From the other end of the ground Nottingham Forest fans looked on as the disaster unfolded in front of them, recalls Ian Preece
Pretty much every account of Hillsborough seems to mention the weather. The truth is it was an incredibly beautiful morning: blue skies, fluffy white clouds, just a bit chilly in the shade – but the forecast was great. Winter was over and if there was a morning to put the proverbial spring in your stride, this was it.
My brother had just turned 17 and worked in a sports shop; I was 21, out of college and loafing. We were going to have lunch in Sheffield but as soon as we got off the train we stepped into a wall of blue uniforms on the platform. As a consequence we were in the ground a little after 1pm. I remember staring out from the gloom of the covered Kop, enviously watching a lone Liverpool fan reading a paper in the sun. He was sat behind the far goal, the terrace was practically deserted. I turned to my brother and said: “I wish we were over there.”
I must have read the programme six times and started studying the Scottish league tables in the paper. The Forest end seemed to be filling up quicker than the Leppings Lane paddock – but then you’d expect that given every policeman in Yorkshire appeared to be hanging around the station, ready to escort anyone getting off a train from Nottingham across Sheffield, just to make sure no one lobbed a brick through the window of Fine Fare. The teams finally came out. Forest fans were still streaming through the entrance onto the steep Kop as the game kicked off. You’d think the police would be aware a lot of fans could suddenly materialise outside a football ground at ten to three on a Saturday afternoon – it had only been happening for the previous 130 years. The Kop had, in 1989, the second largest capacity in the country. Even the most blinkered Forest fan was aware of Liverpool’s greater numbers, and wondered who made that decision to allocate fans to one end or another.
The game kicked off at pace and Peter Beardsley hit the bar. In the same second that you saw the first fans on the pitch, you realised the two central terraces at the Leppings Lane end were packed. That was totally clear, from high up on the Kop, the furthest point away in the ground. There’s a groan from the Forest fans. The game stops and in a moment that I’ve replayed many times in my head, but have never seen on TV footage, the police form a line across the pitch and start pushing the Liverpool fans back. It is, after all, a pitch invasion. Within minutes, seconds, the Forest fans realise that something is not quite right – no one is actually fighting; a few blokes seem to be walking around, dazed.
It all speeds up after that. I can’t remember the order of events but we are definitely past 3.15pm. More and more people are coming over the fence. Forest fans down at the front are ripping out advertising hoardings to carry them up the pitch as stretchers; Liverpool fans are coming the other way, carrying boards. The ambulance trundles onto the grass. Kenny Dalglish is given a microphone but we can’t really hear a word of it – the odd bit of sputtering suggests there is a Tannoy but it’s not working. One chap, a few steps below, has a radio. Radio 2 say that “two or three” fans could have died but there are so many people on hoardings, clearly in a bad way.
The walk back to the station at around 4.30pm is one of the longest ever. Every road is jammed with ambulances. At the station I pick up the Sheffield evening sports paper. The headline says 50 Dead. There’s a picture on the front of a couple of kids crushed up against the fence.
We might have all-seat stadiums, the Premier League, online booking and what have you but what’s changed from 1989? Maybe the average age of fans in the Leppings Lane stand today – 15, 20 years older. Ninety-six Liverpool fans would have set off that morning with it all before them. Time and again I’ve wondered about that chap reading his newspaper on the sunny terrace. He must have wanted to get in early to get a good spot. I hope he made it out.
From WSC 309 November 2012