The players recall the horrors of Hillsborough


Soccer: Here are the reflections of some of those present and the manner in which England‘s worst football tragedy affected them.

PETER BEARDSLEY, LIVERPOOL FORWARD:“The game started and after four or five minutes we won a corner. The ball came to me and I rattled in a shot which clipped the top of the bar and went over. It was a reasonable chance and I was disappointed to have missed it.

Better luck next time. The game went on for barely another minute when suddenly I saw the referee Ray Lewis tap Ronnie Whelan and say, ‘Come on, we’re going off’. I turned around to look back behind our goal to witness scenes of chaos with spectators climbing over the fence and into the upper areas of the stand and spilling over on to the pitch.

The players trotted off down the tunnel, thinking at the time that whatever problems there were, they would all be sorted out very quickly and we would be back on.”

ALAN HANSEN, LIVERPOOL DEFENDER:“The first I knew of the trouble was when two fans came on to the pitch. As they ran past me, I told them, ‘Get off — you’ll get us into trouble’. “One of them shouted, ‘There are people dying back there, Al’.

“I could see some people trying to get over the terrace fence but, because I was concentrating so much on the game, his comment did not really register with me. Much as I hate to admit it, my reaction was one of cynicism. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, yeah’?

“The next moment, the referee had stopped the game and the two teams were being taken back to the dressing rooms. The scene in the dressing room was little different from what I had experienced at Heysel, in as much as nobody knew the extent of what was happening outside. There was just too much confusion about the situation for any of the players to address themselves to it.

"Professional footballers are conditioned to concentrate on a game, shutting out all distractions, and it can take time to step out of match mode. At Hillsborough, we were all aware that something terrible was happening on the terraces, but with the adrenalin pumping we were still half thinking of the jobs we had to do.

"Up to when we were told that the game had been abandoned, I found it difficult to stop thinking that we would be brought back on to the field and that I needed to be tuned in mentally to the game.”

JOHN BARNES, LIVERPOOL WINGER: “People wept all the way home. All the wives were crying. I was crying. Kenny was crying. Bruce said he was considering quitting. Although I never thought about giving up football despite being filled with guilt afterwards, I understood what Bruce meant. Those Liverpool fans went to Hillsborough to watch us and there we were, stepping on to a luxury coach to go home, and they were being laid out in a temporary morgue.

“As we travelled back across the Pennines, their mums and dads were making the reverse journey to come and identify their children’s bodies. Guilt swirled around my head. Had I been out on the pitch, and not back in the dressing-room, I would have helped. I know I would have done.”

STUART PEARCE, NOTTINGHAM FOREST CAPTAIN:“I think the catastrophe did not register with me until we went to Anfield the following day, and walked across the pitch to the countless flowers that were being put down at the Kop end. Those floral tributes remain my most vivid memory of Hillsborough. It was Hillsborough that brought home to me the effect that football can have on people’s lives.”

KENNY DALGLISH, LIVERPOOL MANAGER:“I don’t know how many funerals I went to. Marina and I went to four in one day. We got a police escort between them. All the funerals were harrowing. All those families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Most of the church services finished with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I couldn’t sing through any of the songs or hymns. I was too choked up. The words would never come out. I just stood there in a daze, still trying to come to terms with what had befallen the club and the people I so admired.

“The last funeral I went to was as harrowing as the first. I didn’t get used to the grieving. Every funeral devastated me, as another family bade farewell to somebody they loved and shared life with.”

IAN RUSH, LIVERPOOL SUBSTITUTE:“If such horror can ever produce a hero, that man has to be Kenny Dalglish. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that he took the grief of 50,000 people on his shoulders. He took responsibility for organising everything the club could do to help people through the ordeal.

“He accepted all the pressures of the world’s media, to keep it from the players. He attended virtually every sad event, after spending countless hours every day at the ground, meeting bereaved families and even having to comfort some of the players, who had become close to breaking point amid all the despair around them.”

JOHN ALDRIDGE, LIVERPOOL STRIKER:“If I hadn’t become a footballer it is almost certain I would have been in the middle of the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough on Saturday, 15 April 1989. In the days when I was a fan I would never have considered missing an FA Cup semi-final involving Liverpool so I have to assume I would have travelled with everyone else to Sheffield for the game against Nottingham Forest.

“But fate decreed that John Aldridge be elsewhere that day. I was not on the Leppings Lane terrace, I was on the Hillsborough playing field, oblivious to what was going on among the Liverpool contingent. When the full extent of the disaster that eventually claimed the lives of 96 people unfolded, my emotions were of great sadness for the victims whose only mistake was choosing the wrong day to watch a football match; a football match in which I was playing.

“Yes, time does heal, but if I am still alive on 15 April 2039, the 50th anniversary of Hillsborough, I will shed tears. That is because I shed tears every year on April 15th. Not out of ritual. Not out of obligation. Not out of duty. But out of a deep sense of grief for the lost and a genuine feeling for the loved ones they left behind.”

STEVEN GERRARD, CURRENT LIVERPOOL CAPTAIN, WHOSE COUSIN JON-PAUL GILHOOLEY WAS KILLED AT HILLSBOROUGH:“ “Tears, anger and confusion tore through all of us. We hadn’t known Jon-Paul was at the game. He went to Anfield all the time, but an FA Cup semi-final was a special treat. Granddad explained. Jon-Paul’s mum, Jackie, had somehow managed to get a ticket.

“She knew how much it meant to Jon-Paul to see his heroes in such an important match. It was only in Sheffield, barely seventy miles away. And he wanted to go. A friend of the family took Jon-Paul. They set off from Liverpool that Saturday morning, all buzzing with excitement, but Jon-Paul never returned. Never returned from the match. Those words will haunt me forever. Hillsborough must never be allowed to happen again.

“No-one should lose a life or a relative at a football match. Every time I see Jon-Paul’s name cut into the cold marble outside the Shankly Gates, I fill with sadness and anger. I have never let anyone know this before, but it’s true: I play for Jon-Paul.”

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