I will never, never forget 15 April, 1989. I cannot even think of the name Hillsborough, cannot even say the word, without so many distressing memories flooding back. I find it very difficult to write about Hillsborough, where terrible mistakes by the authorities, both police and football, ended with 96 of our supporters dead. The memory will remain with me for the rest of my life. I was offered the manager's job at Sheffield Wednesday after I left Liverpool but I couldn't take it because of what had happened at Hillsborough. The person who offered me the job said: 'I never thought of that.' But I can never be in the stadium without thinking of all those people who died on the Leppings Lane terraces.
In mourning the victims during the heartbreaking, endless succession of funerals and ever since, my emotions have been coloured by a feeling of complete frustration. Liverpool had played in an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough the year before and there had been no reported problems. The organisation was superb. The fans had to come through a barrier 500 yards away from the ground where they had to show their tickets. That wasn't the case on 15 April 1989.
A different team was in charge and the stewarding had changed. Why wasn't the procedure repeated from the previous year? If it was repeated, why did it fail? If it had been run exactly the same as the year before, those 96 people might have been alive today and there wouldn't be family after family across Merseyside struggling to live with the memory of a lost loved one.
It was obvious that Liverpool supporters should have been given Hillsborough's Kop. The smaller Leppings Lane end was clearly unsuitable. Apparently the police said it was better for the Nottingham Forest fans to come at the Kop end of Hillsborough. To be fair to the police, our fans had stood at the Leppings Lane end the year before, without any problem. There was enough room in the ground for our fans. Liverpool had the whole stand next to the Leppings Lane end but this added to the problem. Liverpool fans with tickets to that area had to enter through the Leppings Lane turnstiles.
The previous year there had been no motorway roadworks. The police knew how many supporters were expected. With so many not inside, they must have realised many of them had been delayed on the journey to Sheffield. The police must have known about the hold-ups on the motorway. When I took the players back to Sheffield to the hospitals on the Monday we were ferried through by Liverpool police, then handed over to the Manchester police, passed on to the North Yorkshire constabulary and finally South Yorkshire police. All the police forces collaborated. Surely one force could have told another that there were problems on the motorway and that they should put the kick-off time back? It wouldn't have been the first semi-final to be delayed in football history. It will always anger me that they didn't wait for the fans. There were all these people arriving late, desperate to get inside Hillsborough so as not to miss any of the game. Having so many hundreds of people rushing into the ground caused the terrifying crush which squeezed the life out of 96 poor Liverpool supporters.
We went out on to the pitch, the players warmed up, and I settled back to watch the game. I never noticed any problems. Suddenly a policeman ran on to the pitch and talked to the referee, Ray Lewis, who stopped the game. Lewis sent the teams back into the dressing-rooms and told us to wait for news. Nobody knew the scale of the disaster. I ordered the players to stay inside and went out into the corridor. A few fans had gathered there. They called out to me: 'Kenny, Kenny, there are people dying out there.'
News of the horror filtered through. People who had been outside began to give a hint of the unfolding disaster. Like any man, my first reaction was to check my family was all right. I went up to see Marina and Kelly, who had been in the directors; box. My son Paul wasn't with them because he always went to cup games with Roy Evans's son, Stephen, and another friend, Alan Brown. It was a happy ritual for them, having lunch together and then going off to the match, like hundreds of thousands of young lads every weekend. I went out to see if I could find them. Imagine my relief to see Paul walking across the pitch. He could easily have been in the Leppings Lane end because, although his ticket was in the other stand, he had to go through the Leppings Lane turnstiles to get there. If Paul hadn't arrived at Hillsborough early he could just as easily have been in that area where all the fatalities occurred. I was overjoyed to see him. I took him immediately to Marina, who was so relieved.
The police asked Brian Clough and me to make an announcement. We walked through Hillsborough's kitchens where a radio was giving out some football scores. It was weird. They just didn't matter. We went up to the police box at the corner of the Leppings Lane end and tried to broadcast a message but the microphone wasn't working. There were two guys on the Leppings Lane end waving to us, indicating that they could not hear. So the police suggested we continue up to the DJ;s booth and use his announcing equipment. I went upstairs but Cloughie didn't. Cloughie just turned and went back. He never made any announcement to the fans. Only me. Why he didn't come up to address the fans, I don't know. That was his decision. I don't think I saw Cloughie again that day. Forest left quite quickly.
I continued up to the DJ's box to make the announcement as the police requested. I told the supporters to remain clam, that there had been a accident. I told them that the way they were conducting themselves was magnificent, the help they had been giving the emergency services was equally fantastic. 'Please remain calm,' I kept saying. And they were. The punters were brilliant.
Cloughie had a moan about me in his book. After we had beaten Forest when the semi-final was eventually played at Old Trafford, I commented that there was one team who wanted to win more than the other. For our fans' sake, Liverpool desired victory more than Forest. That was to be expected. Cloughe admitted that was true but that I didn't need to say it. There was no logic in Cloughie's comments. I wasn't being derogatory to his Forest players. Because of Hillsborough, it meant a lot more to us to win it than it did to Forest. Then Forest came to Anfield to play us in the League on 10 May. Cloughie was unbelievably negative, playing with 10 men behind the ball who never moved, a wee bit pathetic really. We still won 1-0.
When we realised that people were dying at the Leppings Lane end, the Forest fans behaved superbly. They were a real credit to their club. A few Liverpool guys ran towards the Forest end, some aggressively, some simply to get away from the carnage at the front of the Leppings Lane. My immediate reaction had been that there was crowd trouble in the Leppings Lane, that Forest fans had got in there to cause hassle. Many people thought that. Once people realised that the problem was congestion, the attitude of those running at the Forest fans changed. There could have been a full-scale riot if the Forest supporters on the Kop had reacted to the angry Liverpool supporters charging at them. The disaster was bad enough but if could have been even worse if the Forest fans had thought the Liverpool fans were trying to get to them. To their eternal credit, the Forest fans showed restraint. For their conduct at Hillsborough, Forest's supporters will always have a special place in my affections.
It son became apparent that what was going on at the Leppings Lane end wasn't crowd trouble but a major disaster. Liverpool fans were ripping down advertising boards to use as stretchers, trying to help people on the pitch, trying to lift people out from that terrifying crush. There was very little the stewards and police could do because they were on the wrong side of the fence.
It's terrible to think how long the crushing had been going on. It is unbelievably depressing to realise that as the players kicked off and throughout those six minutes while a football match took place, Liverpool supporters were already dying. The problem must have started earlier than people imagined. When we went to the hospital on the Monday, a supporter said to Big Al, 'When are you making your comeback?' Big Al started the game. So either this guy was in late or was under pressure by that time. If he had come in late he wouldn't have been at the front, so we assumed he mush have come in early. We came out at 2.55 and the game stopped at 3.06 and he didn't know Big Al was playing. The crush must have started before 2.55.
The game was eventually called off at 3.30.
The next day people began coming up to Anfield. They just wanted to leave tributes and flowers at the Shankly Gates. Peter Robinson got in touch with the groundsman and told him to open the ground. Liverpool Football Club didn't want supporters standing around on the street. That was a magnificent thing to do. At 6 p.m. we all went to St Andrew's cathedral. Bruce Grobbelaar read from the scriptures. There was an awful sense of loss, confusion, frustation. So many emotions were felt. The players and their wives were determined to do something. We all went into Anfield the next day. The wives were brilliant. Everything just stopped and rightly so. It comforted people coming into Anfield, talking to the players, the wives, and having a cup of tea. Liverpool Football Club was the focus of so many people's lives that it was natural they should head for Anfield. It gave them somewhere to go, something to talk about. Most of the relatives of those who had died just wanted to talk about football. They kept telling the players: 'You were his idol.'
We were talking to a family and the widow said: 'My husband's favourite was Steve Heighway.' 'Hold on,' I replied, and went off to get Steve out of his office. That was helpful to them. One of the relatives joked: 'My husband was a miserable old sod. He will be quite happy sitting up there in heaven watching all the games for nothing.' Little bits of humour from the relatives really helped them and us as well. Talking to them about football was very therapeutic. We comforted each other.
One morning, before everyone was in, I went out on to the pitch and tied my children's teddy bears around a goalpost at the Kop end. The goals, the pitch and the whole Kop were covered in flowers, scarves and tributes. I remember describing it as the 'saddest and most beautiful sight' I had ever seen. It really was like that. It was sad because of the reason whey the tributes were there, but it was magnificent to see them. On the Friday night, after everybody had gone, I walked through the Kop with Kelly, Paul and Marina's dad, Pat. Paul looked at all the tributes, the flowers, the scarves and said: 'Why did it have to happen to us?' Kelly, Paul and I stood at the back of the Kop with tears falling down our faces. Walking through the Kop was so emotional. A lot of tributes had been left by people in the place where their loved one had stood. People who had lost the person they stood next to to watch games would leave something special in remembrance. Seeing two oranges left beside one of the barriers really moved me. It was difficult not to weep on coming across little tributes like that. They were so insignificant and yet so full of meaning. Perhaps the two people took it in turn to bring oranges to matches, something to share at half-time. That really got to me. I wondered whether the person who laid the oranges ever returned to the Kop. I came across somebody's boots, left there by his mourning family. Everywhere I walked there were endless messages, each of which embodied someone else's grief. It was so difficult to pass through.
So many people left little trinkets as a memorial to somebody else, I realised that they stood in the same place week in, week out. The variety of ages and backgrounds were amazing. There was a married couple, each around 60 year of age.
"You don't stand on the Kop," I told her. "Every week," she replied, part indignant, part proud. "Just on the right-hand side, up behind the steps, behind the barrier, that's our spot every week." They used to go to the same place every week to meet their mates. They left their tributes in the places where their friends had stood. I should have known that about the Kop before Hillsborough. When I went to matches with my dad at Ibrox, we always went to the same passageway, more or less the same crush barrier, to meet his work-mates. It mush have been heartbreaking going back to the Kop and noticing little groups standing in their familiar places, but with familiar faces missing.
So many people visited this shrine. John Toshack returned from Spain, Craig Johnston from Australia. Prince Charles came after everything had finished; got his picture taken on the Kop. Some politicians just wanted to jump on the bandwagon, wanting to be seen as concerned people. That sickened me. One politician who impressed me was Neil Kinnock. He was very unobtrusive. Arrived, paid his respects, and left. No fuss. No pictures. He really gained my respect for that.
On the Monday, we went to Sheffield to visit the hospitals. Every single one of the players went; ever single one of them was emotional. It was such a harrowing trip. We went into a room with four or five kids lying there in comas. The doctors and nurses had been playing tapes of Liverpool matches to them, anything to trigger some response. We spoke to one of them. We had moved on a couple of beds when that wee boy woke up. People said it was my presence that stirred him, but it was nothing to do with me. It was the doctors who were treating him, not me. The doctors have the medication and the expertise. The boy would have woken up anyway. His mother was in tears. 'We'll just leave you,' I told her. Obviously everybody was ecstatic that her son was waking up but we left them because it was a private moment. It was difficult to walk through the hospital wards past all those beautiful faces just lying there. There was one wee boy lying in a coma without a mark on him, looking so peaceful. His name was Lee Nicol. He died that night.
I still become emotional just talking or thinking about it. Most of the players were magnificent – John Barnes, Bruce, Aldo, Steve McMahon. Some of them couldn't handle it. They had to stay away. It didn't mean they felt any less for the people who had suffered. Everybody did as much as they could. It hit Aldo really hard. Coming from Liverpool, Aldo was a lot closer to it. Steve McMahon and Ronnie Whelan are still friendly with families they got to know after Hillsborough.
The country's view of me might have changed during Hillsborough, but most journalists couldn't see what was happening. Unless people had witnessed the aftermath, the mourning, the funerals, the grief, they couldn't form an accurate opinion of the situation. Those people who sat in London, writing about how Liverpool dealt with Hillsborough, could not possibly appreciate what was going on. They weren't writing with any knowledge of the situation because they hadn't come up to witness it all in person.
I don't know how many funerals I went to. Marina and I went to four in one day. We got a police escort between them. All the funerals were harrowing. All those families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Most of the church services finished with 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' I couldn't sing through any of the songs or hymns. I was too choked up. The words would never come out. I just stood there in a daze, still trying to come to terms with what had befallen the club and the people I so admired. The families were really appreciative that the players came along. If they had a favourite player, Noel White would try to make sure that particular player was there. The last funeral I went to was as harrowing as the first. I didn't get used to the grieving. Every funeral devastated me, as another family bade farewell to somebody they loved and shared life with. As I sat at each one, all I could think of was how I would feel if it was my family. It was a feeling of 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' I find it very difficult to talk about death. If the conversation turns that way, I immediately leave or try to change the subject.
After seeing so many parents bury their children, my family took on even greater importance to me. Shanks used to say that football was not a matter of life and death, that it was more important than that, but it wasn't to me. I never felt that way, even before Hillsborough. Shanks genuinely meant it. That was the way he felt. That was the way he was. A lot of Liverpool supporters also believed that. I don't know if Hillsborough changed that viewpoint for them. Some of the things people were saying when we talked were unbelievable. Some of the things they were asking me to do like 'Go and wing the Cup for us.' The overwhelming majority of the families were saying, 'You have to stay in the Cup.' I couldn't even think of our next match, whenever it would be.
To me, football wasn't important. But it was important to the Football Association, who were talking about the Cup on the television before 4 p.m. while the bodies were still being taken out from behind the fence. That was despicable. All the FA's talk about deadlines was stupid; there was only one side who was going to win, and it was going to be Liverpool. There is no way in the world that the FA could have done anything other than listen to Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool were the only ones who could gauge the mood after Hillsborough. The FA would never, ever have had a shred of credibility again if they had gone against what Liverpool wanted. Liverpool were going to set the deadline. Not when the players were ready, because they might not have been ready, but when the people of Merseyside were ready, when there had been a reasonable length of time for mourning.
The press coverage was difficult to comprehend, particularly the publication of pictures which added to people's distress. There was one photograph of two girls right up against the Leppings Lane fence, their faces pressed into the wire. Nobody knows how they escaped. They used to come to Melwood every day, looking for autographs, and that photograph upset everyone there because we knew them. After seeing that I couldn't look at the papers again.
When the Sun came out with the story about Liverpool fans being drunk and unruly, underneath a headline 'The Truth,' the reaction on Merseyside was one of complete outrage. Newsagents stopped stocking the Sun. People wouldn't mention its name. They were burning copies of it. Anyone representing the Sun was abused. Sun reporters and photographers would lie, telling people they worked for the Liverpool Post and Echo. There was a lot of harassment of them because of what had been written. The Star had gone a bit strong as well but they apologised the next day. They knew the story had no foundation. Kelvin MacKenzie, the Sun's editor, even called me up.
"How can we correct the situation?" he said.
"You know that big headline – 'The Truth'," I replied. "All you have to do is put 'We lied' in the same size. Then you might be all right."
Mackenzie said: "I cannot do that."
"Well," I replied, "I cannot help you then."
That was it. I put the phone down. Merseysiders were outraged by the Sun. A great many still are.
I was invited to Walton jail where the prisoners were having a service for Hillsborough. Before I went in, the governor asked me to give them words of reassurance. The inmates were very upset by what they had read. It was a creepy experience. There was silence apart from the clinking of keys, the rattle of doors sliding back. I went into the chapel and the inmates were sitting there, with hardly a murmur from anybody. Then they clapped me in. It was really appreciative applause but unnerving as well. I remembered the governor's words and told them not to be upset by what they had read in the papers, because it wasn't true.
The Sun's allegations were disgraceful and completely groundless. Ticketless fans try to get into every game. Any well-supported club playing in a semi-final is going to attract ticketless fans. If handled properly, as they had been at Hillsborough a year earlier, ticketless supporters do not present a problem.
The shameful allegations intensified the anger amidst the trauma. We spent the week consoling the bereaved and attending funerals. On the Saturday we held a service at Anfield. At six minutes past three there was a minute's silence across the country. Then everyone at Anfield sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' We tied scarves between Anfield and Goodison. We just wanted to show the unity existing on Merseyside. The following day, there was a final service on the pitch. It was really quiet, just the wind rustling the scarves tied to the crossbar. When somebody shouted out 'We all loved you,' we all broke down.
The tragedy forced the end of standing. The Taylor Report made stadiums all-seater. Often punters don't sit anyway. If there is an incident down the other end, the guy a the front stands up, then the one behind him and so it ripples back. The Taylor Report caused a lot of people a lot of problems when it came out. It placed a financial burden on all clubs, but it was essentially right.
My one real fear about all-seater stadiums is that the game might be taken away from the man in the street. One legacy of Hillsborough is that the game has become less accessible to the working classes. The prices are too heavy, particularly for a family wanting to go. All clubs mush have their commercial side, their hospitality suites and big sponsorships, but there has to be a place for ordinary supporters. They should never be forgotten. Hillsborough, and the ensuing Taylor Report, definitely changed the atmosphere of grounds. With smaller capacities, no one standing and a wealthier audience, grounds have become quieter. The Kop has definitely changed, atmospherically. Each ground changes, when they re-build a stand. Clubs should set aside an area for those who cannot afford season-tickets but want to go whenever they have enough cash. Poorer fans should not be discouraged. Blackburn Rovers have got it right but then we've got the space. We can let kids in for a pound. We should never forget the wee boy in the street whose father cannot afford to take him. One has to be mindful of the fans of the future.
I have been at three matches, as a spectator, players and manager, where they have been disasters – at Ibrox, Heysel and Hillsborough. Although not directly involved, with the number of matches I have been at, the chances of it happening to me or somebody in my own family are probably well above average. I feel fortunate that it wasn't me or one of my kids. Parents will always be protective even when their children become adults. That's human nature.
In the aftermath of Hillsborough, I appreciated my family even more. Marina says that at times I was difficult to live with, that I was clearly under stain. I didn't realise at the time. Tom Saunders told Marina that he was going to keep an eye on me, but he always did anyway. I don not know how tense I was being at home. Without my being aware of it, the strain of Hillsborough was beginning to catch up with me.