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20 Years

By Nick Armitage :  12/04/2009 :  Comments (12) :
Everyone who was alive in 1963 remembers exactly where they were on 22nd November when they heard the news of the assassination of JFK. The exact same applies to any scouser and 15th April 1989.

I was fifteen in April 1989. Only in the previous couple of years had I been allowed to go to Goodison with my mates. Unfortunately a trip to see Everton play at Villa Park in the other semi was never on the cards for me. On that day I went shopping to town instead. I probably bought what I considered to be some stylish threads in Concept Man and a head banging album upstairs in the old HMV where Next now stands.

I took my Walkman with me to listen to the progress of the blues, but the batteries died, these were still the days when we had to buy batteries. Without headphones, and being able to sense my surroundings, I vividly recall that Liverpool City Centre just didn?t feel the same. Church Street was normally buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, but despite the glorious weather the place was noticeably flat. I got a bus home from the Gyratory some time after four.

As the bus pulled up to my stop I heard the driver had a radio on so I asked him the score, he said Everton won one nil. I wondered how he was so confident I was a blue, I didn?t have an Everton top on and I didn?t know the man from Adam, so I asked him.

The driver looked through me and told me that the Liverpool game had been cancelled, the radio reported that fans had died. My obvious conclusion was crowd trouble, but straight away he followed up by saying his lad was there and he just wanted to finish his shift and get home. As he spoke to me his face was utterly devoid of any expression and the look on his face shot a chill through my soul. I have never seen anyone conscious look so numb in all my life and I will never forget that man as long as I live.

I got home and walked through the front door, the radio was blaring in the kitchen and both downstairs televisions were on. That was unusual. My dad, who hated football, had his hands on his hips and looked visibly shaken. I sat down and started watching the newsflashes with the radio in the background. Even with blanket media coverage, nobody appeared to know exactly what was going on. The only thing that made any sense were the numbers, and those numbers just kept going up and up - 4, 6, 20, 30, up to 50???

When I returned to school I remember a special assembly where we were told that everyone in the school was fine ? by fine they meant alive.

There were dozens of kids in my school at that match. That day I saw kids crying in offices and corridors, hugging each other on the yard and showing injuries to their mates. We looked to the teachers for guidance, but they were as lost as we were. In a school full of hard knocks, I had never witnessed an outpouring of emotion like that. Under normal circumstances you?d get your head flushed down the toilet for any sign of weakness, but hostilities ended that day and a hell of lot of young people took their first steps into adulthood.

In the days after I saw grown men openly weeping, a mate of mine said it was the first and only time he had seen his dad cry. None of what happened seemed real, but it was. Thatcher had ravaged the City of Liverpool through the 80s and this was the final kick in the teeth from an uncaring establishment, but the people of Merseyside stood shoulder to shoulder. At that time both clubs and their supporters everywhere united in a way that I am convinced no others could have.

Twenty years later the memories are still raw. It seems like yesterday, but it wasn?t.

John Aldridge said that for him, ?football died that day.? It did for a lot of people but more importantly 96 sons, daughters, husbands and wives of the City of Liverpool needlessly lost their lives. It doesn?t matter which club they supported.

As it happened the 1989 FA Cup Final was a great game, but did anyone care when we lost the final; did any kopites care when they won it? Bill Shankly once said that football was more important than life or death ? he couldn?t have been more wrong if he tried. All football pales into insignificance after the events of that tragic day.

One thing us Evertonians should never forget is that if a different ball had been pulled out a bag, it could have been a very different history for Everton Football Club. All football supporters, and particularly those from Merseyside, must never forget those 96.

Reader Comments

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Kevin Sparke
1   Posted 13/04/2009 at 08:13:49

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Good piece Nick

I hate Liverpool FC with a passion... hate that song... hate the players... hate the horrible ground... hate the singalonga fans... twats every last one of them (even one of my sisters and my granddads... when they were alive).

But on the morning of 15 April 1989, a bunch of lads met outside an alehouse in Whiston and took the piss out of each other before embarking on their respective mini buses and coaches. I was on my way to Villa park to watch Everton v Norwich with my mates, they were on their way to Hillsborough.

At about 3:20pm, news came through at Villa Park that the Liverpool game was delayed due to ?crowd trouble?. At half-time, my mate Ozzie came back after having a pee and told us that a copper had told him that the game had been abandoned due to a wall collapsing and 9 were dead... Liverpool supporters. All through the second half the rumours came through and the figure grew.

Leaving the ground after we?d beat Norwich there seemed to be an even bigger police presence. One of my mates ?Little Tony? asked a police sergeant what was happening I?ll never forget his reply:

"60 scouse bastards dead... and if you lot kick off there will be 60 more."

That was the longest journey home ever ? these were the days before almost universal mobile phone ownership and all up and down the Motorway lads were queuing up in service stations to phone home and check out the whereabouts of dads, brothers, uncles, sisters...

We got back to the local and I rang my mum from there to reassure her I?d not had a conversion to the Dark Side.

That night as the Liverpool supporting contingent got dropped off outside the pub, lads who?d been on opposite side of the red/blue divide embraced like long lost brothers ? which some of them were. I counted all the lads in. One of the three mini-buses was half empty ? one of the lads on that bus wasn?t going to ever come home. As a kid I?d played football with him, got pissed with him, even fought with him. You must understand ? they?d not gone to war, they?d gone to a football match.

I still hate Liverpool FC ? but I love my mates even though they?re Kopite twats.

Justice for the 96
Dave Wilson
2   Posted 13/04/2009 at 08:27:20

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I was travelling south with hundreds of Jubilant exiled blues who were working down there at the time. The train didn?t pull out of Birmingham as expected, late arrivals were pouring into the station. As each group swarmed in, the news became more horrific. Of course nobody had mobile phones at the time and Evertonians were fighting each other to get on the pay phones, they all had dads, brothers, friends and relatives at the other semi-final. One lad just sat down shaking, I asked him if he was ok, he told me his mam was at Sheffield.

I was later to find out that none of my nearest and dearest were harmed, I felt relieved, then I felt guilty for feeling relieved.

Well done Nick Armitage a fine article. Our two clubs are inextricably linked and their tragic loss was always going to be ours too.

Justice for the 96

Kevin Gillen
3   Posted 13/04/2009 at 13:19:01

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I was in Hull, where I lived and worked, on the day of Hillsborough and my mum had come over from Liverpool to see me. My brother-in-law was at Hillsborough in the Leppings Lane End, he was one of the lucky ones who came home.

I watched the documentary piece on the BBC the other day. I?m still filled with anger about what happened. I am an Evertonian. I don?t hate Liverpudlians. I grew up with lots of them around me as my friends.

Sure, I?m a bit sore about the state of modern football and I am annoyed about the consequences of Heysel, another tragedy that could have been avoided if the authorities had done their jobs properly. But I don?t blame Liverpool FC for all of Everton?s woes.

Hillsborough summed up all that was worst about that time and that era. An insensitive and incompetent police force that saw themselves as the enemy of ordinary working people who just happened to be sports fans. Built on the emnity caused by the Industrial disputes provoked by Thatcher and her weird and wonderful ideas.

Appalling conditions in which to watch the game, stadiums built in the 1st half of the century hardly fit for purpose, mainly fit for profit. The appalling photos of the crushed dead on the front and middle pages of the Sun. That paper has never crossed my door nor will it ever.

I feel terribly sorry for anyone who sent off a loved one that day and had to cope with them not coming home alive. Blues and Reds lost loved ones that day and never got any justice. We should never forget Hillsborough, all the people of Liverpool.

Gary Evans
4   Posted 13/04/2009 at 14:19:51

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I did not go to Villa Park ? I was a poor 18 year old student ? but settled down to listen to Radio City. Never forgotten that day. Was happy we won but knew something was terribly wrong. I rang my Kopite mate and his dad said he was ok, they were just looking for one of the group.

I had gone to school with all of them. Had suffered the many many depressing Monday mornings of the early 80s before we started winning trophies and I could go to school with the bragging rights.

David was a really quiet lad. He sat next to me in Science and we always had a good laugh. He was a red and I was a blue. Lots of banter and good humoured rivalry. We played five-a-side every Friday ? he was a cracking goalie. One of the best. Yet only I could score a penalty against him every time. I knew his weakness and it wound him up something rotten.

The night of the Lockerbie bombing I was playing Subbuteo (yes, at 18!!!!) with him. He was not a bessie mate, just a good lad who you could chat to. My mates were looking for him and found him in the gym. I did not know.

The next day, Sunday morning, I had to return to Poly and got the National Express. A couple of things stick in my mind ? firstly, a lone LFC scarf tied to the railings on the bridge over the M62 at the Bowring Park roundabout. The other was how quiet town was. No-one spoke.

I got to Poly in Portsmouth and rang my mate to see how he was. His dad answered again. He said my mate was at the cathedral for a service. I asked how everyone was and he said, "Evo, you don?t know do you?" Remember there were no mobiles etc. I replied, "know what?" and then he told me David was dead and I broke down in the phone box.

I am crying now as I type this. He was just a good lad going to watch his team and would have either laughed off my taunts had they lost or looked forward to the final against us if they had won. I used to go to the memorial service every year but stopped about 7 or 8 years ago. I feel I need to go on Wednesday. I am so so angry that this happened and always will be.

Every year I raise a glass to David and this year will be no exception. Cheers mate. I miss you and those penalties.

Brendan George
5   Posted 13/04/2009 at 14:39:15

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Kevin Gillen, I agree with you every word and sentiment. It was wonderfully put. Thank you.

I was 11 years old at the time, and it seems only yesterday.
Ian Tod
6   Posted 13/04/2009 at 16:12:21

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Horrible day ? hope nothing like that ever happens again. I still hate LFC but feel desperately sorry for their supporters who lost lives on that day.

It was a bad day but I remember still being happy because Everton won and I had a good day out at Villa Park and wanting Liverpool to lose the replay. (I was only 10 at the time so didn?t fully understand the full terror of the situation.)

Andy Crooks
7   Posted 13/04/2009 at 23:02:23

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Kevin Sparke, your quote "60 scouse bastards dead..." chilled me to the bone. Nothing has changed. The police are not a cross-section of the community; they are a cross-section of people with a desire to be police.
Peter Laing
8   Posted 14/04/2009 at 10:16:27

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I was also a 14-year-old who attended the Everton-Norwich game at Villa Park, the journey home via Barnes travel was eerie with utter shock and silence.

I remember disembarking the coach at Priory Road to be met by utter confusion and vendors selling the Echo with the front cover telling of the horrific events at Hillsborough. I had a couple of mates who were in the Leppings Lane, both survived but carry the emotional and psychological scars to this day. Justice for the 96.

James Boden
9   Posted 14/04/2009 at 12:16:58

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I am speaking as a person who had yet to step foot on this earth when the Hillsborough tragedy occured. I can also write with relief that not one member of my family tree lost their lives on that tragic day. However, I can understand and appreciate the reasons for this article being written, even on an Everton fan website, and I must say it is a touching article to say the least.

The images of overcrowding in the Lepping's Lane that day are frightening and unfortunately turned out to be fatal. The sad part about it is that it was a very cruel irony given the circumstances of Heysel and, rightly or wrongly, the deaths of 96 innocent people will probably be on the conscience of Liverpool supporters forever. Even if Hillsborough wasn?t to have occurred, something else would have eventually happened.

For better or for worse, there have been many changes post-Hillsborough but this painful event will be talked and debated about forever. I will still forever despise Liverpool Football Club but I can fully respect the tributes to what happened on 15 April 1989. God Bless to the 96 who died that day and the families who suffered these losses.

Dave Ush
10   Posted 14/04/2009 at 19:06:15

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I was 11 years old and had travelled home and away with the blues from about 6 with my nan and auntie. We were penned in and generally badly treated everywhere we went and I remember being in some scary situations in pens at Oxford and others including Sheffield.

My sister was a Kop season ticket holder so when I wasn?t at goodison or on a Barnes coach I went to Anfield (usually supporting whoever they were playing under my breath) but enjoying the atmosphere with family and having a laugh. Luckily I didn?t lose anyone that day but I remember breaking down outside my house at the thought that people I?d stood with could be dead. People who had looked after me on the Kop and took me in even though they knew I was a blue through and through.

I understand hating Liverpool FC because it burns me up that we have to put up with much from them but they are our brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles and in my case mum and dad and we should never forget the 96. RIP and justice.
Stewart Littler
11   Posted 15/04/2009 at 15:58:54

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RIP the 96, a tragedy that must not happen again.
Emmet McCullagh
12   Posted 15/04/2009 at 21:14:33

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Sad as it is today, I lost two friends personally, but all the coverage on national tv dismisses the era of when our neighbours had caused the death of many Juventus supporters. To be honest there has never been a mention once of this and not once is this mentioned or accepted by their club. I live in Scotland and try to explain to younger people how our club suffered as a direct result of our neighbour's behaviour but to no avail.


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