Twenty-five years on, the Hillsborough stadium disaster still reverberates

In 1989, 96 fans were crushed to death in an English football tragedy, evoking waves of grief and fury that have not subsided

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 10:13pm


It would be remembered as the blackest day in British sport, but Saturday, April 15, 1989 began as a perfect day for a game of football.

Bright blue skies greeted fans of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest who had travelled to the industrial city of Sheffield in northern England for an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday.

Mingled with the anticipation was a sense of deja vu. The sides had met at the same ground at the same stage of the previous season's competition, Liverpool winning 2-1.

Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright.
Survivor Adrian Tempany

Despite bringing far more supporters to the game, Liverpool had been given the small Leppings Lane stand to the west of the stadium, with the larger Spion Kop behind the opposite goal taken over by Forest supporters who had journeyed to the ground from the south.

The terraces behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end were split into pens, and by half-past two pens three and four directly behind the goal were already heaving with supporters.

"Looking around, I could see that fans older and clearly more seasoned than me were getting edgy," Liverpool fan and survivor Adrian Tempany told The Observer newspaper.

Roadworks had held up some Liverpool fans en route to the game, and with kick-off fast approaching, thousands of supporters found themselves stuck outside the turnstiles, pressing to get in.

This created a bottleneck effect and when it became clear that fans were in danger of being hurt, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield made the fateful call to open gate C in the security wall and release the pressure on those blocked outside.

The fans poured into the ground, sweeping through the concourse that led to the terraces and straight into the already overcrowded pens behind the goal.

The result was catastrophic.

Penned in by the perimeter fencing at the front of the stand, tens of people in pens three and four were slowly and horrifically crushed to death.

"Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright," Tempany said.

"The only comfort I could find was that thousands of people who were still alive were now shouting for help, screaming, 'There are people dead in here!'"

One victim died seven days later, with the 96th and final casualty, Tony Bland, dying in March 1993 after never regaining consciousness.

Oblivious to the unfolding tragedy, police allowed the game to kick off as scheduled at three o'clock.

"Four minutes into the game I had a shot that hit the crossbar," remembered Liverpool striker Peter Beardsley. "Naturally, at the time I was disappointed. In hindsight, it was good that I didn't score, because people outside the ground heard the roar when I hit the bar and tried even harder to get into the terraces."

Very quickly, though, it became apparent that something had gone tragically wrong, as fans desperately sought to haul themselves over the perimeter fence or clamber into the tier above.

At six minutes past three the match was brought to a halt by the referee. Finally, police opened a gate in the perimeter fence and the pressure in the pens was eased.

Breathless fans spilled on to the grass and were soon ferrying their gravely injured counterparts across the pitch on makeshift stretchers fashioned from advertising hoardings.

Only one ambulance was allowed on to the pitch by the police, whose handling of the disaster is now the subject of two investigations amid evidence of a co-ordinated attempt to shift blame on to the fans.

The legacy of judge Peter Taylor's 1990 report into what happened at Hillsborough was the all-seater stadia that would one day make England the envy of the footballing world, but for those touched by the tragedy, there would be no consolation.