On the 15th April 1989, 96 Liverpool football fans went to watch their team play in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough Stadium,Sheffield.
They never came home
I had a pretty fast car at the time and I was making full use of it, hurtling down the M1 at well over the speed limit. My passenger Jimmy Hill, who could never be accused of having a nervous disposition, was less than complimentary about my driving. The problem was we had a deadline.
The day had begun quietly at the small Yorkshire hotel I had stayed in the night before. I breakfasted in the company of my BBC colleague John Motson, who was to commentate on the afternoon’s match. I was there to record the opening of that evening’s Match of the Day before the action began, at the end of which Jimmy would do his usual critique of the game, all nicely packaged and we would ease off home. As it turned out I would be fronting the only Match of the Day programme that would not include any sport.
Liverpool v Nottingham Forest, the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. The most infamous day in the history of English football and its tragedies had evolved before our eyes. I remember rubbing my hands in anticipation of the match we were about to see but then the fans at the Liverpool end started to spill on to the pitch. Nobody had a clue what was going on and no announcements were made until much later, by which time people had been injured and killed.
Afterwards, down on the pitch we saw first-hand evidence of the tragedy and heard from those who had just about escaped, some relieved, many bitter with anger at what they had just seen.
The decision had been made that we would have to get back to Television Centre in London as soon as possible to write and prepare a programme in which we would try to tell the story of that awful day as best we could. I fell into the office pretty exhausted by what I had seen and the breakneck drive and started to plonk away at the typewriter as producers updated me on the information coming in and who we could get to comment. From somewhere a black tie was produced for me and in due course we more or less fell on the air and did our best to be both factual and sympathetic.
We interviewed the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire police, the Football Association chief executive and chairman, representatives of both clubs, the secretary of Sheffield Wednesday, the Minister for Sport and many spectators who had witnessed the grisly events. At the end of it all, Jimmy gave a summing-up and, without endeavouring to administer blame there and then, gave a strong criticism of English football’s antiquated stadiums and lack of concern and information for the fans. All of which was to change.
I could never have believed then that a quarter of a century on another inquiry would be going on to try to get to the bottom of exactly why Hillsborough happened and where responsibility should lie for the disaster and the pain of the families of the injured and those who never came home from a game of football. I never slept a wink after the programme, images of what we had seen at close hand that afternoon were impossible to erase. The following morning I was at the airport for an early flight to Spain and a week’s break. People were asking me about the day and, I hope unusually for me, I was terse and uncommunicative. I would have left them with a rather unfavourable impression.
Not long afterwards, I was asked to do a broadcast, the like of which I had never done before: the commentary on the memorial service held at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. It involved an immense amount of homework.
This was a broadcast I wanted to get absolutely right. Prime Minister Thatcher headed the dignitaries and, of course, everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club was there. Kenny Dalglish, manager at the time, spoke from the pulpit with great dignity and a lone choirboy sang the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. After that the commentator did not speak for some time.
Hillsborough remembered in English football
96 empty seats are draped with Liverpool scarves
96 blue seats are replaced with white ones at the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough, each with a red rose placed on it.
A steward at QPR pays tribute with a black armband.
The names of the victims are displayed ahead of Stoke City's game against Newcastle.
Sunderland's Fabio Borini lays a floral wreath ahead of their match against Everton
How Hillsborough will be remembered
Tuesday April 15: The annual memorial service is at Anfield at 2.45pm. Goodison Park will also open to supporters where a giant screen will broadcast the service.
Monday April 21: The “Celebration of the 96” planned by the Hillsborough Family Support Group will take place at Anfield, including a match between former Liverpool and international stars. Tickets are £15 and £5.
Never heard of the Hillsborough disaster?
videos: Des Lynam Match of the Day report | ITV news coverage
readings: Wikipedia | How it happened
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