Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Twenty years ago to the day...

We'd been to the Old Tigers Head for a few pints before the game and had returned to my flat in Lee Green with cold cans from the 'offey.' Half a dozen of us to watch the F A Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Forest at Hillsborough. It was five minutes into the game before you began to notice the jam in the Leppings Lane and the commentators start referring to "crowd trouble."

We were all familiar with the old end, it's rickety terracing and crush barriers with the large concourse behind it underneath the stand above. Wednesday fans would often come down from the seats above and try to pick a fight in the toilets with visiting fans at half-time. Surely not today with the whole end packed with visiting Liverpool fans? Within a couple of minutes a policeman ran onto the pitch and the referee halted the game taking the players off. The cameras then settled on the Leppings Lane and the enormous crush of fans that was by now plainly visible. The first fans to be helped up off the terracing into the seats above by fans leaning over the balcony was the first indicator to us that the situation was desperate although we were all still joking at that point about Scousers doing anything to get a seat or to avoid paying for one. We had seen them do it at Wembley, jumping and swinging dangerous distances to enter the ground without paying.

It was only when steel mesh fencing at the front of the stadium was finally opened and the first supporters were seen being carried around the pitch on advertising hoardings by shocked and startled looking other supporters that we began to look even more closely at the pictures and began to suggest that "someone might die under all that." The footage from the rest of the day lives strong in the memory and the picture of rows of bodies lined up under the main stand with coats over their faces said everything. The fact that 96 people died and yet only 14 of them were ever taken to hospital also told you of the scale of the problem on that terracing and the failure of the emergency services to be able to respond effectively to it.

The demand for a full public enquiry has been loud and constant on Merseyside where the senior police officers in charge on the day are seen as the prime culprits for giving the order to open a gate to the Leppings Lane that let 2000 ticket less fans join the existing crush on the terrace that was just not sustainable. Perhaps with a general election a year away and this being the twentieth anniversary, an opportunist Labour government will finally concede and order the enquiry to confirm what was pretty obvious.

In the meantime, Liverpool Football Club marked the occasions last night with one of the most amazing games of football I have ever seen. At 3-1 down from the home leg they were 10-1 to get through which reflected the betting nations view of the outcome, but no-one can have predicted Liverpool drawing level on aggregate and leading twice before the finish. There's only one game a I can never forget which bettered this one as a roller-coaster. Even in defeat, you've got to love Liverpool in Europe.

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