Reds’ ugly day changed the

Life­long Liver­pool Foot­ball Club devo­tee KRIS DANDO talks to Porirua res­i­dent Danny Fearon about be­ing a Reds fan and the en­dur­ing emo­tions from April 15, 1989, when he at­tended an FA Cup semi-fi­nal at Hills­bor­ough.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

I’m not sure when it was that I be­came a Liver­pool FC fan. But by the time of that fate­ful loss in the 1988/89 sea­son – when Ar­se­nal won the league with the last kick of the last game against Liver­pool at An­field – I was hooked.

I knew all the play­ers’ names in the 1980s and de­voured the Reds’ mod­ern his­tory, es­pe­cially their suc­cesses from the time of the great Bill Shankly. Liver­pool’s tro­phies and league ti­tles be­came my tro­phies and league ti­tles.

I was 14 the year Michael Thomas scored his goal for Ar­se­nal, which was a lit­tle more than a month af­ter the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter in Sh­effield where ninety-six Liver­pool fans died and scores more were in­jured. What oc­curred that day has had a last­ing im­pact on the club and on Bri­tish foot­ball.

I didn’t un­der­stand what it was all about at the time, but as my un­der­stand­ing of LFC and foot­ball grew, Hills­bor­ough was never far from the sur­face.

The Tay­lor Report, of­fi­cially is­sued in 1990, rec­om­mended new safety stan­dards for foot­ball sta­di­ums in Bri­tain, which saw many be­come all-seated and the re­moval of perime­ter and lat­eral fenc­ing.

I went to An­field as part of a fam­ily trip in 1992, two years be­fore Liver­pool’s Kop end be­came seated and was gob­s­macked by the seething swarm singing and mov­ing in time with the ebb and flow of the match.

A wide- eyed Kiwi could not imag­ine what it was like to be in there, with surges forc­ing peo­ple to­wards the front. It was said An­field’s Kop could suck the ball into the goal.

Danny Fearon, who lives in Whitby, Porirua, th­ese days, re­mem­bers the days of the Kop fondly.

‘‘My first game there, I was four years old, in 1974,’’ he says, in his broad Scouse ac­cent.

‘‘I don’t think I spent a sec­ond watch­ing the match, just the peo­ple. I couldn’t get over the sound, the noise of the sta­dium was like noth­ing else. I had a sea­son ticket to An­field from the age of five till I was 13 and I can’t re­mem­ber see­ing them lose. What a time that was.’’

Up un­til the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter, Fearon says he went to many of Liver­pool’s league, Cup and Euro­pean matches – home and away.

‘‘ I went to Dundee . . . on a Mon­day night!’’ – as he could. He has no idea how he had the money to do it, he just did.

Go­ing to away matches, you had to be care­ful, he says, be­cause the 1980s was the era when hooli­gan­ism was rife. Be­ing iden­ti­fied as a Reds fan in an­other city could lead to things ‘‘ kick­ing off’’ and he ad­mits to a few scrapes in his time.

From 1981 Fearon was a reg­u­lar in the Kop. He says you learnt quickly how to look af­ter your­self as the crowd surged from time to time.

‘‘Your feet would get lit­er­ally lifted off the floor and you would get car­ried along, you just had to put your arms by your side and try to stay up­right. For us in there, it was just nor­mal, we didn’t know any bet­ter and you learnt to go with it.’’

Liver­pool were favourites to beat Not­ting­ham For­est in their FA Cup semi-fi­nal clash on April 15, 1989, at Hills­bor­ough. They had beaten the same team on the same ground in 1988. A sim­i­lar re­sult was ex­pected, but por­tents weren’t good else­where – fans re­ported crush­ing at the Lep­pings Lane end of the sta­dium that year.

Fearon says he and fel­low Reds sup­port­ers had no fear as the big day ar­rived.

‘‘ We stayed in Sh­effield the night be­fore, had a few beers on the day of the match and made our way to the ground. By the time we got there at 2.40pm or so, peo­ple were al­ready about 15 peo­ple deep, try­ing to get in.

‘‘ By 2.50pm I was pinned against a wall and it was dif­fi­cult to move, just to get through the turn­stile. When I got in I could ei­ther go left or right or up the mid­dle, into the two pens, so I went left.’’

The Lep­pings Lane or west side of Hills­bor­ough was due to have 24,000 Liver­pool fans, en­ter­ing through 23 turn­stiles. There was still a large crowd out­side this part of the ground at 3pm.

As the play­ers were be­ing an­nounced over loud­speak­ers, three large exit gates were opened to let 5000 fans in. They poured through a nar­row tun­nel that led to the rear of the ter­race and into the al­ready- over­crowded pens, lead­ing to ma­jor pres­sure, es­pe­cially at the front. Fans there were con­fronted with high fences that had barbed wire at the top.

‘‘I was some­where in the mid­dle [of the crush],’’ Fearon re­calls.

‘‘I could just see the play­ers with their track­suits on but I couldn’t hear the singing any­more. I was really aware of a scream and then shout­ing and then some­one was passed down over my head, then some­one else.

‘‘But you can’t pass a body over the top of a high fence so peo­ple had to start climb­ing it. The first guy was climb­ing it and the po­lice were try­ing to stop him and all the while bod­ies were be­ing passed down.

‘‘I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber see­ing a guy over to my right, he must’ve been in his 50s and his face was swollen and pur­ple and his spec­ta­cles were bro­ken. I later saw him in the gut­ter at the front and this was an im­age that would wake me up at night.’’

At 3.06pm the ref­eree stopped the match as the full scale of what was oc­cur­ring be­gan to be re­alised. Some fans were climb­ing the fences, oth­ers forced a gate open and some crush bar­ri­ers col­lapsed to al­low peo­ple onto Hills­bor­ough’s grass.

The po­lice still tried to pre­vent some fans from en­ter­ing the pitch area. Those trapped were packed so tightly that many died of com­pres­sive as­phyxia.

Fearon says he knew what was hap­pen­ing was not vi­o­lent but he was held up ‘‘in quicksand’’. He lost all track of time and, when he made it to the front, ‘‘shred­ded my knuck­les’’ try­ing to knock a hole in the fence.

He was more con­cerned at the time that he would miss the game, un­aware it had been stopped. Even­tu­ally he and an­other fan ripped a hole and made it onto the pitch.

‘‘There was just fear and con­fu­sion and anger all around.

‘‘Peo­ple were try­ing to do CPR [only one am­bu­lance was let into the ground, more than 40 were turned away from Hills­bor­ough], the For­est fans were boo­ing us be­cause they thought we’d started some­thing and it all be­gan to hit me.’’

Har­row­ing day: April 15, 1989 – the deaths of Liver­pool fans at Hills­bor­ough in Sh­effield even­tu­ally led to a num­ber of changes in­side and out­side grounds in Bri­tain.

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