I stretchere­d vic­tims away ...no clo­sure after 30 years de­fies be­lief

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Brexmas Election - By Jeff Pow­ell

THE gym­na­sium at Hills­bor­ough used to be an old ware­house be­hind the far stand. As dusk be­gan to fall on the dead­li­est tragedy in Bri­tish sport­ing his­tory, a few of us stood in­side.

Still. Silent. Heads bowed. Sup­pli­cant to the peo­ple who had come from Liver­pool to watch a foot­ball match but who were now fil­ing past in a des­per­ate search for mem­bers of their fam­ily.

Suf­fer­ing in some small, in­ad­e­quate mea­sure with those un­for­tu­nate to find the loved ones they were seek­ing.

It was to this grey, dim, sud­denly chill cav­ern that the bod­ies had been car­ried. Then laid out in rows so metic­u­lously neat that it struck at first as some­how ob­scene.

Then came the wails of an­guish as the blan­kets cov­er­ing them were pulled back to re­veal faces all too fa­mil­iar. Chil­dren among them.

We were still strug­gling to com­pre­hend the scale of the dis­as­ter we had just wit­nessed.

It de­fies be­lief that now, 30 years later, rel­a­tives of the 96 vic­tims are still bereft of the clo­sure which might ap­ply some spread­ing of balm upon their grief.

It is said that the law moves like a snail. So it has in this case and now it has come to a halt.

Yet the mem­o­ries live on. Vivid. Haunt­ing. In­deli­ble.

On that strangely sun­lit af­ter­noon I had ex­pected to re­port on an FA Cup semi-fi­nal be­tween Liver­pool and Nottingham For­est and ap­proached the ground from be­hind the Lep­pings Lane End.

The gates had al­ready slammed shut be­hind the thou­sands crammed on to one of those death-trap ter­races which were a blight then on English foot­ball.

Thou­sands more were out­side hop­ing, plead­ing, strain­ing for ad­mis­sion. So heavy was the pressure that one huge po­lice horse, its rider in the sad­dle, was lifted bod­ily off its hooves and into the air. At that, the fate­ful or­der was given to re­open the gates.

As I reached the old Press box, pan­de­mo­nium was break­ing out down there on those crum­bling con­crete ram­parts. There was no es­cape. The exit tun­nels were blocked by the flood of in­com­ing fans. The fences which had be­come the na­tional game’s un­wel­come hooli­gan de-ter­rent barred the path to the pitch.

Not un­til it be­came hor­ri­fy­ingly ob­vi­ous that peo­ple were hav­ing the breath of life squeezed out of them was the match stopped and nar­row emer­gency hatches in the fenc­ing prised open by stewards.

Liver­pool sup­port­ers bore their stricken brethren on their shoul­ders to safety on the play­ing field. For many, it was al­ready too late.

First-aid men were joined by vol­un­teers from the stands.

We did what we could. I was one of many tear­ing down the ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ings to use as stretch­ers. I helped carry one fa­ther to am­bu­lance­men who went to work with fren­zied will.

To what ef­fect, I know not. I rushed back for an­other run. This time it was a limp, young lad. The medic took one sad look and redi­rected us to the gym­na­sium. At that mo­ment the sense of loss felt per­sonal. Though noth­ing like as painful as it would be for his fa­ther, mother, brother or sis­ter.

Some of us had been put through a sim­i­lar night­mare four years ear­lier in Brus­sels, at the Hey­sel Sta­dium, at an­other Liver­pool match, a Euro­pean Cup Fi­nal against Ju­ven­tus.

That time it was Ital­ians who per­ished, 39 of them. Mar­garet Thatcher was prime min­is­ter and she sum­moned a few of us to brief her at No 10. Thus be­gan the long haul to all-seater sta­dia.

That, too, came too late for the Liver­pool 96.

Now there was Hills­bor­ough. No one wanted to see it again. The clo­sure of stand­ing ar­eas at ma­jor foot­ball grounds in this coun­try could be re­sisted no longer. The price paid for that reform in terms of hu­man loss was far too high

Yet now some pop­ulist politi­cians are lend­ing their mis­guided sup­port to a move­ment for re­open­ing those ghastly ter­races.

Safe stand­ing, they call it. There is no such an­i­mal.

If there were, they would not be seek­ing to uncage it had they been there with us in Sh­effield on the day of April 15, 1989.

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