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 they attract"

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.

Tickets 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.

Fans 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.

Superintendent 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 evidence.

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.

Logic 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 with zoom 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 and dying. 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 and Hillsborough, 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'.
A couple of notes on this:

Justice for the 96.


Before Jimmy McGovern wrote the docu-drama Hillsborough, he tackled the disaster in To Be A Somebody, the fourth episode of Cracker.

Albie Kinsella (Robert Carlyle) is at his father's funeral. This death compounded by Albie's marriage breakdown triggers some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. When an Asian newsagent refuses him 4p credit, Albie snaps and returns to murder him. Initially shocked by his actions, Albie tries to justify this needless killing with a twisted logic; a logic which threatens an entire community, rationalising it as revenge for the ninety-six people that died at Hillsborough, a tragedy that Albie indirectly blames for the death of his father. One down and another ninety-five victims to go, Albie sets his sights on a freelance reporter, known to have worked with The Sun.

Meanwhile, convinced that this murder bears all the hallmarks of a racist attack, the police centre their investigation around known local facist sympathisers. However, when all leads prove fruitless, and another psychologist's profile is undermined, Fitz's expertise is required. Fitz has to unlock the force that drives Albie to commit murder, a philosophy that has no reason and is potentially explosive.

Originally broadcast in the UK as three parts shown weekly from 10th October 1994 on ITV. Available on video distributed by VCI. Running length: 148mins.

Rates (at least by me) as probably one of the best moments of television acting, direction and screenwriting in the nineties. All ten of the Cracker episodes were fantastic but it is widely regarded (ie. not just by me) that To Be A Somebody is the best of the lot by a long throw.


Fitz: Robbie Coltrane
Judith Fitzgerald: Barbara Flynn
D.S. Jane Penhaligan: Geraldine Somerville
D.S. Jimmy Beck: Lorcan Cranitch
D.C.I. Wise: Ricky Tomlinson
Albie: Robert Carlyle

Written by: Jimmy McGovern - Produced by: Paul Abbott
Executive Producer: Sally Head - Directed by: Julian Jarrold

© Granada Television MCMXCIV

As mentioned previously, The Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster was both extremely inaccurate and damaging for the newspaper. By all accounts it was entirely the doing of editor Kelvin McKenzie, the man who coined 'Gotcha' to celebrate the deaths of 368 Argentine sailors during the Falklands War.

The edition in question is that of Wednesday, April the 19th, 1989. The banner headline was 'THE TRUTH', beneath which were the bulleted points, none of which were actually true:
'Some fans picked pockets of victims'
'Some fans urinated on the brave cops'
'Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life'

The Labour Party's 1983 manifesto was described as the 'longest suicide note in history'; that issue of The Sun was the most garish suicide note in history, and ensured circulatory oblivion in the Merseyside area. My mum is from Liverpool; we used to get the Sun. And then we did not.

It's often forgotten that the Daily Star ran the equally offensive headline 'Dead fans robbed by drunk thugs', and that the general tone of media coverage was initially directed against the fans themselves. The only official information at the time of the disaster came from the South Yorkshire police, and they were hardly unbiased, as covered in much greater detail above.

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