On 15 April 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death and hundreds more injured on the steel-fenced terraces of Sheffield Wednesday's stadium, which was hosting that year's FA Cup semi-final.
About the Stadium.
Hillsborough is a football Stadium in Sheffield. It is the home of Sheffield Wednesday a football club and was selected by the FA as a neutral venue to host the 1988–89 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs. Kick-off was scheduled for 3:00 pm on 15 April, and fans were advised to take up positions fifteen minutes beforehand.
At the time of the disaster, most British football stadiums had high steel fencing between the spectators and the playing field in response to both friendly and hostile pitch invasions. Hooliganism had affected the sport for some years, and was particularly virulent in England. From 1974, when these security standards were put in place, crushes occurred in several English stadiums.
A report by Eastwood & Partners for a safety certificate for the stadium in 1978 concluded that although it failed to meet the recommendations of the Green Guide, a guide to safety at sports grounds, the consequences were minor. It emphasised the general situation at Hillsborough was satisfactory compared with most grounds.
Risks associated with confining fans in pens were highlighted by the Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds (the Popplewell inquiry) after the Bradford City stadium fire in May 1985. It made recommendations on the safety of crowds penned within fences, including that "all exit gates should be manned at all times ... and capable of being opened immediately from the inside by anyone in an emergency".
Ground Condition before the Match.
Hillsborough was a regular venue for FA Cup semi-finals in the 1980s, hosting five matches. A crush occurred at the Leppings Lane end of the ground during the 1981 semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers after hundreds more spectators were permitted to enter the terrace than could safely be accommodated, resulting in 38 injuries, including broken arms, legs and ribs. Police believed there had been a real chance of fatalities had swift action not been taken, and recommended the club reduce its capacity. In a post-match briefing to discuss the incident, Sheffield Wednesday chairman Bert McGee remarked: "Bollocks—no one would have been killed". This incident prompted Sheffield Wednesday to alter the layout at the Leppings Lane end, dividing the terrace into three separate pens to restrict sideways movement.
The terrace was divided into five pens when the club was promoted to the First Division in 1984, and a crush barrier near the access tunnel was removed in 1986 to improve the flow of fans entering and exiting the central enclosure. Its capacity remained unaltered and the safety certificate was not updated. After the crush in 1981, Hillsborough was not chosen to host an FA Cup semi-final for six years until 1987.
Serious overcrowding was observed at the 1987 quarter-final between Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City and again during the semi-final between Coventry City and Leeds United at Hillsborough. A Leeds fan described disorganisation at the turnstiles and no steward or police direction inside the stadium, resulting in the crowd in one enclosure becoming so compressed he was at times unable to raise and clap his hands. Other accounts told of fans having to be pulled to safety from above.
Liverpool and Nottingham Forest met in the semi-final at Hillsborough in 1988, and fans reported crushing at the Leppings Lane end. Liverpool lodged a complaint before the match in 1989. One supporter wrote to the Football Association and Minister for Sport complaining, "The whole area was packed solid to the point where it was impossible to move and where I, and others around me, felt considerable concern for personal safety". After changes to the ground's layout in 1981, its safety certificate became invalid but was not renewed. At the time of the disaster, the ground had no safety certificate.
Before the Match.
As is common at domestic matches in England, opposing supporters were segregated. Nottingham Forest supporters were allocated the South and East ends (Spion Kop) with a combined capacity of 29,800, reached by 60 turnstiles spaced along two sides of the ground. Liverpool supporters were allocated the North and West ends (Leppings
Lane), holding 24,256 fans, reached by 23 turnstiles from a narrow concourse. Although Liverpool had more supporters, Nottingham Forest was allocated the larger area, to avoid the approach routes of rival fans crossing. As a result of the stadium layout and segregation policy, turnstiles that would normally have been used to enter the North Stand from the east were off-limits and all Liverpool supporters had to converge on a single entrance at Leppings Lane. On match day, radio and television advised fans without tickets not to attend.
Three chartered trains transported Liverpool supporters to Sheffield for a match fixture in 1988, but only one such train ran in 1989. Many supporters wished to enjoy the day and were in no hurry to enter the stadium too early. Some supporters were delayed by roadworks while crossing the Pennines on the M62 motorway which resulted in minor traffic congestion. Between 2:30 pm and 2:40 pm, there was a build-up of supporters outside the turnstiles facing Leppings Lane, eager to enter the stadium before the game began.
A bottleneck developed with more fans arriving than could be safely filtered through the turnstiles before 3:00 pm. People presenting tickets at the wrong turnstiles and those who had been refused entry could not leave because of the crowd behind them but remained as an obstruction. Fans outside could hear cheering as the teams came on the pitch ten minutes before the match started, and as the match kicked off, but could not get in. A police constable radioed control asking the game to be delayed, as it had been two years before, to ensure the safe passage of supporters into the ground. The request was received but declined.
With an estimated 5,000 fans trying to enter through the turnstiles and increasing safety concerns, the police, to avoid fatalities outside the ground, opened a large exit gate (Gate C) that ordinarily permitted the free flow of supporters departing the stadium. Two further gates were opened to relieve pressure. After an initial rush, thousands of supporters entered the stadium "steadily at a fast walk".
When the gates were opened, thousands of fans entered a narrow tunnel leading to the rear of the terrace into two overcrowded central pens, creating pressure at the front. Hundreds of people were pressed against one another and the fencing by the weight of the crowd behind them. People entering were unaware of the problems at the fence; police or stewards usually stood at the entrance to the tunnel and, when the central pens reached capacity, directed fans to the side pens, but on this occasion, for reasons not fully explained, did not. A BBC TV news report conjectured that if police had positioned two police horses correctly, they would have acted as breakwaters directing many fans into side pens, but on this occasion, it was not done.
For some time, problems at the front of the pen went unnoticed, except by those affected, as attention was absorbed by the match. At 3:06 pm the referee, Ray Lewis, on the advice of the police, stopped the match after fans climbed the fence in an effort to escape the crush and went onto the track. By this time, a small gate in the fence had been forced open and some fans escaped via this route, as others continued to climb over the fencing. The police attempted to stop fans from spilling onto the pitch. Other fans were pulled to safety by fans in the West Stand above the Leppings Lane terrace. The intensity of the crush broke the crush barriers on the terraces. Holes in the perimeter fencing were made by fans desperately attempting to rescue others.
Those trapped were packed so tightly in the pens that many victims died of compressive asphyxia while standing. The crowd in the Leppings Lane Stand overspilled onto the pitch, where many injured and traumatised fans congregated who had climbed to safety. Police, stewards and members of the St. John Ambulance service were overwhelmed. Many uninjured fans assisted the injured; several attempted CPR and others tore down advertising hoardings to use as stretchers. Chief Superintendent John Nesbit of South Yorkshire Police later briefed Michael Shersby MP that leaving the rescue to the fans was a deliberate strategy, and is quoted as saying "We let the fans help so that they would not take out their frustration out on the police" at a Police Federation conference.
As events unfolded, some police officers were still deployed making a cordon three-quarters of the way down the pitch to prevent Liverpool supporters reaching the opposing supporters. Some fans tried to break through the cordon to ferry injured fans to waiting ambulances but were forcibly turned back. 44 ambulances arrived, but police prevented all but one from entering the stadium.
Only 14 of the 96 fatally injured people arrived at hospital.
BBC Television's cameras were at the ground to record the match for Match of the Day. As the disaster unfolded, the events were relayed live to the Saturday sports show, Grandstand.
A total of 96 people died as a result of the disaster. On the day 94 people, aged from 10 to 67 years old, died as a result of their injuries, either at the stadium, in the ambulances, or shortly after arrival at hospital, with 766 fans sustaining injuries—around 300 of whom required hospital treatment. On 19 April, the death toll reached 95 when 14-year-old Lee Nicol—attached to a life support machine—succumbed to his injuries. The death toll reached 96 in March 1993, when artificial feeding and hydration was withdrawn from 22-year-old Tony Bland after nearly four years, during which time he had remained in a persistent vegetative state and shown no sign of improvement.
Andrew Devine, aged 22 at the time of the disaster, suffered similar injuries to Tony Bland and was also diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. In March 1997—a month before the eighth anniversary of the disaster—it was reported he had emerged from the condition and was able to communicate using a touch-sensitive pad, and he had been showing signs of awareness of his surroundings for up to three years previously.
Of those who died, 79 were aged 30 or younger. Two sisters, three pairs of brothers, and a father and son were among those who died, as were two men about to become fathers for the first time; 25-year-old Steven Brown of Wrexham and 30-year-old Peter Thompson of Widnes. Jon-Paul Gilhooley, aged ten, cousin of future Liverpool F.C. captain Steven Gerrard, was the youngest person to die. Gerrard has said the disaster inspired him to lead the team he supported as a boy and become a top professional football player. The oldest person to die at Hillsborough was 67-year-old Gerard Baron, brother of the late Liverpool player Kevin Baron.