Having read Jo’s Hillsborough story and been moved almost to tears I felt maybe I should tell my own . I realize thousands of people have been deeply affected by the events of that day and many peoples lives were changed forever . The effect it had on me can’t even begin to compare with those who lost their loved ones but even today it is something that continues to haunt me albeit perhaps irrationally.
I am not a Scouser , I have never lived in Liverpool , to look at me many people would probably class me as an OOTER who probably only started supporting Liverpool in the Glory years and only knew about Hillsborough from the news and didn’t really understand what impact it has had on so many lives.
To some degree that is true as I didn’t personally know anyone who died that day but in my own way I also felt as if I’d lost members of my own family , such was and still is the sense of unity and belonging among Liverpool fans .
So why am I a Liverpool fan? – no Scouse birthright , I was actually born in London , the son of Sri Lankan immigrants who arrived in England penniless in 1958. I was born shortly after in 59 . Thankfully we moved north when I was only 2 and ended up living in Frodsham where I spent most of my childhood . I didn’t really know much about football until the World Cup in 66 which I can still remember but my allegiance to Liverpool came a bit later . Most of my friends in Frodsham were Liverpool fans so it was only a matter of time before I started supporting them . So , no long family tradition of being a RED but once bitten it’s been a love affair and a way of life which has been with me all my life and will stay with me till I die.
I remember being devastated after we lost to Arsenal in the 71 Cup Final but my love for the club really blossomed when my Dad finally agreed to take me the 20 miles to my first match at Anfield the year after . I still remember it now , we beat Ipswich 2-0 (2 goals from Toshack) and the sense of joy and wonder at actually being in Anfield was completely overwhelming. Every other week I used to pluck up the courage to ask Dad to take me to the match – usually he had ‘more important’ things to do like bleed the brakes on the bloody car! but I did manage to get to half a dozen or so games a season . Each time I entered Anfield it was like being amongst family even though I could usually see f**k all from the Paddock where we used to go. Eventually myself and a few of my mates some of whom were Scousers but lived in Runcorn having been shipped out to the ‘New Town’ started going by ourselves and by the mid 70’s we were regulars on the KOP and even managed a few away games.
I’ll never forget the 76/77 season – we got to almost every home game and quite a few aways .Great memories – The fantastic night against St.Etienne , my first trip to Wembley for the Cup Final ( despite the result) and the glorious win in Rome which to this day is the one thing ( just like Evo) I still regret not going to . It was bang in the middle of my A levels and while I could afford the 60 quid train fare , 3 days there and 3 days back would have meant failing them all ! Thankfully I managed to pass them and got into Medical School at Leeds which was ironic seeing as I hated Leeds United more than any other team at the time.
My student rail card meant I could still get over to Anfield regularly – £1.88 day return from Leeds to Liverpool – cheaper than the £2 it cost to get to Elland Rd on the bus from where we lived!
There weren’t many Asian or black fans on the terraces in those days and of course racism was much more upfront then than it is now . There were monkey noises and throwing of bananas as well as the chorus from the KOP of “hello der man’’ at every black player who played at Anfield. I remember being stood on the Clock end at Highbury when half the REDS around me were singing “ we all agree Phil Neal is better than niggers’’ referring to the fact that Viv Anderson the first black player to play for England had replaced Phil Neal in the England team a few days before. I happen to agree that Phil Neal was better than Anderson but would perhaps have expressed it slightly differently
I didn’t get involved in too much of the violence prevalent at the time , just the odd skirmish in the rabbit warrens around Maine Road and a bit of a hairy time at the European Cup game at Forest but I was often the butt of racist abuse , sometimes even from our own fans . This didn’t deter me though as my growing affinity to Liverpool both the football club and the people gave my an increasing sense of identity and belonging and in my own mind I almost felt like a real Scouser . – I know many true Scousers may take exception to me saying that and I can understand why but I can only express how I felt and in fact still feel.
I know I have waffled on about my own past but I really just wanted to give a bit of background as to why the events at Hillsborough also meant so much to me even though I’m not a Scouser and didn’t suffer any personal loss.
Many of us not directly connected with those who died have their own individual feelings over what went on there. Jo’s feelings of guilt caused by the lies of Mackenzie are a case in point . I also had feelings of guilt for many years about what I experienced that day but for different reasons .
By 1989 I was working as a doctor mainly doing GP locums around the North West . I was able to afford a season ticket and so got to most Liverpool games home and away . I went to Hillsborough on my own , I can’t remember why the lads I usually went with didn’t go but the fact that they didn’t may have saved my life.
I arrived there fairly early , before 2 o’clock and although there were a lot of people outside the Leppings Lane end the crush wasn’t too bad and I got in fairly easily thinking I’d try to get a decent spec. I went straight down the tunnel into the middle pen but already it was pretty packed . If my usual mates had been there we would have stayed there as they liked to stand right behind the goal – me being a relative ‘shortarse’ would usually make my way down to the front so I could see a bit better although the view was always crap through the railings . This time though as I was alone I looked around for somewhere better so I could see. The pen to the left was half empty and I moved into there first . After a while I saw the middle pen getting chokka and remembered the year before when they blocked off the tunnel and diverted everyone into the side pens. Thinking that my pen would get full I decided to move to the upper pen in the corner which still looked like it had plenty of space. From there I had a great view of the pitch .
I could see how full it was down below but once the match kicked off didn’t think anything of it , I’d been in the Kop plenty of times when it was packed like sardines.
I had no inkling as to what was happening in there , I saw people spilling onto the pitch , the game was stopped and the players went off , there were tannoy announcements telling the fans to get off the pitch . Myself and those around me had no idea of the carnage going on just yards away from us . At first it looked like a pitch invasion and I was thinking I wish everyone would just get off the pitch and let the game get started again – I still feel so ashamed of having those thoughts even now .
Time went on and more and more people were spilling onto the pitch , it was obvious this wasn’t a pitch invasion and I began to see that some people were hurt but I still had no idea of the seriousness and magnitude of what was unfolding before my eyes. I assumed that there were enough first aiders and St.Johns Ambulance people around to deal with the situation. Then the realisation of what was happening began to sink in – I saw lads carrying injured on advertising hoardings , an ambulance came onto the pitch , people were obviously badly hurt . It was only when some of the crowd cleared and I saw a man lying on the ground with his jumper pulled over his head that it fully hit me – he was dead . By this time it must have been about 3.15 – I ran to a steward and told him I was a doctor and needed to get down to the pitch to help – he sent me to a policeman who got on his radio and then took me up to the other end of the ground where they were taking the casualties . On the way he said there were about 20 dead .
This news almost floored me – there I was standing not 25yards away form where people were dying and not been able to see what was happening – how could I have not realised?
When I got to where the casualties were I couldn’t believe what was in front of me . There’s no point going into details but suffice to say I’ve never felt so helpless in my life .No equipment available and very little organisation for what was a major disaster. For most of those there it was too late and it was basically a question of doing the best for those who could be saved – deciding who went off in an ambulance and who didn’t . We did our best but by that time it was too late to make much of a difference .
The official time of death of everyone was later deemed to be 3.15 . I know that can’t be true as there were people who I and others tried to resuscitate who must have died later than that . I later wrote to the inquiry saying this but nothing further came of it in the whitewash/cover up that followed.
When all the injured had been taken away to hospital I walked back down the side of the pitch towards the Leppings Lane end . There was an eerie quiet and it was almost empty apart from a few isolated people in obvious shock and grief . I looked again at where I had been standing and saw how close I had been to where all those people had died.
I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt – why hadn’t I got down to the pitch at the start? how could I have not realised what was happening so close to where I was standing? . I had worked in casualty and had some experience of dealing with trauma injuries . Maybe if I had acted quicker some people may have been saved – I don’t know if I would have made any difference at all but at least I could have tried and maybe helped those who had no medical experience to do the best for the injured.
In my working life I feel I can honestly say I’ve always done my best for my patients but to this day I still feel that I failed my fellow Reds , my ‘family’ on that day and that sense of guilt will probably stay with me forever .
Over the following days as the details of the gross mismanagement of the situation by those in charge came to light, a rising feeling of anger built up in me . A friend of mine , also a doctor had been sitting in the stand with his dad . When it became clear the match was abandoned they left the ground and were driving away when they heard an appeal on the radio for any medical people to go to the ground . They tried to turn round but couldn’t go anywhere because of the traffic . He got out and headed back on foot but again was much too late to do anything. He like me described a similar feeling of guilt at not realising what was going on when he was in the ground.
All it would have taken was an appeal over the tannoy for medical help , instead they were too busy telling fans to get off the pitch and putting out appeals over the local radio! . In an average population of 45,000 there would have been about 20 or so doctors , 200 nurses and dozens of trained first aiders , but of course we were all worthless football fans , scum of the earth , drunken yobs who pissed on an robbed the dead , not decent normal people like everyone else who just might have been able to make a difference had it even occurred to them to ask.
This attitude towards football fans and particularly people from Liverpool was reinforced by the subsequent stories (lies) in the scum newspapers over the next few days . I couldn’t believe the absolute contempt they showed for the feelings of the bereaved and those involved on that day – they treated fellow human beings in their most desperate hours like total shite – that’s a crime a thousand times worse than what they were accusing us of .
The influence of that early inaccurate and malicious reporting despite the subsequent apologies moulded and fixed many people’s view of what happened that day and even now when I mention Hillsborough to those who have no connection with football they perceive it as a football ‘hooligan’ incident rather than the tragedy it was caused by the very people who were supposed to be protecting us . That is why I , like everyone else must continue to support the Justice campaign so that the real ‘TRUTH’ is once and for all made known and put on record . It’s not about revenge or seeking blood , it’s about acknowledgement of responsibility and accountability . It’s about treating those so deeply affected with the dignity and respect they were so cruelly denied at the time .
Yes it was a long time ago and there are many who say let sleeping dogs lie but to those affected the wounds can never heal – it’s never too late though for those responsible to admit their mistakes and say sorry and to those involved that at least would be of some help in the years ahead.
For me I will always feel a sense of guilt , something common to many who survived that day however irrational that may be in reality . I’ve never really talked much about these feelings and maybe sharing my story with fellow Reds on this site will be of some personal benefit to me . Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to read this , I apologise if it’s a bit self indulgent ,