had built up and the worry escalated. This wasn’t normal.
The excitement had been removed. The swearing had increased and the fear was real. We were dreadfully uncomfortable with the positions we had found ourselves in; by circumstance and not the choice. Edged forward, we felt as though we were walking towards the pens at the end of the tunnel but the ground seemed uneven in places, to the point where we were lifted off our feet. This was was a surreal and nervous experience; our feet could touch the ground but what could only be described as horror for me, was the feeling of clambering over what seemed to be a body.
Our feet tentatively moving forward and tossed backward where we would hold onto each other with fear. We did not succumb to the real possibility of falling over and being swamped by the slow feet that were uncontrollable all around us. My retrospective thoughts were for the people who had lost their footing that day, and the knowledge they had of not being able to protect themselves from the fate that awaited them. The horror and anguish that must have felt by their friends as they desperately tried to help. An image I cannot even bring myself to manifest.
The movement of the crowd turned us around so that we were facing the opposite way whilst carried forward towards the pitch. In addition, blood-curdling sounds of what seemed to bone breaking with cries of pain coming from exhausted mouths. Although managing to be turned around, we faced the tunnel exit and I am sure to this day that my friend was unaware of what I thought I had experienced.
He encouraged me to make our way towards the back of the goal where we would watch the game. Although the interest had gone for me by this time, something happened that I can only describe as an intervention. A voice so softly spoken, drowned out the rest of the noise around and said to me ‘go to your left’. No panic, no worries just a softly spoken voice.
I grabbed my friend and shouted ‘we need to go left, mate’.
We managed to move out of the way and just as we had done, the crowd surged forward. We later found out that Liverpool had hit the bar and nearly scored! This projected many people forward towards the front of the pen, where hundreds of people were suffering the life quashing reality of asphyxiation, literally ‘squashed to death’.
What I saw from escaping the crowd surge, was a man lying on the floor, grey t-shirt, blue jeans and white trainers with long, light brown hair (a sort of Status Quo look); he was dead. He had grey bile escaping from his mouth and the sense of helplessness was overwhelming. I tried to lift him, to wake him, pull him, I tried, I couldn’t. I failed. This guilt has lived we me to this day. I should have done more but I couldn’t. I should have helped others but I didn’t – a typical fight or flight response which still haunts me.
The Way Out…
The gates of the pens were closed. Moreover, this was so shocking as people were trapped and anyone could see this. It was not anything to do with hooliganism as some would believe. We reached the gate and let out the frustration and anger; ‘open the fucking gate, people are dying in here!’ After what seemed an age, the gates were opened and supporters made their way out of the pens. After getting out of the pens, we walked out and fell to the ground by the edge of the penalty box. Exhausted, shocked, distressed and angry.
In the midst of the confusion, a voice was heard in the distance of my mind. Recognisable, although it wouldn’t register until a man came up to me. On his arrival, he said, ‘mate, some fella is shouting you there’ pointing to the stands. It was dad. I walked over to him and tried to explain what I had witnessed.
This guilt has been in the back of my mind since the day passed. Conversely, I never knew who the man was who I tried to help, I guess I never will.
Although there is more to this story, I have my reasons for not disclosing it. Maybe I will write more on how it has all but controlled my life since then, but for now, this is a story that has many narratives. This one is mine.
My decision to talk about this ‘event’ from my perspective is to understand. Whatever haunts us, we as human beings, are able to deal with grief, loss, and guilt. We have to, as it allows us to move onward with our lives. Conversely, it is not the same for others; these feelings have been too much for some that they are sadly no longer here.
We can overcome.
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