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If you read no other account of the Hillsborough Tragedy, which happened 20 years ago today, make you sure you don't miss this one by Dave Woodhall. Passionate, clear and angry, it tells you all you need to know.

On 18th January 1989 I went to see Villa play at West Ham in a League Cup quarter-final. Before the game I was in the West Ham Supporters Club and we heard that the queue for the turnstiles at the away end was bigger than expected. I’d got a ticket for the stand so I wasn’t bothered, but leaving the club 15 minutes before kick-off I saw there were at least a thousand people queuing to get in.

The away end was a corner of the South Bank; I was upstairs in the East Stand so when I got to my seat I had a perfect view of what was unfolding a few yards away.

The situation was clearly dangerous – the crowd was out of control, a vast surge from the top of the terrace almost to the bottom. Knowing there were still hundreds waiting to get in I spoke to a steward and asked if he knew what was happening. I remember he had an Australian accent; I can’t remember his exact words but he shrugged his shoulders and said “Nothing to do with me” or something to that effect.

At no time did he so much as turn and look at what was happening. It later transpired that the turnstile counters zeroed as they came close to capacity so almost twice as many as the normal safe limit were allowed onto that section of the terrace.

The game kicked off and as soon as play moved to the South Bank end, the crowd surged forward. With so many people packed together there was no room for those at the front to move except onto the pitch. Thank God there were no fences at Upton Park.

A section of the empty terrace between home and away supporters was opened up and the game continued. Villa lost 2-1 and no-one cared much about the problems of overcrowding. I daresay the phrase “Somebody could have been killed there” was uttered but this was football, and things like that happened.

Three months later one of those things happened again. This time there were fences. There were deaths, on a scale never imagined. And in the twenty years since there has been one of the biggest cover-ups and slur campaigns this country has ever known.

Because of what happened at Upton Park, and later through my work with the Football Supporters Association and other footballing bodies, I’ve always taken a keen interest in the events of Hillsborough and their aftermath. I’ve seen film that’s not been widely shown and spoken to survivors. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the lies repeated about how drunken fans turned up late without tickets and smashed down gates.

If that’s what you think, read on and learn something.

Liverpool were allocated 21,000 tickets, mainly at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, with Nottingham Forest receiving 29,000, mainly at the Kop. The reason for this disparity was because it was thought better for Liverpool supporters to be in parts of the ground closest to the M62, where the majority of their support would be travelling.

The number of tickets wasn’t a big problem, but there were just seven turnstiles to deal with the 10,000 capacity of the Leppings Lane terrace, as well as the West Stand situated above. Had everyone with tickets for this part of the ground arrived at one o’clock, long before the turnstiles opened, some would still have missed the kick-off.

Yet human nature being what it is, few arrived this early, and even if they’d wanted to, roadworks and minor accidents on the M62 meant many coaches arrived later than anticipated. By 2.30, it was reckoned that several thousand supporters were outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles, and orderly queuing was impossible. The problem was exacerbated by police orders to search supports as they entered the ground.

The Leppings Lane stand was unique in English football. Turnstiles were some distance from the stand itself and built into a brick wall - think of the turret of a medieval castle and you’ll have some idea.

Once inside the ground the nearest access to the terrace was through a tunnel which led down a 1 in 6 slope onto the top of the terrace. This wasn’t the only terrace in the country where access was gained from the rear, but as a regular away traveller it was the only one I can remember where you didn’t have to walk up a single step from turnstile to the top of the stand.

Liverpool had been allocated the Leppings Lane for a semi-final the previous season. There had been a few minor problems, but on the whole things had gone as well as could have been expected.

However, there was one major difference between 1988 and 1989.Chief Inspector David Duckenfield was now matchday commander.

He had been in post a matter of days and had no experience of commanding a major football game. In 1988 police checkpoints had been in place on Leppings Lane itself, away from the ground, monitoring supporter flow and checking tickets.

This system was not in place the following year. Neither were there police and stewards in place at the mouth of the tunnel, to guide fans away and towards the entrances at either end of the stand, which led onto sections of terrace to the sides of the seated area.

As kick-off approached the situation outside worsened. With more people arriving and supporters anxious that they would miss the start of the game, conditions were becoming increasingly difficult.

Inside, on the terrace, the middle pens were already filled to capacity and on a warm day many fans were already starting to feel uncomfortable.

With no police or stewards to guide them away, supporters entering the ground were automatically walking towards the nearest entrance to the terrace – the tunnel which lead onto the already-filled pens.

Superintendent Marshall, in overall control of policing outside the ground, requested that the gates be opened in order to allow conditions on Leppings Lane to be eased (an earlier request from an un-named officer that kick-off be delayed had been turned down). Chief Inspector Duckenfield, in his own words, “froze” and gave the order that Gate C be opened. At no time did he apparently consider where the thousands still outside would be placed.

Duckenfield was at this time in the police control box, with a perfect view of what was going on inside the pens. This box was situated in such a perfect position that even with the technology of twenty years ago it was possible for CCTV to zoom in and tell the colour of a person’s eyes on the Leppings Lane terrace.

Yet Duckenfield could not, apparently, see that hundreds of people were already in serious danger. Indeed, by the time the gate was opened, it is reckoned that fatalities had already occurred.

As the gates were opened and those outside attempted to gain access onto the terrace they moved towards the tunnels, and therefore towards the back of the pens. Just like Villa fans at Upton Park three months earlier. But at Hillsborough there were fences in front and to the side of this mass of humanity.

As supporters attempted to scale the fences they were initially pushed back by policemen, whose idea of policing football was still conditioned in terms of security rather than safety. Even when it became clear that people were dying and evacuation was belatedly allowed, police were still thinking in terms of crowd disorder.

Many police remained at the Kop end, ostensibly to prevent a pitch invasion by Forest fans. Even more unbelievably, when ambulances were finally called they were not allowed onto the pitch because police claimed that fighting was taking place. 42 ambulances arrived to deal with the unfolding tragedy. Only one trained ambulance man got onto the pitch, after his drive ignored police demands to halt.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Duckenfield told FA secretary Graham Kelly that Liverpool fans had broken down the gates. Kelly repeated this information in good faith to the press, Superintendent Marshall later placed a heavy emphasis on alcohol as being a contributory factor in events outside the ground.

And so began the scurrilous campaign that meant many people still believe Liverpool supporters were chiefly responsible for the tragedy.

95 people died either at Hillsborough or shortly afterwards (A 96th victim remained in a coma for four years before dying). At their inquest the coroner ruled that all had died by 3.15, effectively preventing the role of the police from that time onwards coming under scrutiny.

However, there is strong evidence that several of the deceased were still fighting for life at this time – a nurse has spoken of one victim still breathing and semi-conscious at 4pm. Police claims that a video camera was not working were proved to be a lie and the film from this camera subsequently went missing.

The internal police enquiry was conducted by the West Midlands force. The officers in charge of the case were already themselves under investigation as part of the inquiry into the Serious Crime Squad. This week junior Justice Minister Maria Eagle called on South Yorkshire Police to admit that many statements given by policeman at the time had been subsequently altered.

The Taylor Report into the tragedy placed the blame for what occurred almost entirely on the shoulders of the police. Supporter behaviour was, it ruled, a minor aggravating feature.

Most of the fans, it went on, “were not drunk nor even the worse for drink.”

The theory, advanced by South Yorkshire Police, that ticketless fans had turned up en masse, was also ruled out. Tickets had been easily available and the Health & Safety executive had ascertained that the entire Leppings Lanes terrace was less than full at the time the tragedy unfolded.

The South Yorkshire Police continue to defend their behaviour on that day. The Sun has apologised for their story, although then-editor Kelvin MacKenzie continues to stand by the lies he allowed to be printed.

David Duckenfield and Bernard Marshall faced police charges of neglection of duty, but Duckenfield was allowed to retire due to ill-heath before these were heard and Marshall successfully argued that he should not be disciplined alone.

Both men then faced a private prosecution for manslaughter brought by the Hillsborough Families Support Group. Marshall was acquitted, the jury failed to reach a verdict against Duckenfield and the judge ruled out a re-trial on the grounds of Duckenfield’s ill-health.

96 people died, many more were traumatised. Numerous suicides have been attributed to the tragedy.

Football changed immeasurably – all-seater stadia are just the most obvious example. And one day, hopefully, the last of those of us lucky enough not to have been at the ground where football’s luck finally ran out will accept that it really could have been any one of us in those pens that day and believe the words of those telling the story as it happened rather than two lying, discredited policemen and a lying, evil newspaper editor.


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