Hillsborough survivor Damian Kavanagh’s account of what happened that day and in the aftermath, written back in 2005 for Contrast.org…
I AGREED with Bill Shankly’s quote about the greatest day of the English season being FA Cup Semi-Final day.
At 20 years of age I went to my second consecutive Semi-Final at Hillsborough. Same ground, same opponents and we were to wear red again. I took my lucky scarf. No need for superstition though; it was gonna be the same outcome as last season… A win and the Reds to Wembley again!
Nottingham Forest had a good side but we were better – better than anybody – and after a stuttering season we were right on Arsenal’s case for the League title which had looked lost on New Year’s Day and now we were just one step from the FA Cup Final again. The double-double should have been done the previous season. We’d left it late this season but we could just do the impossible this time and make up for it.
It looked like Everton would get past a decent Norwich side too in the other Semi so there was the prospect of another Scouse Final on the horizon. I actually hoped Norwich would win though cause the stress of derby day is bad enough without the added prize of the FA Cup and the massive bragging rights that would go with creating a bit of football history. The stick the losers would get would be unmerciful. Ian Rush’s equaliser and beating Everton in the 1986 Final goes down as my favourite ever moment and day as a Liverpudlian but I remember the dread of losing while we were a goal down; worse than terrible!
Injuries had cleared up, our form was boss and looked to have come just in time. We again looked like the team that had entertained and wiped the floor with everybody the previous season. My Kop season ticket qualified me for a Leppings Lane terrace ticket; that suited me fine. I liked standing on the Kop and being part of the singing and quickness that had gone on to make us world famous. If I’d had the chance to buy a seat I’d have swerved it and not just because it would have cost a few more quid.
I’m so proud of our city; for all the unjustified stick the media has given us over the years our team has risen above it and achieved true greatness. There are many people in far-off places around the world who know the name of Liverpool because of our team. Despite not yet regaining our previous standards we are still this country’s most successful club – both domestically and in Europe .
I got up smart and went with Bailey who had been my bezzie since school to meet two more of my mates, Jamie, who I knew from work, and his bezzie, Scott. Jamie was happy driving so no need for Barnes’ or Happy Al’s coaches with all their restrictions of pickup points and times etc. We could go at our leisure, stop off when we liked, go for a bevvy and get dropped off at the door back home. Bailey had temporarily stopped going the match after getting himself a bird but I’d got a voucher from somebody who never went to the aways and he was made up at me getting him a ticket. Despite the nerves of the big day we were confident.
The delay in traffic seemed like no big deal. Thousands on the way to the match was gonna slow things up a bit but we’d left in plenty of time. We eventually got to the Horse & Jockey for a bevvy… Happy Days! Like the previous season the pub was chocker with Reds giving it loads with all the songs. A Liver Bird upon my chest…
I’d been up to the league match against Sheffield Wednesday earlier that season but this was a world away from that previous winter’s cold draw. Today we had beautiful sunshine.
For the previous season’s Semi-Final I’d gone with my mates to Hillsborough for the first time. We popped into the first ale house we came across but it was at the Forest end of things. We had a bevvy there, kept a low profile and there were no problems but you can’t beat being with your own – especially our own – so we got off and found this Horse & Jockey which was sound.
There had been no noticeable police presence in the Forest pub in 1988 so it had stuck out to me big time when they were showing up and were almost antagonistic when talking to the Reds’ fans. They were bit like them night-club bully type bouncers in the days before the registration cards; you know, “We’re big and we’ve got this uniform so we’ll look at you and talk to you like you’re something we shouldn’t have trodden in and if you look the wrong way we’ll stop you enjoying your day sunshine.”
I’d told my mum and dad in 1988 about the difference in police attitude between us and Forest not knowing that this same blinkered behaviour would contribute to horrific suffering and loss of life just a year later.
It was easy to be split up coming out of a match and being a stranger in town I made a mental note of the street to which I had to return so I could at least ask my way for directions back to the car if I got lost; no mobile phones in those days to contact your mates with. Jamie parked up in Don Avenue ; it was a little way from the ground but not too far to walk and off we went.
There was a great atmosphere and no hassle at the Horse & Jockey, the singing was as loud and proud as you’d expect. There could surely be no other team in the world like ours. I’m so lucky to have been born in Liverpool and so lucky to have been born Red! We did an hour or so in the pub where there was no sign of the mass drunkenness that was spitefully lied about to the media to make excuses for the failure of crowd control. For those who have lied about and attempted to slur the name of victims who they never even knew to cover their own backs I have nothing but contempt. It would take a big man to stand up and be counted and nationally put the record straight by publicly retracting the lies that have caused so much hurt. All I can say is that we all have to answer to our maker one day.
I’m not sure why but we left for the ground just a little earlier than we might have expected (I think by the time we’d got another bevvy we’d have been pushing it to get into the specs we wanted). I wanted the boss spec right in the middle behind the goal. I always stood in the middle of the Kop where all the singing started, so at away grounds I’d be looking for the same type of spec. The atmosphere at a Semi-Final was always brilliant wherever you were in the ground but I still wanted that spec so we strolled up and without queuing for long went in through Gate C.
On the walk down to the ground the four of us had agreed to meet up at a bookies we’d passed if we got split up after the match. I did notice that unlike the previous season there were no police stops on the way to the ground with a check for tickets etc but thought nothing of it.
I got searched as you usually were on the way in. Me and Bailey went straight ahead and through the tunnel directly behind the goal after buying a program. It was the obvious route to take; the clearly marked entrance that greeted you as you entered the stadium through the turnstiles – there were no conspicuous signs directing you to go through anywhere else. Jamie and Scott didn’t follow us. They didn’t usually go right in the middle of the Kop and decided to go out of their way and walk around to the side – I’m glad they did; it was chocker in there last time they said.
I noticed from the clock on the Stand to my right that it was 2.15pm. Like I said this was a little early for me. I always tended to go in the Kop at about 2.30pm cause any later and by then the crowd congestion would make it almost impossible to get into my spec in the middle. The crowd built up steadily like any other match. The singing was building up. Everything seemed fine. We’re on the march with Kenny’s Army…
When you’re in a large crowd you can’t see what might be happening just yards away from you. A big open terrace like the Kop allowed you to roam wherever you liked once you’d entered it. This Leppings Lane end was a smaller terrace, split into pens with fences that were specifically designed to keep supporters in a particular area. Many or most fans wouldn’t have realised that the area directly behind the goal here was split down the middle into two Pens and with radial fences also preventing access to the sides of the terrace, either side of the these two central pens. Bailey didn’t know this until seeing the media coverage after the disaster and it was only later that I learnt that the area that we’d been in was called Pen 4. The perimeter fence down the front was to keep fans off the pitch. Being a young lad and with grounds having looked like this since well before I was going, the wariness I’d obviously have about this set up today wasn’t there. In fairness a paying customer at any entertainment event should be able to take their safety for granted.
We were leaning backwards onto a crush barrier, like we would in the Kop. We were well used to riding the waves of the crowd surges. It’s the reverse of what happens at grounds now. These days when somebody gets excited and stands up it forces everybody behind to do the same in ripple effect if they wanna see the action. Back in those days somebody would strain forward to see the action causing a domino effect that would stop at the crush barriers. It could hurt going up against these barriers with the force of the crowd behind so I always got my back to the barriers and with plenty of people in front of me whenever I could. Being young, fit and only a little fella I could wriggle my way around the terraces.
Timings become blurred from now on as I describe what happened next. From memory I think from the police videos I later saw, that I left the pitch some time around 3.45pm.
The crowd pressure was ever increasing and the lads on the crush barrier behind me were really struggling. This was as bad as I’d ever experienced and was getting worse. It didn’t feel like a surge, more like steadily increasing overcrowding. I’d been to loads of matches when the crowd pressure had been uncomfortable and where at times you had no control over your own movement. There had been many occasions when people had fainted or were just so overwhelmed that they were pushed upwards over the heads of the crowd, then ferried down by outstretched hands to the front of the Kop for the St John’s ambulance gang to look after them – though I’d never been in that state myself.
A man immediately behind one of my shoulders who looked about 30ish to me with slightly long mousy hair and a dark blue shirt was asking us to help push him back under the strain. He was trying to get under the crush barrier… “Come on lads, help us here, push me back”. We tried to lean backwards towards him while he pushed at our backs but our movements were restricted and he couldn’t make any progress against the crowd behind him anyway. He asked us to kick the soles of his shoes – so he could maybe spring over the barrier – but it was no use, he wasn’t going anywhere.
A man immediately behind my other shoulder, again 30 something and maybe with a moustache, was in pain and couldn’t even try to help himself any more. He was wearing a wind cheater style jacket (I seem to remember white, yellow and grey markings on it). He was just pleading, “Please… please… please…”
Maybe six feet in front of me a fella said “Come on lads, let’s get this young girl out” and people tried to help. She looked maybe 12 years old or so, with dark hair. I can’t say I know what happened to her.
The singing had well stopped around me by now, with everybody here struggling. There were cries for help, cries of pain and cries to the police just a matter of yards in front of me to open the gates at the perimeter fence. The police were ignoring the requests and as I caught the eyes of one myself I made a point of shouting at him to open the gates. He just looked at me, pointed behind me and mouthed at me to get back, which of course was totally impossible. It appeared as though a gate down at the front had sprung open under the pressure but it looked to me as though the police were pushing the crowd back in.
I could tell from the crowd noise around the ground that the teams had come out and I remember thinking “Oh no, they’re gonna kick-off”. The problems behind the goal needed to be sorted out first! I couldn’t actually see which way we were kicking as my head had been pushed forward and I was facing downwards for a time. I missed the match kick-off and all of the action which by this time wasn’t a priority for me, though I knew which way we would be kicking as both teams would want to finish the match attacking the goal which their own supporters were behind.
I had no idea that Peter Beardsley had hit the crossbar until I read it in the Echo some days later. I have heard that he was worried this action had caused a further surge in the crowd but all I can say is that from where I was, things were obviously beyond that by then and to my knowledge it had neither hindered nor helped matters.
When I found out about Beardsley’s shot it really struck me and stopped me in my tracks; I’d never even thought about what had happened during the 6 minutes of play. It hit me again years later when I found out that Forest had had two corners down our end; obviously I’d never known about that either. Just think about it, I’d travelled a long way in such anticipation to see this action – that had happened right in front of me – and I’d missed it; I’d been totally unaware and even if I could have seen it, I’d lost all interest by then anyway!
In my struggling I then noticed somebody go to Bruce Grobbelaar and remonstrate with him but there still seemed to be no help coming to us. I knew I was really in trouble, in great danger, and remember thinking “I hope my mum hasn’t heard about this” because she’d only have worried. I knew my dad would be listening to the match commentary back home on the radio.
Despite the pleading with the police to open the gates nothing was being done and I knew that I was on my own here if I wanted out… And I knew that I had to get out.
How on Earth could what was happening to us behind that goal have been missed, or even worse… Ignored?
I wasn’t struggling to breathe and I remember thinking “Oh God please get me out” but I stayed very calm and focussed on getting through this. I hadn’t noticed that the match had been stopped. Me and Bailey saw a couple of lads going past us over the heads down to the gate at the front. We agreed that this was the only way out but we were too restricted to make any progress. I had the use of my hands above my shoulders but a lot a people didn’t. I always had my arms up this way at the match to help me move about. My dad had always told me to know where the exit to any place was, always know the way out of any trouble, and this is in my nature anyway.
I don’t know how but Bailey got himself half way up over everybody’s heads, so then I lent my hand and helped his foot and suddenly he’d made it onto the top of the crowd. I shouted, “Get me out!” but he had no chance of helping me. He crawled over the top of the crowd to the gate down at the front. I saw him escape which was a relief. I shouted after him “Just get out Bailey, get out!”
I don’t know how much longer went by and believe that when you really need it you can sometimes find extra strength. Add that to a bit of luck that tragically a lot of other people didn’t get, and I managed to wriggle upwards, half way above the crowd. Some fella who was stuck there himself stretched out his hand “Here y’are mate!”. He helped my foot so I could drag myself upwards onto the top of the crowd. I crawled towards the gate down at the front, which was maybe approximately 20 feet or so in front of me, so it came up very fast. As I got to the gate I heard somebody shout to me, “There’s people dying here!” – I already knew.
I grabbed the top of the frame at the opened gate and was about to escape when a policeman aggressively grabbed hold of me with both hands at my chest stopping me. He shouted at me, pushing me back and I quote: “You fucking twat!” as he stopped my progress. He wasn’t gonna let me out but there was no way I was going back in there. Despite knowing that you don’t go against bizzies if you wanna stay clear of trouble for yourself, I knew this was very different and I tried to force my way past him from my vulnerable position. It worked and as I tried to get through he dragged me and then threw me, out and down onto the shingle track around the pitch.
I stood up and was on the grass right behind the goal. It was the first time I’d ever been onto the pitch at a match. I saw a young lady crouched down at the goal netting crying and went over to comfort her. “You wanted to get onto the pitch after the game anyway didn’t you?” I said and she smiled. She wasn’t physically injured.
There were people lying on the floor with others over them trying to revive them with mouth-to-mouth being given by those who knew how to do it. Some people had been sick. I saw one man whose trousers had been soiled.
I knelt down on the pitch myself and started to cry but stopped quickly and got myself
together. I got grass stains on the knees of my jeans and so knew that the pitch must have been watered that morning. I started to look around for Bailey but was surprised that I couldn’t find him. Despite knowing loads of people who had gone to the match that day the only person I saw on the pitch who I knew was Phil from work. “Are you alright mate?” I asked and he was OK.
The Forest fans were singing “There will be no Scouse in Europe” a reference to the fact that while the UEFA ban following Heysel was soon to be over for English clubs, we were still to serve a longer ban. I shouted “Fuck Off!” at them but looking back they mustn’t have realised what was happening down our end.
I noticed that some fans were carrying the injured on advertising boards to the other end of the pitch clear from the chaos behind our goal and presumably to where they would receive medical treatment. I asked one fella to do the same with somebody who was out of it but he said, “Let’s get him breathing first.”
I walked over to the side of the pitch and ripped up an advertising board myself, getting a small cut on the fingers of my right hand. The only other physical injury I got that day – which I didn’t yet know – was a bruise on my back in the shape of a hand, you could clearly see the finger and thumb marks. This wasn’t from being struck but was evidence of the pressure in the Pen.
I walked over to one man lying on the floor who was not conscious. I’m sure he was dead – in fact I know it in my heart – but you hear of people getting revived when all seems lost. A couple of young men were standing with me, including one policeman without his helmet on. For a second or so that lasted for ages we hesitated and so I dragged this poor Reds fan onto the board myself thinking “Come on mate, you can make it”. He wasn’t tall and seemed maybe just a little older than me, with dark hair. His mouth was open and his eyes were closed over. As I dragged him his trousers came down to just over his knees showing his underpants but this didn’t matter. The young constable collected his helmet from the floor at this point and went off, leaving us to it. I got the impression he was relieved that somebody had taken over from him. He might have been going to assist somewhere else, I don’t know; I just didn’t get that impression. We carried the Reds fan as quickly as we could to the other end of the pitch, into the left corner with the others and left him for the attention of the St John’s volunteers. If I’d known how to do mouth-to-mouth I’d have done it.
There were exceptions but in the main, the people who carried the injured were those who had escaped the crush themselves. The police had obviously not been given instructions to deal with the disaster that had unfolded and I didn’t see much evidence of them acting on initiative. Like I say I know there were exceptions and I do not want to do a disservice to those police who did act to save lives. I’m just pointing out that on the whole and taken collectively, they had been blind to what was happening and when they did realise, they froze. What help they did finally provide was largely too little, too late.
After doing my bit with the advertising boards the police had formed a line across the pitch to keep us apart from the Forest fans – they were still this blind! I walked over to one policeman who was an officer, not a constable. I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to do to help. He replied no and that they were looking after everything now thanks. I left the pitch using the players’ tunnel walking past Gerald Sinstadt from the BBC. I went past the away team dressing room to my left and saw Des Walker and Lee Chapman who both looked at me and seemed uneasy doing so. I saw a payphone and took the opportunity to call my parents to let them know I was OK but didn’t have any change. Another Reds fan behind me gave me a £1 coin with no problem… Thanks mate.
I spoke to my mum and told her I was fine and asked her to call Bailey’s parents. We had been split up but I deffo saw him escape. He had survived unhurt. A steward then said no more people could use the phone! Why? What harm were we doing? Cause we were only fans we weren’t good enough to be where we were, in the stadium using the phone – even during this hell! Some Reds fan then shouted at this steward that he knew his brother was behind the goal in all that! Why shouldn’t he use the phone? I don’t know what happened next as I left the stadium through some door by where I was.
I walked around the ground back towards Leppings Lane . Some fella stopped me saying I shouldn’t pass this way as it would be too upsetting to see what was there. I told him I’d be OK but he insisted in the nicest possible way and so I left it and took a detour. While I knew what he had meant I had already seen everything and it couldn’t be any worse. I appreciated the gesture though.
My scarf had somehow stayed on throughout all of this but I took it off now and hurled it away. For the first time I heard a noise coming over the tannoy at the stadium but couldn’t make out what was being said. From where I was walking I could see down into the stadium through the gap between the West and South Stands. I saw an ambulance on the pitch by our goal. The game surely wasn’t going to restart was it? I wasn’t having this, there was no way I was gonna watch it if it did restart. No… I knew it couldn’t… And I just kept heading for the bookies to meet my mates.
I met Bally there who I knew from Sunday League training and he had his foot in plaster. “Alright Col , you do that here?” … “No lad, I came here with this”. We were both waiting for the people we’d come with. I waited for what seemed like ages and assumed the lads had gone back to the car so I walked back there. As I turned into Don Avenue I saw Jamie’s car but none of the lads so I knew I’d be doing some more waiting.
The weather was still beautiful but I was stood in the shade by the car and so had a cold shiver. I had no jacket, only my away shirt on. I could have waited on the other side of the street out of the shade but I didn’t want the lads to see the car but not me, even if only for a second or so. A group of Reds were meeting across the street at a minibus and just waiting for the rest of their group. They had the commentary of Everton’s match on out of force of habit I suppose but nobody was interested.
A fella came out from the house I was outside of and asked if I was OK. I told him I was. I told him that I knew we’d get the blame in the media over this but he mustn’t believe that – it was not our fault. He said he knew, he’d spoken to his brother who was a steward at the match who said we weren’t to blame and it was the fault of the police. He asked me did I want a cup of tea but I didn’t. He asked did I wanna use his phone and insisted that he wouldn’t take any money from me (this was typical of the compassion shown by many Sheffield people that day). I took the opportunity to call Bailey’s parents personally.
I went back outside and waited for my mates. Everton had won by now. My three mates came around the corner together and rushed to me and hugged me. They had worried that they’d never see me alive again.
We drove home subdued, listening to the news on the radio. Jamie and Scott hadn’t been in the crush. Bailey had moved to the side of the pitch when he’d escaped. I told him that I’d contacted his mum and dad. He hadn’t heard me shouting after him to just get out. To avoid getting involved with Skem’s notorious roundabouts I told Jamie to drop us at the Derby Arms so he could get back home a little more easily. Some fella commented to me and Bailey, “Bad up there eh lads?”… “Yeah mate, terrible.” We walked back towards ours and met Linda and Audrey on the way outside Audrey’s. They were worrying and waiting for their husbands Dave and Geoff – long time mates and neighbours.
Audrey had been called and told that Geoff was alright but they hadn’t yet heard about Dave. I tried to make them feel better, telling them there were delays coming back and that we’d heard that the demand for the phone lines had brought them down. I left them and as we walked around the corner I commented to Bailey that I didn’t like the sound of this. Dave and Geoff would have been together and so why would they know about one and not the other? I had managed to get through by phone maybe cause our code was 0695 not 051. I felt that anybody who survived would be well on the way home, if not already there by now, or in hospital where they would surely make contact with next of kin etc.
I walked the short way remaining to ours and my mum just hugged me and cried. It is only since I have become a dad myself that I can fully understand how my mum and dad must have felt. They said that if they had known what I was going to go through, they don’t think they could have brought me into this world.
My mate Terry had heard and came to wait for me worrying. He told my mum he’d take me out tonight. Bailey said he was OK and he didn’t need a lift home from my dad. I’d forgotten that my dad had taken him home anyway.
My mate Andy had ran over to ours after getting back from Villa Park with his dad and was relieved when my mum had told him I’d called and I was OK. They hadn’t celebrated the Blues’ victory on the way home after hearing the news.
Terry left and came back later and took me out for a drink. I suppose I needed it. We went the Toby and I was glad to see Derek in there with his scarf around his neck – he looked to be in a daze. Back then I used to go to the Oakfield before and after the match with Derek and his mates and his two young sons; one of them, Leon, now plays for Everton.
Terry drove us to Southport . On the way I told him I feared the worst for Dave. I can’t remember much else about the evening but I’m sure I wasn’t a barrel of laughs. When I got home I cried myself to sleep.
My mum woke me up in the morning to tell me Dave had died. He had lived in our street at the back of ours. A well thought of family man who’d followed the Reds for years. He’d left two young children. I had bought Dave’s ticket for Hillsborough as it was easy for me to pick his up with mine in my dinner hour from Royal Insurance in Old Hall Street . When I knocked to give it to him he was out and I’d left it with Linda. The last conversation I’d had with him was the day before I got the ticket. Our season ticket vouchers gave us a few days where we would be guaranteed to be able to buy a ticket. He phoned me up, “Where’s me ticket la?” in his jovial style. “Don’t worry mate I’m getting it tomorrow.” I remember in 1985 he couldn’t make the Newcastle match and came around to give me his ticket from his Kop season ticket book (in the season before I managed to get my own first season ticket). It was typical of him not wanting any money from me… “I’m just glad it’s going to good use lad” he said. Dave and Geoff had taken me with them to Wembley too, introducing me to their mates and their in-joke word “rancid”.
My mum confirmed that Geoff had survived. He’d just recently moved to his new house after leaving our street. Young fans always look up to the guys who’ve been there and done it before them. Geoff, like Dave, had been a sound source of vouchers for away matches for my mates… “I remember doing all that son.” Geoff didn’t go to the aways like he used to being a family man. I enjoyed talking to him about the Reds; he knew what he was talking about and was no less passionate me.
My dad went to work on the Sunday but came home early. The phone was constantly ringing with friends of our family asking after me. I walked up to the shop in tears to get sympathy cards for Linda and the kids. Everybody was affected. Everybody knew somebody who had been to the match. This disaster had struck at the very heart of our community. Scousers are well known for their passion for football. You could taste the sorrow in the air – it was horrendous! Radio City for days was playing only slow music. They later got an award of some kind for their sensitivity.
I went to mass on the Sunday for the first time in a good while. I was told two lads from our old school were in hospital in Sheffield . Little Robbie (whose sister had been in my class) had been in real trouble but he pulled through and Steve (from the year above me and to this day a team mate at footy) while really hurt would be OK.
I went the Toby again with my mates on the Sunday night, some of whom had been to the match and were in the crush. Carl and BombHead were as relieved as I was to find out each other had survived. Carl confirmed that the other lads we went to the Oakfield with were OK. BombHead had a photo of himself from a Sunday paper helping to pull people up into the Stand above the terrace – he’d survived himself that way.
It was in the Toby that it was confirmed to me Sef had died. I broke down. Again, in public. Young men don’t do that do they? We hadn’t been best mates or anything but I knew who he was from school days. He’d gone with Steve, Robbie, Tony and Jason who had all thankfully survived. Jason wrote a beautiful poem about the five of them on that day which I will always keep.
I managed to go to work on the Monday where people kept coming up to me, relieved I’d survived. I had to comfort Colin in the toilets who had broken down crying. He was younger than me. My mate Nick had survived. I went to dinner and my mate told me to go home – I couldn’t eat anything. My manager was horrified by what I told him when he asked me what had happened. I lasted until about 3pm and couldn’t take any more and went home taking the rest of the week off.
I went to see Linda who had the family around. When she came to the door I couldn’t speak at all and broke down crying (this is the first time I’ve had tears in my eyes writing this account). The two kids, Paul and Kate, looked at me with beautiful smiles and Linda hugged me. “Oh you’re a good lad,” she said as I sobbed. I cried all the way back home. Linda has always shown great dignity in the days since. She let me put my LFC hat on Dave’s grave with a few words on it for him.
My mum and dad felt guilty going to see Linda – they had me back and she didn’t have Dave. Seeing the kids out occasionally in the pub these days is nice but it makes me feel my age. Paul goes the match; he’s got a season ticket.
I went to see my doctor on the advice of my parents.
Me and my mum and dad went to Anfield to pay our tributes like the many thousands who had placed flowers and footy memorabilia. When we got there the hushed queue to get in was a mile long – and I mean at least a mile long – so I placed a scarf and old Reds shirt on a wall at a house on Anfield Road like many others had already done. My mum broke down crying and so a steward came up to us, “Did you lose anybody love?” My mum put her arm around me “We nearly lost him”. The steward asked us to follow him and let us through a gate at the ground and then onto the pitch where I showed my mum and dad around the place, stepping around the carpet of flowers which made the air smell sweet. I showed them my spec and my dad pointed to where he’d had a season ticket.
Dave’s and Sef’s funerals were hard work. The Friday and Monday respectively if memory serves me right. Alan Hansen and Ronnie Whelan came to Dave’s and Everton’s Ian Snodin came too. Terry McDermott and Phil Thompson were at Sef’s and Tottenham Hotspur’s Gary Mabbutt came too; he was Sef’s favourite player.
The news had only one main story for days. It was ages before anything else was the headline story. All flags everywhere were at half-mast. I went back to work and held everything together but then it all hit me. I felt like I’d been smashed into a thousand pieces. My head was battered; I couldn’t concentrate. I had loads of time off work and wasn’t much use when I was in. Two lads from our place (who I never knew) had been killed. I was in such a rage and punched a few walls. My mum took some shouting at from me when I was wound-up – which was pretty much all the time. Sometimes when playing footy the shouts of the players reminded me of the shouting from the Pen and I’d walk off.
I took counselling partly for the sake of it but in hindsight I definitely did the right thing. I was really struggling to cope. Going to the Hillsborough Centre that had been set up in Anfield Road for all those who had been affected at least made me realise that my trauma was understandable (or to be expected) and was not a sign of weakness. Linda who worked there formed a great relationship with me, coming to see me at home too – it was my fault when we lost touch.
After the lies in the media I decided like many others to make a legal complaint against the police. Money had nothing to do with it. I wasn’t going to let them get away with a whitewash. I knew the truth and wanted to make sure it came out – nothing had more importance. I’ve never wanted anybody in jail for all this; it wouldn’t bring anybody back. I just want the world to know what happened, why it did and the blame officially placed squarely where it should be… And I don’t think anybody should have been allowed to retire to avoid facing the consequences of what they have been responsible for. I also want those who lied to be shown up for what they are. I don’t think I’ll ever have the strength to forgive them.
Like John Aldridge I didn’t want us to play on but we were outvoted and got on with it. I went to the remaining home league matches but stood away from my usual spec where it would be less congested, the Goodison derby close to my favourite spec there in the middle of Gwladys Street , and the replayed Semi and the Final. I cried at the replayed Semi when we sang “We’re on the march with Kenny’s army”. In the first match back at Anfield (against Forest of all teams) I left when we were awarded a late penalty – I couldn’t cheer with everybody else. A woman outside the ground comforted me as I cried walking to Kirkdale station and I heard the crowd roar from the obvious late winner we’d got.
I went the following season for a few matches on autopilot but cried at “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and quit. I sold a three quarters season ticket for buttons to a lad in work – £20 I think. I never thought I’d go back. It was overwhelming to support the Reds by now. It was too intense. I know exactly why Kenny Dalglish quit; probably our greatest ever player and a very successful manager. That would be enough reason for the esteem in which he’s held but it is the way he led us after the disaster that I love him. He’s the only player I’d go across the street for to shake hands with.
Old Bob from by ours had a boss spec as a shareholder in the row behind the directors’ box where you could even rest your arms. He was a true gentleman and gave me tickets for two of the last matches of the 1989/90 season as the tickets were spare and that got me back into it. I wonder if they were really spare or if he had spoken to my mum and dad in the Tawd Vale about helping me around? Thanks Bob RIP. I renewed my season ticket for 1990/1 after my dad had spoken to somebody at the ticket office and I was back. I’m a fanatic again although it could never be the same.
For the enquiry I made a statement to West Midlands police who were investigating. They got back to me, naming the policeman who had been abusive to me as Sgt Swift and asked did I want to make a formal complaint against him. I declined. I only talked about him cause they had asked me to tell them everything. They brought videos in and met me in work. This policeman hadn’t turned up that day to deliberately hurt me or anybody else. He was wrong but had been presented with a terrible situation and a lot of horror himself. WM police told me they’d had stories of him from fans commending him for saving their lives (obviously after me then) and so credit must be placed with him where it is due.
In 1991 I went to RAF Wroughton, Swindon to meet Sqd Ldr Dr Gordon Turnbull, a nice man who assessed me psychologically. He spoke to many survivors and said that we’d all sounded similar to the Gulf War veterans he’d debriefed; when he first interviewed me in Liverpool in 1990 he had diagnosed me as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to a moderately severe extent.
For a long time if I went out on the ale I’d return home crying. I’ve never had flashbacks of specific events haunting me; it was the taste of the sorrow and the horror and the impact on all of us that bothered me and the injustice of the subsequent legal processes. I’ve always had that special relationship that mums and sons have and I know that the son she had who left that morning for the match never came home. I feel that worst for her. It bothered her that she hadn’t been there to say goodbye to me that fateful morning.
You expect the truth. You’re brought up to think British is best and when you find out it isn’t it hurts and you feel betrayed. You don’t expect those in power to be anything other than fair and not to have an agenda – cause that’s their job – but they do. I’m sure that around the country most people would correctly say when asked that failure of police control was the overwhelming cause of the disaster. However there are some out there who don’t know the truth and the ticketless and drunken fans lies that were fed by the Scum suits them perfectly. How could they do this to us? Why? I can’t go back as far as the blitz in Word War II but this is certainly our generation’s darkest hour. This is why an unreserved apology – and not the half lecture we recently got about moving on – is so important. They should put out banner headlines, make it the first item on the national 6 o’clock news and say it was lies, telling everybody who ever believed any of this shite should wise up – period. They should make it plain that it was lies. That’s lies, not a mistake… But lies! Only then would we even have anything to talk about you godless bastards.
This is a story to outsiders, like any story we hear from around the world, but it will never be just a story to us. As much as we all wish it had never happened it is part of us, we live with it. God knows, if I could ever change just one thing, stopping it from ever having happened, then this would be it. If the Echo goes on for another 125 years they will still talk about Hillsborough being a defining moment in our history.
I’m an optimist by nature but I can honestly say that from that day the sun had never truly shone again in my life. I cannot say this now as a father but I’d have swapped myself that day in exchange for everything that happened. I’ve smiled and laughed with the best of them in the days since but it took a long time. I can now look back at the events and have them in their rightful place; really important and never to be forgotten. I have and never will miss the annual memorial service. It’s important to deal with whatever happens to you cause otherwise the bitterness eats away and you lose even more.
There were long periods in the early years where the world has seemed too much of a let-down to be bothered with and there was no light at the end of this long, dark tunnel but the love of so many good people around me has helped. I’m a lucky man who has had the pleasure to know so many nice people. I have never walked alone. I have never felt guilty about surviving. It was a comfort to know that there were so many people who knew exactly how I felt. I must have been given plenty of slack as people would know why I was off-track. Our people rallied around each other so well.
I’ve visited many places following the team and met many people who you could warm your hands on (my favourite other place to be is in Glasgow ). “Ain’t life great lads… All you need is the green grass and a ball” is my favourite Shanks’ quote. I have never been in a goal celebration better than after Michael Owen’s winner against Arsenal in the 2001 FA Cup Final – my second favourite goal after Rushy’s.
It is well documented about LFC protesting at us getting less tickets than Forest for a match even though our average gate was approaching twice the size of theirs. Much too is known about the lies in the media. We, as fans, were victims of failure of the authorities to do their jobs properly – that was the first disaster. The second was the cover-up; Trevor Hicks of the Hillsborough Family Support Group was spot-on about that. It is important to learn from history. When that history is distorted it’s wrong, and I don’t mean just for the hurt it causes. If our fans had been at fault then I’d say so and want us never to make the same mistakes again for everybody’s sake.
I’ve never written anything like this before. There have been better writers than me to put their account forward and people who lost more than I did. However Peter Carney of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign helped me to see that every little bit of the truth is important and so here is my eyewitness account without agenda… Well except for the truth. If one day this helps just one person understand what happened better then it’s been worthwhile.
My 6-years-old son James doesn’t know it yet but he has been the final push for me to write this. I’ve been taking him to the home matches for the past year now and he loves it… The fifth generation of our family to support our team from the Kop. One day he’ll ask questions about all this and it will be so important that he knows the truth (I hope without ever knowing such horror).
I understand now what Geoff said all that time ago about it being easier for him than me. Even though he lost Dave in the most horrific of ways and had had to identify him, he had his kids to take him forward.
James has made the sun shine again in a way that I just can’t describe.
I’m as rich as any man ever could be. Becky is a most beautiful princess.
RIP the 96 and those I heard about who have taken their own lives over all this. Justice for all of those who have been affected by Hillsborough, too many to name…
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Damian Kavanagh, 2005