April 15, 1989.
Nottingham Forest are about to play Liverpool in the semi-final of the FA Cup for the second year running. Liverpool have been unbeaten since New Years’ Day, and are on for the Double. Forest are bidding to win three cups in one season. It is expected to be one of the most important matches in Forest’s history. It turned into football’s darkest day.
The Hillsborough disaster was a national tragedy, but it wasn’t our fathers, siblings and children who died there. Nevertheless, there are thousands of people in Nottingham who had to stand and watch 96 people die. This is just a fraction of their story.
Phil Gilborn, Spion Kop end: Forest-Liverpool games were always special in the Clough era. We were the team that beat them in the League Cup final and knocked them out of Europe when they were at their peak. There was a proper rivalry going. They were the best two teams in the league at the time.
Mark Shardlow, commentator, BBC Radio Nottingham: The semi-final was set to be the match of the season: Forest’s match of the season, for sure. It was the great forgotten Clough team, the team he rebuilt – the next generation.
David Revuelta, South stand: The week before we’d won the League Cup final. Forest were really turning it on, playing some real exhibition football. I remember travelling back on an absolute high, thinking that it gets no better than this.
As with the previous year’s game, Liverpool supporters have been allocated the smaller Leppings Lane end, while Forest took the more spacious Spion Kop end, meaning that Liverpool – a club with nearly double Forest’s average attendance – received 6,000 tickets less than Forest.
Martin Goddard, South stand: The ticket allocation was a purely geographical thing. The police thought it would be better if the Liverpool fans had the north side of the ground – Leppings Lane – while Forest had the south – the Spion Kop.
Ed Collin, South stand: I was at the last year of primary school, talking with my mates about how we were going to go, and queuing up at the City Ground on a Sunday morning. We got seats for the stand next to the Liverpool end.
Stephen Lowe, South stand: I was working with the director Alan Dossor at the time, and we’d regularly go as many away games as we could, but we had massive difficulty getting tickets. It wasn’t until the morning of the game that we got tickets, from someone in Brownes. So three of us got the train up.
Noon. Liverpool supporters travelling by car, are held up by unannounced roadworks on the M62.
Mark Shardlow: I’d spent the night in Leeds the night before, so I was travelling with the Liverpool fans. It was a typical pre-match atmosphere; a lot of people out enjoying themselves, and a high-profile police presence. Nothing out of the ordinary for the time; we were still in the hooliganism era.
Martin Goddard: I remember driving up, on a beautiful sunny day, thinking this was it; the missing piece in Cloughie’s trophy cabinet was about to be filled.
Phil Gilborn: Drove up, had a drink, ran into a few Liverpool fans, had a bit of banter. Nothing more than gentle piss-taking. Liverpool and Forest games always had a bit of an edge between them. There’d been a few incidents in the past. But nothing happened the year before, and you didn’t really expect anything this year.
Ed Collin: I went up on the early train with my mate and his dad and granddad, feeling nervous about the game and being so close to the Liverpool supporters.
Mark Shardlow: There was a general opinion between Forest fans – football fans in general – that Liverpool fans’ involvement in the Heysel disaster and the subsequent ban of English clubs in Europe meant that they had missed out on a few European years.
David Revuelta: We got in quite early – around half one – and straight away you could see the centre pens were jam-packed, while the side pens weren’t. You could actually see the terracing, which was strange.
2.30pm. There is a considerable build-up of Liverpool fans outside the entrance to the Leppings Lane stand. Meanwhile, in the tunnel leading from the entrance to the terracing, people are being turned away from the two already full central pens whilst not being diverted to the side pens, creating a bottleneck.
Ed Collin: We got to our seats in good time, and found ourselves right on the 18-yard line, thinking, bloody hell – these guys are the enemy, and they’re close.
Stephen Lowe: The train was late; we got there just before kick-off. It was chaos. We got separated very quickly, and a steward sent me around the corner. I found myself in the Leppings Lane end, surrounded by police horses. Beyond them, I could see God knows how many Liverpool supporters waving tickets. And then one of the stewards, not looking at my ticket, waved me towards the tunnel. I could already see lots of people in there.
Martin Goddard: From the stand, it was very obvious that there was a bunching of fans behind the goal at the Liverpool end, and people were being pulled up to the top tier. The general reaction was ‘typical Scousers, at it again’.
Stephen Lowe: I turned to a young copper, showed him my ticket, and said “I think I’m the wrong place”. He – immediately, bless him – pushed me underneath one of the horses.
2.55pm: the police, fearing a crush outside the ground, order the exit gates to be opened, while people are still trying to leave the tunnel.
Stephen Lowe: At that moment, all the horses were pulled back to the side, and the Liverpool support ran towards me in a massive wave. I managed to scramble over the barrier, and watched this…wave…go up the tunnel.
3pm: The game kicks off without delay, causing another surge into the centre pens.
Martin Goddard: Both teams were really going at it. But it was hard to drag your attention from the Liverpool end. You could tell that something wasn’t right.
Phil Gilborn: The first indication we got was when Peter Beardsley took a corner, stopped, and started looking around. And then they started coming over the fence.
Radio Nottingham commentary: “There’s been just a little bit of a disturbance at Hillsborough…the Liverpool fans are just packed too tightly in the Leppings Lane end, and there’s about two or three hundred of them who have just spilled onto the pitch – some clutching their legs as if they’ve been bruised…there’s just no room...”
Mark Shardlow: Packed terraces weren’t uncommon in those days, but it was never anything I’d ever mentioned in a previous game. Several times before the police stopped the game, we were talking about too many people in that end.
Stephen Lowe: I got to my seat at four minutes past, and I could see people climbing over the fence. And of course, the initial reaction was that there were disrupting the game.
Ed Collin: Someone shouted “Fucking hell, they’re invading the pitch!” They were pouring over the fence and into the goalmouth. A load of lads in t-shirts running about all over the place, and us assuming that they’re rioting.
3.04pm: Peter Beardsley hits the crossbar for Liverpool.
David Revuelta: And that was it. There was the inevitable crowd surge, more people started spilling onto the pitch, and you thought “here we go”.
3.06pm: A policeman runs onto the pitch and consults the referee.
Radio Nottingham commentary: “Something quite sensational…the fans don’t agree with the referee… quite astonishingly, the teams have come off the pitch…is that in the interest of safety?”
David Revuelta: The ref blew the whistle, and we just thought; “Bloody hell”. Absolute resentment towards the Liverpool end.
Ed Collin: Liverpool fans were pouring over the fence, like a tsunami. I can still see the faces of kids pushed up against the bars.
Mark Shardlow: When you see a police officer on the pitch to stop a game, you’re aware that something has gone seriously wrong. And then, from about six minutes past three, we’re describing people being lifted from the terracing onto the pitch.
3.10pm. Radio Nottingham commentary: “There’s one spectator running across the pitch…while many of his Liverpool fellows are down being treated in the goal area…TV cameras and press photographers taking pictures…and still, Liverpool supporters are trying to get away from that area…about 300 policemen…people being stretchered away…and while this is going on, one stupid man is making a complete ass of himself and is being taken off the pitch by the police…and there are 52,000 people cheering the police”
Phil Gilborn: The Kop end didn’t realise what was happening at all, so we started chanting and singing; generally “Ah, come on, get on wi’ it”. The Liverpool fans thought we were taking the mick.
Martin Goddard: Rumours were flying around that Liverpool fans had got arrived late and charged the gates without tickets. The police seemed to be paralysed. We were expecting the Liverpool fans to charge us.
Mark Shardlow: People are ripping down the advertising hoardings to use as makeshift stretchers, and cutting the netting off the goals. And I find myself talking about people being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the pitch. Realising that we’re now talking about a major incident.
Stephen Lowe: And then the stewards moved in very quietly, and turned to face us and said; “Don’t move”. A lot of us asked “Can we do anything to help?” But we were just told no, it was OK, everything was in hand. There was very little activity. It was incredibly slow. There were very few police there, the players were still wandering around. And it seemed to last forever.
Ed Collin: Some Liverpool fans came over to the stand and tell us that the police had fucked up, and pushed too many people through.
Phil Gilborn: There was one lad with a bald head and no top on being carried from their end of the pitch to ours. And then more of them came over. We were dumbstruck.
David Revuelta: The first people over the top still standing – the first survivors, if you will – were lined up by the police against the wall. And they had to be moved for their own protection. Forest supporters, not comprehending what had happened, were giving them some really vile abuse.
Mark Shardlow: I wouldn’t know what the Forest supporters were thinking. Remember, this is before mobile phones, so they would have been in the dark if they didn’t have a radio. I suspect a lot of Forest fans of a certain age would be thinking about 1974, when Newcastle fans invaded the pitch and stopped an FA Cup game that Forest were winning.
Stephen Lowe: Everything suddenly seemed to go into slow motion, where nothing seemed to happen. And then people were being laid out in front of us on the grass. And then a young Liverpudlian lad came along us on the front and said; “They’re dead. They’re dead. Dead people here.”
David Revuelta: Some Liverpool fans charged the Forest end, and you thought it was going to end in a riot. It was purely down to the Forest fans not being informed of the severity of the situation. The actual Bobbies on the ground did a fantastic job to stop it, but there was some absolutely crass police work at the top end. The sheer lack of communication by the police was the cause of Forest fans not appreciating how bad things were, and Liverpool fans getting nasty.
Martin Goddard: And then a single, solitary ambulance trundled onto the pitch. And we’re sitting there, almost as if it were a film. Thinking; this can’t be real. But we still thought the game would restart.
3.16pm. The only medical staff immediately at the scene are a St John’s ambulance crew, which cost the club £42 for the day. Forty four ambulances have been called to Hillsborough. Only one is allowed in by the police. It has to turn back due to the overwhelming amount of people who need help.
Mark Shardlow: We still didn’t realise the severity of the situation; the assumption between the broadcasting team was ‘this is serious, there’s going to be a lot of injuries, and the game might be called off’. And of course, Mansfield and Notts County were playing, and we had to break off from time to time to update on that. How trivial does that sound now? But as time went on, football became less and less important.
Ed Collin: I can see people on stretchers who are obviously dead. I can see people on the pitch who are a weird colour. I can see Liverpool fans who are very, very agitated. But I’m 11 at the time. It doesn’t really sink in.
David Revuelta: Some of the Forest fans – even though it was obvious by then it was a serious incident – were mocking and taunting the Liverpool fans. A lot of hand gestures. Which led to Liverpool supporters coming over. One of them grabbed a Forest supporter by the lapels and threatened to kill him. It did calm down a lot later, but even when it was absolutely clear that this was a disaster, there were a handful of people who were still smirking and gesturing. And I’ll never comprehend that for as long as I’ll live. I can still see their faces. At one point it looked as if Forest fans were going to turn on each other.
Mark Shardlow: I could see people who were really stricken and people who were clearly seriously injured, but I never thought ‘there’s a dead body there’ while I was on air. And I’m constantly stressing “This is not the Forest end, this is not football hooliganism, something has happened here and it’s serious, but it’s not football hooliganism”.
David Revuelta: I got talking to a Liverpool fan and asked what was going on. “It’s bad. It’s really bad”, he said. I said; “Is there any chance that the game’s going to be restarted?” and he just looked at me as if I was a total madman. It was thirty minutes in, there had been no announcements whatsoever, and we had no idea. He went back to his mate and pointed at me, and I felt so terrible. But we didn’t know.
3.30pm: The first tannoy announcement is made, asking fans to clear the pitch.
Mark Shardlow: …and our reaction was; where are they going to go? Back into the terrace? Nobody had thought to inform the fans of the situation, and it was clearly – clearly - obvious by then that the game wasn’t going to happen.
Stephen Lowe: The main thing I can remember is the silence. The conversation up the stand was like the quietest Chinese whisper.
Phil Gilborn: Eventually, Dalglish and Clough came out. They just ended up standing there, as confused as everyone else.
Ian Storey-Moore, BBC Radio Nottingham: “We’ve had a bit of a nasty situation in the press box. There’s a Merseyside reporter next to us, and national reporters behind him…he’s trying to stress that there’s been no problems with the Liverpool supporters, but he’s being goaded a bit by the national press”
Mark Shardlow: Round about four o’clock, when Kenny Dalglish made an announcement to the Liverpool fans, people started to realise that it was really serious, and surreal. The sound of sirens all around. A fire engine on the pitch.
4.11pm: The first announcements of fatalities are made. Eight reported dead. The gym to the side of the stadium has been converted to a makeshift mortuary.
Martin Goddard: There was very little communication, apart from a few people screaming abuse at the authorities. As we left, Graham Kelly – the Secretary of the Football League – was being interviewed, and fans of both teams were shouting “You greedy bastard, this is your fault”.
Phil Gilborn: Even when the game was called off, you still couldn’t take it in. A lot of people just stayed there, staring at the pitch. You couldn’t believe what you’d seen with your own eyes.
4.15pm: the match is finally abandoned.
Stephen Lowe: We were told to get on any train going. We thought at the time that there must have been eight deaths. Maybe ten – the ones we had seen on the pitch.
Martin Goddard: We walked back to the car, in silence, past queues and queues of people for the phoneboxes, and thinking that there’d been a few fatalities – which was bad enough.
David Revuelta: We’d left the car at my uncle in Sheffield, so we got the bus from the stadium. When we got there, they said “God, have you heard about all the deaths?” and we said “No”. They said “Well, it looks like dozens – nearly thirty”. And then we watched the news, and it just kept going up.
Mark Shardlow: By the end of the programme, at six o’clock, we had announced thirty casualties. There was a press conference to attend at the police station, we did a few interviews for the next morning, and I spent the journey back in a state of shock. Driving home, in total silence, seeing images, and just wanting to be home.
Martin Goddard: We heard on Grandstand that the death toll was fifty two people. Which was like a hammer blow.
Stephen Lowe: On the train, everyone with radios was trying to work out what had happened. It must have been weird for people passing through Sheffield to suddenly see all these people in red shirts getting on in shock, looking as if they’d just walked out of a nightmare.
David Revuelta: The journey back was horrendous. Like being in a never-ending funeral procession. No scarves and flags hanging out the window. We drove home, with the radio on, in silence. And the death toll was going up, and up, and up. Sixty. Seventy. It wouldn’t stop.
Ed Collin: The train journey home was extremely sombre. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, we’ve been part of something horrible, oh my God, it could have been us. Oh my God, all those people have died. Oh my God, we’ve got to play them again”
Stephen Lowe: My wife was acting at Derby Playhouse, so we got off at Chesterfield and stood outside the station manager’s office, listening to his radio. And the count went up. Eighty six…eighty eight…ninety… it wasn’t until I got to the Playhouse that it hit me. When I re-emerged into the real world – who, of course, knew far more about the situation then we did.
Martin Goddard: We met up with friends for drinks afterwards, and it seemed the whole city was absolutely stunned. It sounds callous now, but there was a craving to do something normal.
David Revuelta: When I got home, I had a pint and read the Football Post. And I was absolutely appalled by the report – it completely discredited the Liverpool fans and was completely devoid of sympathy. There was a basic implication in my mind that they were saying the Liverpool fans basically brought it on themselves. I was so angry that I actually wrote to the reporter and said; do you realise that you would killed if this was reported in Liverpool?
Mark Shardlow: As soon as I got home, I had to go out. I didn’t want to, but it was my wife’s works outing, and all I can remember is sitting in a pub, not talking to anyone, looking into the distance. Everyone wanted to know what it was like, but I couldn’t speak. I just wanted to be at home, on my own.
Phil Gilborn: All I wanted to do was to get drunk and try to forget what I’d seen.
By the end of the day, 94 people had died and 766 were injured. The 95th died four days later. The FA rescheduled the game for May 7th.
Mark Shardlow: I can’t even remember the replay. I can’t even remember if I was there, but then I think; why wouldn’t I be there? I remember the memorial service at St Mary’s church, and being at the City Ground when they set up all the counselling, but I can’t remember the replay.
Ed Collin: We were really considering going up to Old Trafford for the replay, even though my Mum really didn’t want me to go. But it was on a school night, so it wasn’t going to happen. Yes, I was apprehensive about going back, but I knew there wouldn’t be a repeat. I was upset about it, but it didn’t disturb me. It didn’t make me think football was a bad thing.
David Revuelta: There shouldn’t have been a replay. The FA Cup had become an empty trophy. Forest were at Wembley a few weeks later for the Simod Cup Final, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. I’d totally lost my appetite for football.
Stephen Lowe: I remember going to the replay. I don’t remember anything about it but the fact that we lost. How weird. And I’ve never been able to face an away game since.
David Revuelta: The first day back at work, my boss – a Forest fanatic - asked me about what I’d seen, and he said “They deserved all they got. They don’t like it when it happens to them.” I lost all respect for him.
In 1995, Brian Clough’s autobiography was published. In it, he stated that the drunkenness of certain Liverpool supporters were to blame. He apologised in full in 2001.
Stephen Lowe, Playwright, Old Big 'Ead: The Spirit Of The Man: I wish he hadn’t said it. And I think at the end of the day, he wished he hadn’t said it. What had happened was much more complex than that. Liverpool fans find it very difficult to accept what he said. I know that when we toured Old Big ‘Ead, the Liverpool theatres we approached were extremely quick to refuse to take it.
The final death toll for the Hillsborough disaster was 96. The Taylor Report deduced that a failure of command amongst senior police officers was the main reason for the disaster, and recommended the removal of fences and a move to all-seater stadia.
Stephen Lowe: Looking back, there was no-one there checking the tickets. Once the police moved out of the way, a vast number understandably poured in to catch the start of the game. Obviously, they should not have started the game with so many people waiting to get in. The police decision was a tragic one, but I can understand it. I suspect from where I was standing, they couldn’t have guessed how deep and entrenched the tunnel was. And you look back now and think of the fences, it was a tragedy waiting to happen
Phil Gilborn: There were many times at Forest games where you’d find yourself right up against the fences. It was part of going to football, and you’d laugh about it afterwards. After Hillsborough, you’d think about moments like that, and you thought; that could have happened to us.
Mark Shardlow: My take on it is that football supporters as a whole had to take some responsibility for Hillsborough. It wasn’t pleasant to watch football in the 80s, and the fences went up because of the behaviour of certain people. The police have been implicated because they made tragic decisions, but they had a mindset about football hooligans, which was promoted by the government. You can blame certain Liverpool supporters for drunkenness, but you can go to Forest now and see drunk fans, because that’s part of the culture of football. And I’m sure the police had their reasons, but surely Liverpool should have got the bigger end. Rather than putting blame on one element, we should all take a bit of responsibility.
Ed Collin: Looking back on it, it feels part of a different era. It’s really important that people remember Hillsborough, and the fact that 96 people died just because they wanted to see a game of football.
Martin Goddard: It obviously doesn’t count for anything, but you have to wonder what would have happened to Forest. If they’d beaten Liverpool, they probably would have won the FA Cup and Clough would probably have retired earlier. Who knows? But then you can’t help but think of the gentleman who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, and what they would be doing now – growing up, having kids, enjoying life. What a waste.