Worthy haunted by Hillsborough

PUBLISHED: 14:31 11 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:21 14 September 2010

Nigel Worthington is facing an emotional trip back to Sheffield on Saturday - 17 years to the day that he sat in the stands and watched the Hillsborough disaster unfold in front of him.

City boss Nigel Worthington is facing an emotional trip back to Sheffield on Saturday - 17 years to the day that he sat in the stands and watched the Hillsborough disaster unfold in front of him.

“I was there that day,” said Worthington simply, with Saturday's Championship clash with Sheffield Wednesday due to kick-off 15 minutes late to allow the South Yorkshire club time to stage their annual Hillsborough memorial service - held every year at three o'clock on April 15.

“It's ironic that I'm going back there myself on the day of the anniversary,” said Worthington, as he vividly recalled the events of 1989 when the FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest ended in such unimaginable tragedy and the Leppings Lane End entered football folklore for all the wrong reasons.

It also relegated Norwich City's own FA Cup semi-final appearance that day against Everton to a tiny foot-note in football history.

“We were due to play a home that day, but because of the FA Cup semi-final being staged at Hillsborough, the game was postponed,” said Worthington, then in the midst of his ten-year Owls career.

“And there were a few of us Wednesday players there that day. And we were just sat there waiting for the start of the game and then you're just aware of people being carried acroos the pitch on advertising hoardings and stretchers.

“They were being taken off, through the gates and on to the gym where we used to train whenever the weather was poor.

“At that time, none of us had any idea that there had been any deaths. We just thought that maybe there'd been a little bit of rowdiness among the crowd or whatever.

“I got in my car to drive home at about four o'clock and it was only then that I heard on the radio that people had died; that even then they were only estimating that some 30 or 40 people had been killed.

“And that's when it really hit home; that's when you realised what a terrible, terrible experience you had been witnessing.”

In the event, the Hillsborough Disaster cost the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, a further 170 were injured. The subsequent Taylor Report into the disaster changed the face of English football grounds for ever. Out went the terraces; in came the seating.

For Worthington, events of that day also cast a long, dark shadow over Sheffield Wednesday; the gym that became the emergency morgue; the club stewards on duty at the Leppings Lane End who could never forget the scenes they had to witness; the reminders were constant and unforgiving.

“I have to say I think it affected the club deeply in lots of different ways,” said Worthington.

“For many weeks afterwards there would flowers, shirts and scarves laid at the gates of the club as a mark of respect.

“And for those people who were on duty on that particular day it was a very difficult place to work. You could never get away from the reminders of that day - and it was like that for a long, long time afterwards.

“And while I know that the financial situation that the club found itself was part of the relegation problems that followed, I still think that the Hillsborough disaster was the start of things. Players were brought in to try and put smiles back on peoples' faces and when, for whatever reason, that didn't work the club found itself slipping into a very sorry state.”

Come the 17th anniversary of one of the darkest days in English football history and Worthington will be going through the emotional mill.

“Any anniversary like this is going to be a sad occasion, but we've just got to make sure that we stay fully focussed on the game - right from the start at a quarter past three.”

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