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Old 12-09-12, 09:42 AM   #42
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Hillsborough: Brian Reade on the day that changed football forever

How English football became a golden magnet for billionaire owners and millionaire players from every corner of the earth... at the cost of 96 lives

Floral tributes are left outside Liverpool's Anfield stadium, to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster

English football is different today.

The stadiums are home to middle-class families watching pre-match entertainment from comfortable seats and corporate clients sipping chilled wine over three-course meals in plush boxes. Potent symbols of the most lucrative brand in global sporting history.

Twenty years ago our grounds didn't smell of wealth and fine cuisine but resentment, from fans fenced into crumbling terraces by law- makers who viewed them as an unruly mob.

Their potential for tribal violence, not their consumer rights, were uppermost in politicians' minds. Crowd control, not crowd safety, the guiding principles of police charged with keeping them in check.

In those decrepit sheds, many of which had changed little since the Victorians built them, a tragedy was waiting to happen.

Way to tragedy: The gates at the Leppings Lane end

It came on April 15, 1989, during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, when police lost control, opened an exit gate and allowed thousands of fans to enter, and stream unguided, into crowded pens. They then ignored the desperate pleas from those who were perishing behind 10ft high, spiked metal. It was Britain's worst sporting disaster and it changed football forever.

An inquiry would demand all pitch-side fences were ripped out, seats put in and fans treated as human beings.

English football became a golden magnet for billionaire owners, millionaire players and satellite customers, drawn from every corner of the earth. But at what cost? Ninety-six people - half of whom were 21 or younger - lost their lives at Hillsborough, more than 750 were physically injured, numerous suicides have been laid at its door, and thousands still bear the mental scars.

The families fought long and hard for justice for their loved ones, but despite Lord Justice Taylor laying the blame squarely at the door of the police, not one person has lost a day's pay or a day's liberty. Two decades on the wounds are still raw. But on Wednesday September 12, after years of trying, families of the dead will finally get to see confidential government and police documents which they believe will show how the blame was shifted from panicked policing and flawed stadium design to innocent supporters.

Here is English football' s most harrowing and shameful story told by Brian Reade, the Mirror man who was there on the day and with the families throughout their elusive struggle for justice.

True Reds: Brian Reade at a Liverpool match with his son Philip

The morning could not have been more perfect. A cobalt blue sky, blood orange sun and a warm air filled with birdsong and blossom. Spring's optimism flooded Liverpudlian hearts.

It was the second year running we'd been drawn to play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough and those of us in that red procession which snaked along the M62 to Sheffield had few worries about reaching Wembley again.

But different kinds of doubts were creeping in. Major roadworks, an accident and persistent police checks were causing delays, and fears spread that the kick-off might be missed.

On reaching Hillsborough those fears were realised. At 2.30pm, Leppings Lane, the entry point for all Liverpool fans, was human gridlock.

No police or stewards were on hand to filter the thousands of fans into queues.

The only visible authority was half-adozen forlorn figures in blue on horseback and a few on the ground, screaming at the swaying crowd to back away from the turnstiles. For the second year running, and despite protests, Liverpool were given 4,000 fewer tickets and the smaller end of the ground - despite having a much bigger following than Forest.

Geographically it made the police job of getting fans in and out of Sheffield easier.

Ensuring safety is how they termed it. It meant all 24,000 Liverpool ticket-holders, whether in Leppings Lane or the West and North stands, had to pass through 23 turnstiles, most so old they constantly jammed.

At the much newer Kop end Forest had 60 modern turnstiles. As the ground erupted with expectation at the entry of the teams, outside in Leppings Lane, there was pandemonium.

Fans, angry at the lack of movement and organisation, berated the police, some of whom were screaming into their radios for assistance. Many of us moved away from the turnstiles and looked on from a distance, convinced the kick-off would be put back while they sorted out the chaos.

Instead, at 2.52pm a huge blue exit gate opened and 2,000 of us poured in.

Lift of life: Fans help fellow supporters out of the crowded pens to safety

At the back of the Leppings Lane terrace, stewards who were supposed to be dispersing the supporters evenly into five pens had vanished. Consequently the bulk of fans ignored the lesser populated pens at the sides of the terrace and headed into the two central ones behind the goal, already over-crowded. Those at the front became packed tighter and tighter. The game was now under way and fans at the back, ignorant of the crush, concentrated on trying to get a view of the pitch.

They weren't to know that ahead of them on this shallow-sloping concrete there was panic, fear, hyper-ventilating, fainting, hair drenched in sweat and vomit matting on the metal fencing.

And death. Survivors speak of faces pushed against them that were wide-eyed and blue, of their bodies going numb and limp, and their minds suffering neardeath experiences. Eddie Spearritt, whose 14-year-old son Adam died in the crush, lost consciousness. He said: "They've said it was a surge but it wasn't. It was a slow, constant build-up of pressure, like a vice getting tighter and tighter until you couldn't breathe."

Fans screamed at passing police to open the perimeter gates but they walked on by. Some who tried to climb over the fence were battered back down. Others crawled on all fours above heads towards the back of the terrace and were hoisted to safety by fans in the stand above.

Despite the obvious density of the crowd, the screams, and the pain etched on the faces of the suffering - and despite CCTV cameras feeding these images back to the police control room - the perimeter gates remained locked.

When one was temporarily forced open by fans and a few spilled on to the pitch, the police thinking became clear.

Reinforcements moved in with dogs. They believed what they were seeing behind the cages was not innocents trapped in a killing field, but hooligans orchestrating a pitch invasion.

Help us: With the game still progressing, fans who made it over the barriers are trying to aid others

Goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, a couple of yards from the unfolding disaster, was one of the first to raise the alarm.

He said: "There were people with their faces pinned against the fence saying to me, 'Bruce, can you help me. We can't breathe'. So I asked a policewoman to open the gate and she said, 'We have to wait for our boss to give the word'."

By 3.04pm, when Liverpool striker Peter Beardsley crashed a shot against the bar causing a surge, many of the 96 had already lost their lives.

Some died standing up, of traumatic asphyxia. Others were crushed or trampled when a crash barrier gave way.

At 3.06pm after the police reinforcements had signalled the severity of the problem, the referee led both teams off.

The perimeter gates were opened and hundreds of seriously injured fans spilled on to the grass and collapsed, desperate for ambulances, stretchers and oxygen that never arrived.

The penalty area looked like a battlefield.

Between the bodies, casualties staggered around, dazed, confused, weeping.

Apart from a handful of St John Ambulancemen, the only medical aid for the dying came from fellow fans.

They tried resuscitation and tore down advertising hoardings to ferry victims the length of the pitch to what quickly became a makeshift mortuary. Some policemen joined in. Others berated fans for ripping down the hoardings to make stretchers.

Together in the darkest hours: Hero supporters carry the injured on makeshift stretchers made from advertising hoardings

Dozens more police were drafted on to the pitch, not to help casualties but to form a wall across the half- way line to prevent rival fans getting at each other.

Clearly back in the control room the carnage was still being put down to hooliganism.

Half an hour after the players had left the pitch a solitary ambulance made its way slowly towards the Leppings Lane end. That even one made it was a minor miracle.

Tony Edwards, the only professional ambulanceman to reach the Leppings Lane end, recalled what happened outside the ground. He said: " A policeman came to my window and said, ' You can't go on the pitch, they 're still fighting'."

He went on nonetheless, but his job was made impossible by the scale of the casualties.

The memory of bodies being piled on to his ambulance, of people pleading with him to take their friends and loved ones, of the anarchy that made his job impossible, haunts him to this day.

But what haunts him most is the knowledge that he was the only paramedic trying to help. He said: "There were 42 ambulances, including mine, waiting outside the stadium. That means 80- odd trained staff could have been inside the ground. They weren't allowed in because they were told there was fighting.

"But there was no fighting. The survivors were deciding who was the priority, who we should deal with. The police weren't. We weren't . Can you imagine a rail accident where all the ambulances wait on the embankment while survivors bring the casualties up?"

Of the 94 who died that day ( 14-year-old Lee Nicol died four days later and 18-year-old Tony Bland had his life support machine turned off in March 1993) only 14 made it to hospital.

Trevor Hicks was one of the few who got a loved one into Tony Edwards' ambulance. He was trying to resuscitate his 19- year- old daughter Sarah when he spotted her 15- year- old sister Victoria being placed into the ambulance.

Too little, too late: An ambulance makes it way onto the pitch

Trevor tried to push Sarah in alongside her but the bodies were piled high and he had to lay her back on the pitch.

He said: " The ambulance started to move away. I saw the door close and I had to make a decision in that split-second. I thought 'the fella with Sarah knows what he's doing, I'll leave her with him and another ambulance will be along in a minute'."

Another one never came and both of his girls died. Trevor, now 63, added: "In the ambulance, I was sucking the vomit from Vicky's throat. I couldn't get rid of that taste for six months.

"A psychiatrist said I was either trying to hang on to the last contact with my daughters or it was guilt - I was punishing myself for not saving them.

"The hurt I suffered that day was so extreme I can't be hurt any more."

Outside the ground as we devastated fans made our way home grief turned to rage when word spread that we were being blamed for the disaster.

The FA's Chief Executive Graham Kelly, told the media that the policeman in charge, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, had accused us of kicking down an exit gate and flooding the terraces.

Duckenfield, in charge of his first big football match had given the order to open the gate without ensuring the thousands who entered Leppings Lane would be funnelled into the outside pens.

He had seen the over- crowding and suffering on the terraces on CCTV cameras with zoom facilities and done nothing. And when asked for an explanation he mouthed something he believed outsiders would buy.

Lies, damned lies: In their haste to cover up, police and politicians created their own narrative of the disaster

A hooligan mob had stormed the stadium and killed their own.

It was a lie which would travel all the way around the world before it was corrected.

A calculated slur that would never go away.

Uefa president Jacques Georges picked up on Duckenfield's words and laid the blame squarely on the Liverpool fans.

He said: "They were beasts waiting to charge into the arena." When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher turned up at Hillsborough on the Sunday, she expressed her sympathy but little else.

However, her closest aide, Yorkshireman Sir Bernard Ingham, was blaming a "tanked-up mob".

This was the line now being peddled by South Yorkshire Police as the enormity of their culpability hit home.

Before a single corpse had been buried the second Hillsborough tragedy was under way. The cover- up.

A Sheffield news agency and Tory MP Irvine Patnick, were fed lies by an unnamed

Police Federation official and soon a fantasy tale, copper- bottomed by officialdom, was in the public domain.

Hordes of Liverpool hooligans had turned up drunk and ticketless and caused mayhem outside the ground leaving police with no option but to open the gate.

As brave emergency service workers battled to save lives, the yobs abused them in the vilest of manner and stole from the dead.

The Establishment was putting a classic smear on the fans to duck the blame for almost 100 deaths and so low did the public hold football followers back then, it swallowed it.
Continued below......
That were absolute diabolical
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