Thursday 15 April 21Through watching Liverpool’s knock-out punch by Real Madrid last night I get up knowing that it’s 32 years ago today of that most shocking of days in Sheffield, at Hillsborough I place I enjoyed in my early days at Chelsea. It was famous stadiums then for holding the FA Cup semi-finals, as was where I was on the day this day when hearing over the tannoy just what had happened, although they didn’t know at all just the severity of it all.I was working for a newspaper at that time The Sunday Sport who rounded up a few former players and have them cover certain matches, while also working on the Sentinel newspaper in the Potteries as well as running a pub and night club. It all sounds very time consuming but ‘me being me’ I looked at it as something nobody else was doing, I enjoyed getting away from Stoke for the day with Terry Bate, occasionally, Geoff Chell and my son Allen. I’d somehow get four tickets and we’d stop along the way and have a pub lunch before matches all over the Midlands, but this was different from word “go” and I went this one alone, which was a strange feeling in itself, as our jaunts in a Saturday were quite memorable.
An FA Cup semi-final was somehow more popular than the final itself and more important, which is very much open to debate as I often think about asking myself ‘What is worse losing in a semi-final or the final itself?’It would be a great podcast with the right players taking part, and the different views would only be like a four chaps standing in a pub having such a discussion, though they wouldn’t know how you feel as a player experiencing both, which I did on three or four occasions. However, this day was far more serious, if serious is the word? Thankfully, unlike so many others in Sheffield, I was probably the best part of a hundred miles south of this most tragic of events but on my way to Villa Park for the Everton and Norwich City match had a strange feeling about the day ahead. The closer I got to this other famous venue the more difficult I saw it was going to be to get a regular parking spot at the stadium so I parked quite some way away and hurried through the crowds but it was when getting to Villa Park itself where this feeling came about as the Everton fans were enjoying their day in the sun and were singing the usual football song and as I walked through on the road watching the police on horse back antagonizing these supporters, or that was the way I saw it.
There is no smoke without fire?The only difference here was that a few minutes before half-time a voice came over the speakers to tell us that the other semi-final had been stopped because of crowd trouble. It was much more than that if only because the Everton and Liverpool link was there and we all know how families divide like being a Chelsea and Fulham or Aston Villa and Birmingham City supporter, just like on Merseyside. The eeriness seemed to drift around the stadium and into the dressing room, unbeknownst to the packed stadium, as the second half started more like a pre-season friendly than such a massive match, it was in fact, sedate. It was as if half the stadium was on the mobile phone and the longer the match went on the feeling of some kind of sadness drifted around the place. The singing from outside had stopped. The last thing I remember was right down in front of me Tony Cottee, a record signing from West Ham to Everton miscontrolled the ball and I can’t tell you what went through my mind, well I could but this is not the time for such vulgar words. Those words were for what was going on elsewhere along with so many prayers from Birmingham to Sheffield and afar. My mind went blank and it was the only time that such a big match meant nothing, although I weren’t to know just how much this was true until coming off the M6 turning and into my place of both work and pleasure – in fact, it was much later that night that it was still going on and on…There are not many times after a good day out that I fail to remember the afterwards. This was most certainly one of those!
There are not many matches I go to and forget the result. I was going to go into that Peter Rhoades-Brown story in Oxford but today is not one of those days, and to this day thirty-two years on, it’s still not. This was about fifteen years before my car ordeal and you already know what I went through with the police, and the repercussions here were a thousand times worse right up to this day and again, as they did last night on TV, reminded those lost loved ones of something they never needed reminding of. What come over the airwaves probably went a lot higher over the heads of millions of viewers, if only because of their age group. I know there are no words but as The Bee Gees sang so heartbreakingly: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? is both appropriate and hauntingly apt. A SUNNY SPRING DAY IN 1989 On a sunny spring afternoon in 1989, a crush developed at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield resulting in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans attending the club’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.It remains the UK’s worst sporting disaster. Since then, many families and survivors have led a 30-year campaign to discover how and why they died. Here are some of the key events.15 April 1989: Fans gather at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground amid a “carnival atmosphere”. The mood is described as “boisterous” but jovial. As kick-off approaches, a large crowd builds up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Following an urgent request to relieve the pressure, match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield gives the order to open an exit gate. Two thousand Liverpool fans enter via a tunnel on to already-packed terraces. A severe crush develops in the central pens and people are pulled out in a “human cascade”. Ninety-six men, women and children lose their lives with hundreds more injured. The oldest victim was 67, the youngest just 10 years old.April 1989: As the disaster unfolds, Chief Supt Duckenfield tells key people that a gate was “forced” by Liverpool fans, a claim reinforced in briefings to media sources. The lie goes around the world, in TV and radio news bulletins. Newspapers take up the story pointing the finger at “drunk and ticketless” supporters. The Sun prints its now infamous front page alleging Liverpool fans had “urinated on police officers” and “picked the pockets of the dead”.January 1990: A judicial inquiry is held into the tragedy. Lord Justice Taylor’s report concludes the failure to close off the tunnel was “a blunder of the first magnitude” and match commander David Duckenfield “failed to take effective control”. His final report recommends a move to all-seater stadia, which leads to a ban on standing at football matches, eventually imposed on all clubs in the top two divisions in 1994.August 1990: The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) rules out bringing criminal charges against Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council and stadium safety engineers Eastwoods. It is a blow for the families who had hoped someone would be held accountable.March 1991: The original inquests into the deaths prove hugely controversial. Coroner Dr Stefan Popper rules out any evidence relating to fans’ deaths beyond 3.15pm because, by this time, he said “the damage was done”. This is “strongly disputed” by bereaved families.November 1991: David Duckenfield is medically retired from South Yorkshire Police on full pension, two years after being suspended from duty. A police doctor diagnoses him with “severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder”.March 1993: The 96th victim of the Hillsborough disaster, Tony Bland, dies after being left severely brain damaged in the crush. After nearly four years in a persistent vegetative state, life support is removed after a legal battle. He was 18 at the time of the tragedy but 22 when he died.December 1996: Hillsborough, a controversial drama-documentary by acclaimed Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern, reveals new evidence claiming some of the 96 were still alive after 3.15pm. Researchers also track down Roger Houldsworth, the stadium’s video technician, who said it should have been “obvious” to police that the pens were “very, very full” when gate C was opened.February 2000: In a bid to hold someone criminally responsible for the deaths of the 96, the Hillsborough Families Support Group begins a private prosecution. David Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray are charged with manslaughter and misconduct in public office. The jury acquits Mr Murray and, after they fail to reach a verdict on Mr Duckenfield, the judge imposes a “stay of prosecution” saying he should not face a retrial.April 2009: At the 20th Hillsborough memorial event at Anfield, fans heckle the then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham demanding “justice for the 96”. Their anger prompts the MP, an Everton fan from Merseyside who is now mayor of Greater Manchester, to join calls for any information held by public bodies on Hillsborough to be made released. A 140,000-signature petition forces a Commons debate leading to the full disclosure of 300,000 documents.January 2010: The Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) is appointed to review previously unseen evidence.December 2011: Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie says he regrets the way his newspaper covered the Hillsborough disaster. “If I could revisit Hillsborough, certainly I’d do it in a different way.”September 2012: After sitting for two years, the HIP publishes a damning report into the tragedy. It is highly critical of the emergency response by a number of organisations and blames senior officers for opening exit gates without thinking about what would happen.December 2012: The High Court quashes the original inquest verdicts that had stood for more than 20 years. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge also orders new inquests after the HIP report said 41 of those who died might have been saved. Then home secretary Theresa May announces a new police inquiry into the disaster.April 2013: The families’ joy at the quashing of the original inquest verdicts is tempered by the death of campaigner Anne Williams from cancer at the age of 60. She never believed her son Kevin, and 94 others, were dead by 3.15pm on the day of the disaster and led calls to have verdicts overturned.March 2014: The new Hillsborough inquests open in Warrington and last for two years – the longest inquests in UK legal history.March 2015: After six days of questioning, David Duckenfield admits his failure to close a tunnel before opening gate C “was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 people”. Under pressure, he “froze” and failed to consider the consequences of admitting thousands of fans on to already-packed terraces, he told the jury.April 2016: Hillsborough Inquests conclude the 96 who died in the 1989 disaster were unlawfully killed. Jurors agree fans played no part in the deaths and instead blame police failures, stadium design faults, and a delayed response by the ambulance service. Families celebrate as they emerge from court.June 2017: The Crown Prosecution Service announces David Duckenfield is to be charged with manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 people. Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.June 2017: Five other men also face charges: Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell is charged with safety offences; former South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief inspector Sir Norman Bettison is charged with four counts of misconduct in public office; former SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf and former SYP officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster are charged with perverting the course of justice.June 2018: An order imposed in 2000 preventing Mr Duckenfield from being tried on charges relating to Hillsborough is lifted.August 2018: All charges against Sir Norman Bettison, who was accused of trying to blame Liverpool fans for the disaster, are dropped because of insufficient evidence.January 2019: The first Hillsborough trial begins at Preston Crown Court. Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans. Graham Mackrell denies two health and safety offences, one of which is later dropped due to lack of evidence.April 2019: The jury fails to return a verdict on the manslaughter charge against Mr Duckenfield. Prosecutors say they will seek a retrial. Jurors did find Mackrell guilty by majority on a health and safety charge relating to the adequate provision of turnstiles on the day.November 2019: After a six-week trial at Preston Crown Court, David Duckenfield is found not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.