Hillsborough special: City players and fans remember

Twenty years ago today 96 people went to watch a football match - and did not come back.

Twenty years ago today 96 people went to watch a football match - and did not come back. On April 15, 1989 the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned after just six minutes when it became clear hundreds of people packed into the stand behind the goal were in trouble. The tragedy, and what followed, changed football forever. On the same day Norwich City took part in the other semi-final, a game they lost 1-0 to Everton. Today, Rob Garratt and Kim Briscoe spoke to City players and fans at Norwich's game about their memories of that sad day.

The players

Dale Gordon, City winger

“All the players were so excited going into the game, but afterwards the result didn't even matter. We didn't hear anything about it at half-time, it filtered through slowly after the game.

“The situation in the changing room was very, very quiet - football was the last thing on our minds. Not nice memories, not nice memories at all - 20 years on they're still there.

“Because of what happened there's more respect between supporters now, we come together as a sport and as a country over football.

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“They shouldn't bring back standing seats. If there's a group of people all pushing together there's an aggression, but when sitting there's a calmness. With seating, families can go along and have a nice time without worrying.

“Whenever I look at my FA Cup semi final shirt it doesn't give me very fond memories. 20 years today a lot of lives were lost and I will be keeping a minute's silence.”

Ian Butterworth, City captain and now assistant manager

“I was captain when we played against Everton at Villa Park because Micky Phelan missed the match with injury. It's one of the biggest games of your career, an FA Cup semi-final, and it was a big disappointment to lose.

“But then we couldn't believe the stories we were hearing from Hillsborough. At first there were reports that there was a little bit of trouble in the crowd, trouble behind one of the goals, then there was talk of people being carried away on advertising boards.

“When the details started to filter through it was just unbelievable. We were down because we were out of the FA Cup but, travelling back, it just put everything into perspective.

“To think that people went to see what should have been a joyous occasion and never returned home was horrific. Your hearts went out to people who had lost their loved ones and the people of Liverpool.

“Kenny Dalglish and his players did a tremendous job as ambassadors for the club in the aftermath of the disaster, but the things they saw and the stories they heard must have stayed with them ever since. I saw Alan Hansen interviewed a few days ago and you could see the grief on his face 20 years on.”

Bryan Gunn, City goalkeeper and now manager

“We started to hear about what had happened when we finished our match and went back to the changing rooms.

“The information we were getting through when we got off the pitch was very patchy as to what exactly had happened there were lots of different rumours and explanations, so we were confused as to what exactly had happened.

“On the bus on the way home form Birmingham we were listening to the radio and watching footage on the television of what had happened and it was heartbreaking to watch, there were a lot of tears shed.

“What had happened made losing the match just pale into insignificance, but for the luck of the draw it could have been Norwich City fans , it was absolutely tragic.”

Jeremy Goss, City sub

“I look back on that day with mixed emotions. It was unbelievable to be playing in the semi-finals, you wake up and think this is the reason you play football and hope you will be picked by the manager and I was lucky enough to be a sub.

“Then the game didn't go our way and there was a disappointment and I was disappointed I didn't get on. We got into the changing room and I remember it being very, very quiet and no one saying a word.

“But it was just a brief moment before information about the disaster came into the changing room and it was an instant change, the game just disappeared, there was a different kind of concern on people's faces. It was 'how many?' and 'did anyone die?'. Then everyone found out and it was devastating.

“The game didn't matter anymore - it was life and death.

“Football has changed because of that - The Taylor report came out and now it's all standing and there's more stewarding and security, it's all safety, safety, safety, it changed very quickly. We should be very proud of Carrow Road and the way we treat our fans.”

David Stringer, City manager 1989 to 1993

“We were playing Everton at Villa Park, but while we were playing we didn't know anything about what was happening at Hillsborough. The news hadn't filtered through to us.

“We were wrapped up in the game. We were very disappointed after losing the game, but when the news came in that paled into insignificance because of the seriousness of the tragedy.

“Some of the Everton fans at Villa Park had family members or friends who supported Liverpool and were at Hillsborough.

“Some of them may have heard what was going on at the other semi final on radios and some started to leave the game early. They were better informed than we were.

“When the news filtered through to the dressing room I was shocked such a disaster could happen in a modern day stadium, which were usually very strongly regulated.

“We didn't know the full story until the results of the inquiry, which was the start of people taking down the spectator pens and thankfully making stadiums much safer.”

The supporters

I was there

When 18-year-old Paul Williams swapped his seated ticket for a place on the ill-fated Leppings Lane terrace little did he realise it would put him right at the heart of the worst sporting disaster in British history.

Two decades on, Mr Williams, now 38, still vividly remembers the crush that killed 96 people and injured more than 700 during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium.

And today, the disaster will especially be at the forefront of his mind as he joins thousands at a memorial service on the Kop at Anfield.

It will be an emotional trip and the first time lifelong Liverpool fan Mr Williams, from Dereham, has attended a memorial service at Anfield since the first anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Looking back to April 15, 1989, he said: “I got into the stadium at 2.10pm for the 3pm kick-off. I was near the front of the terrace, near a crash barrier around kick-off time.

“It was already very busy and as kick-off came there was a surge down the terrace and that is when everybody started screaming, crying and vomiting.

“The crash barrier went and I was forced further down to the front. It went from being uncomfortable to unbearable. It was just a case of trying to get out.

“There was an old chap there and I tried my best to get him out of the front of the terrace but I do not know what happened to him.

“I got out of the front of the terrace onto the pitch through the safety gate which burst open. Everybody was ripping down the advertising hoardings and using them as stretchers.

“I was pitch-side for about five minutes but then the police shepherded us back into the next pen, which filled up rapidly, and people started lifting us out to the seating area above.

“I was 18 stone and I thought they were not going to be able to lift me, but they did.”

He added: “It was horrifying. You had to walk through the bodies - I felt so helpless, but you could not do anything. I saw a lad of about nine or ten being carried by his dad and he was dead.”

Physically, Mr Williams managed to escape the disaster with just a scratched chest and a ripped shirt, but emotionally the tragedy took its toll and left him unable to sleep because of the awful scenes of the deadly crush that would flash through his mind.

But Mr Williams, a power linesman who has a four-year-old daughter called Molly, said coping with the tragedy has become easier for him with time.

“It was still extremely raw the first year. It was still very emotional, but time fades memories to a certain extent but it is something you do not forget.

“It does not go away. I still remember completely every detail but rather than dwelling on that I prefer to think about when Liverpool won the Champions League in Istanbul.”

An estimated 40,000 fans, including Mr Williams, followed the team to the Turkish capital in 2005 for their first appearance in a European Cup Final for 20 years, and the defeat of AC Milan at the Ataturk Stadium has been dubbed the most incredible night in Liverpool's history. Having been 3-0 down at half-time, Liverpool mounted an amazing second-half comeback and won 3-2 on penalties.

Mr Williams said he especially finds inspiration from part of Liverpool's adopted anthem - Gerry and The Pacemakers' legendary song You'll Never Walk Alone - which says, “At the end of a storm, There's a golden sky, And the sweet silver song of a lark.”

He said: “It is how it has transformed, in my mind, from the horror of Hillsborough to the joy of Istanbul.”

But two decades on, the Hillsborough disaster continues to be controversial and highly sensitive, with many questions left unanswered about what happened on that fateful day, an issue that Mr Williams continues to find upsetting.

“It still shocks me that the full truth has not come out. There is no closure for the families,” said Mr Williams, who supports the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

Mr Williams, who watched Liverpool play Chelsea last night on TV, plans to lay some red flowers at the memorial dedicated to those who died in the Hillsborough disaster during his visit to Anfield for today's service.

Thousands of people are expected to attend the service, during which 96 candles will be lit and a representative from each family will be awarded the Freedom of Liverpool.

There will also be a two-minute silence at 3.06pm - exactly 20 years since the FA Cup semi-final was abandoned.

The bells of Liverpool's two cathedrals and civic buildings will also ring out in memory of the victims.

Mr Williams said: “It is the first time I have been back to a memorial there since the first anniversary.

“I have very mixed emotions and because Hillsborough has been in the press and on the TV more recently it seems more real again. It [going back to Liverpool] is something I felt I needed to do.”

Posters on Evening News' sister website the Pink 'Un have been sharing their memories of Hillsborough:

Hillsborough was probably one of the worst days of my life after the full enormity hit in when I got back from Villa Park.

If you cast your minds back to that semi-final day, there was little news filtering through to the fans at Villa Park of what was really unfolding. No (or very few) mobile phones in those days don't forget and TV sets in grounds were nothing like as common place as now.

The first sense that something was happening was a brief message flashed up on the scoreboard simply saying ....'Kick off delayed'. The natural assumption was fans delayed getting to the ground or a bit of crowd trouble. If my memory is true then even at half time I don't think most of us had a clue what was really happening. Then a bit later the message flashed up.....'game abandoned' and I knew something a bit serious was going down. Leaving the ground at the end of the match I seem to remember hearing some whispers that 'five people had died' or something like that. That was bad enough and we walked back to our car with some trepidation but still none of us in our party were remotely envisaging the horror that hit us when the car radio was switched on. 'Fifty dead'!

That news hit me like a hammer, we were all devastated and the journey home was simply awful. From the noisy, colourful, optimistic beginning to the day hoping that we would make history by getting to the FA Cup Final for the first time, the mood after 5pm or so was just one of unremitting sadness and the blackest of black clouds. Fifty lost lives was terrible, imagine the shock when I got home and there was Match of the Day just finishing (well, there was no 'match', simply a re-run and up to date news) with the latest death toll of over 90!

I remember sitting with my head in my hands that night and crying, I am not in the slightest bit embarrassed or ashamed to admit that.

Yellow Rider, Long Stratton.

My only memory of it is not a proud one - listening to the commentary from Villa Park on the radio with Norwich losing 1-0 to Everton in the other semi-final, and not being in the least bit interested as reports of an incident started to filter through from Hillsborough - the media not being nearly as widespread in their coverage as today. Thinking "stop talking about it, get back to the Norwich match"... and then as the full story began to emerge, it no longer seemed to matter that we'd lost an FA Cup semi-final. Well it did, I was gutted. But it was just a game of football and everyone got home safely.

I've just browsed online and seen pictures of the Hillborough pitch carpeted in flowers from end to end, every blade of grass hidden under bouquets and scarves. There's something about that image that is terribly sad. All-seater stadia may not be to everyone's taste, but if it prevents another high profile disaster like this from happening again then so be it.

Monkey Trousers.

About 20 minutes into the game an announcement was made over the tannoy to say that the Hillsborough match had been suspended due to crowd congestion. As far as I can recall that was the only announcement that was made throughout the entire afternoon.

This all happened long before the advent of mobiles, internet, etc, so it was not until we were queuing outside Witton train station that we all huddled around a transistor radio to hear Alan Green and various others tell us what had happened that terrible day. As we waited Everton fans drove past amidst much jeering and honking of horns and I can only hope that they too were unaware of events elsewhere.

Graham Last, Longthorpe, Peterborough.

I remember it well - I was not at Villa Park, but was obviously keeping a close eye on the semi-finals at home. Sickening is exactly the right word.

I think those who died at Hillsborough have been betrayed by what happened afterwards. The Taylor report was hijacked by clubs and the government who saw an opportunity to change the social class of people who went to football. There were obviously many causes of the disaster, but the fact that the stand was terracing was very low down the list. Lots of grounds needed modernising, but the change to all-seater stadiums and the associated huge increase in prices has changed the game fundamentally for the worse - it opened football up for an era where the TV fan is put before the fans who actually go to games, in other words, fans like the 96 who died.

I went to city's semi-final at Hillsborough against Sunderland, and the rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone by both sets of fans before the game was the most moving thing that has happened to me in a football ground. The disaster should be remembered, and any football fan who doesn't remember it should take the trouble to find out about it. I think that part of finding out about it is to refuse to accept the rewriting of history that says that all-seater stadiums had to happen as a result. It isn't true and I think it's an insult to the memory of those who died.

Walk on.

Robert N.LiM

Those who make jokes about Hillsboro need to remember one thing and one thing alone... that one ball earlier in the draw for the semi-final was Norwich City...

It could have been your son, your brother, or even you.....

Thank lady luck and fate it wasn't.

Jas the Barclay king.

Like many others I was at Villa Park for our semi and thought the troubles were hooligan linked - how wrong I was.

It was only when our game ended that the truth started to emerge Everton fans were asking the police for any information on the other match as many had family who were Reds fans, I saw some on the roadside sobbing as the enormity of the events became more evident .

The journey home to Norwich was the quietist I have ever had as we listened to 5live and the numbers of dead and injured seemed to grow with every mile we travelled.

I am not a Liverpool fan in any way but it would be a fitting tribute if they win the premier league this season.


The Evening News' City reporter David Cuffley attended Norwich's semi-final. Here's what he remembers about the day.

April 15, 1989, had been billed as one of the biggest days in Norwich City's history - but the whole occasion was totally overshadowed by national disaster.

The Canaries had reached the FA Cup semi-finals for only the second time and 19,000 fans travelled to Villa Park, Birmingham, for the tie against Everton in the hope that they would finally book their place at Wembley in the showpiece final.

It was the season when Dave Stringer's slick footballing side had made the rest sit up and take notice by topping Division One at Christmas and giving Arsenal and Liverpool a run for their money in the title chase.

The Holte End at Villa, bathed in sunshine, was thronged with thousands of inflatable canaries, the fashionable fan accessory of the day.

But the full horror unfolding 85 miles away in the other semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, Sheffield, was destined to cast an ugly black shadow over the whole weekend and over the national game.

First reports filtering through to the Villa Park press box suggested the game at Hillsborough had been held up by some kind of pitch invasion.

By half-time - with City trailing to what proved to be the only goal of the game from Everton winger Pat Nevin - it was clear things were much more serious in Sheffield and that there had been fatalities, though initially single figures were mentioned.

At full-time, Everton fans poured on to the pitch to celebrate their win, most of them unaware of the scale of the tragedy that had struck their Merseyside friends, neighbours and rivals.

The weekend had started tragically for Norwich when striker Robert Fleck's father died on the eve of the game and he rushed back to Glasgow to join his family.

Stringer, who had to break the bad news to his star player on the Friday night, then had another sombre duty to perform when he attended a very subdued post-match press conference with Everton boss Colin Harvey. The detail of the match did not warrant much conversation.

City had missed out on Wembley - but at least everyone came home safely.

The Liverpool player

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher has paid tribute to the families of the 96 Liverpool supporters who died at Hillsborough, with the Bootle-born defender claiming people unconnected to the Anfield club have “brushed under the carpet” the events of 20 years ago.

The Liverpool vice-captain was an 11-year-old Everton fan at the time of the disaster, watching his club's FA Cup semi-final against Norwich City at Villa Park while the tragedy unfolded in Sheffield. Carragher believes Hillsborough “changed the face of football” given the move to all-seater stadiums that followed the Taylor Report, and that the families' campaign to discover the truth of what happened on 15 April 1989 should not be ignored by today's football public.

“We are always aware of it but sometimes you think people outside the club seem to forget about Hillsborough and move on, it's as if it seems that a lot of it has been brushed under the carpet,” the Liverpool defender said.

“But people shouldn't, people are still fighting for it (the truth of what happened at Hillsborough) today. I think people just want to put it back out there so people realise what actually went on there, and to put yourself in their shoes, if you had any children, friends, or parents who went to the game and never came back, it's a frightening thought.”

Carragher, who will attend the traditional memorial service at Anfield tioday (wed) with the Liverpool squad and management, praised the victims' families, who were given the freedom of the City of Liverpool this year.

“They have conducted themselves superbly,” he added. “You put yourself in their shoes having children of my own. I don't know if I could have behaved myself as much as them as I know having a kid is your life. For people to send family and friends away to a game and for them to not return is a terrible thought. It terrifies you just thinking about it so what those people have gone through is unbelievable and the way they have behaved themselves is impeccable. And they're still fighting for things in the right way.”