A Forest Fan's Account
Hillsborough's tragic events touched all football fans, who rightly acknowledge - 'that could've been us'. Here, a Nottingham Forest fan tells us what it was like, looking on, from the other end of the ground. This picture shows the view from there, before kick off. Already the crowd can be seen crammed in behind the goal in pens 3 and 4, whilst the pens on either side are virtually empty:
As a long standing Nottingham Forest fan of over 40 years and who, despite emigrating to Vancouver, Canada in 1975, has managed to get back to attend all of Forest's major triumphs in the eighties and early nineties - the Hillsborough Disater will long remain as the most poignant of memories.
In March of 1989 both parents passed away and I was forced to return to England for a period of 6 weeks to tie up the loose ends. During this time my eldest son (who was 21 at the time) had also arrived in England during the course of a round-the-world trip. We had secured tickets to the semi final and it was to be a first chance for us both to attend a big game together - he having inherited my passion for the Reds (of Nottingham).
We rented a car and drove up the M1 from Nottingham and arrived in time for a good English pub lunch about a mile from the ground and having parked,walked the last mile to the stadium. As I remember it, it was a beautiful warm sunny day and despite the usual rivalry between opposing sets of fans - the atmosphere was typical of a major cup tie and everyone was intent on enjoying "the big day out".
We hung around outside the main entrance for a while and soaked in the atmosphere before entering the stands behind the goal at the opposite end of the ground from Leppings Lane about 45 minutes before kick off. This of course was the Forest end and although the central section was fairly crowded we managed to find a reasonably clear space midway down and to the side - as my son was concerned about it getting too claustrophobic.
My first recollection of something being wrong at the Liverpool end, was the site of someone being hauled up from the terraces from the balcony of the second tier grandstand. Then we started to notice the police move in behind the goal and the first thought was that "trouble" was being caused by the "hooligan element". This thought also seems to have occurred to the mass of Forest fans who started the usual harangue and taunts about the opposing supporters virtues - that is sickening feature at most games these days, and a lot of name calling and abuse was being hurled about. It was obviously hard to tell exactly what was going on but as soon as the teams came out, the focus changed as everybody stepped up into high gear with that nervous apprehension that precedes the kick-off of a big game.
I distinctly remember feeling that things weren't right somehow and remarked to my son about it, who who then pointed out people coming on to the pitch. By this time the game had started and it was apparent that the players and referee did not know what was happening - particularly as Liverpool came out with a storming attack on the Forest goal - nearest to us. By this time more and more activity behind the Lepping Lane goal was happening to the point where we realised the game would have to be stopped but it was still difficult not to think this was caused by hooliganism.
Rumours had started to sweep around the Forest end and some belligerent idiot next to us started yelling abuse about there being fans with no tickets breaking into the ground. This gathered momentum for a few minutes and I remember where a sole figure wearing a Liverpool scarf ran the full length of the pitch, rapidly followed by a horde of others, toward the Forest end.
My immediate thought was that a riot was about to break out and my son and I moved further to the left so we would have a clear way to the exit at the back of the stand. After gesticulating wildly at the Forest supporters who, in their defence, were ignorant of what had truly happened, these 'pitch invaders' started breaking down the advertising hoardings along the touchlines.
It was then I realised what was happening as they ran full tilt in pairs back to the Liverpool end with makeshift stretchers. It suddenly went really quiet as it dawned on every one that a serious situation was developing - and it pretty well stayed that way for the next half hour or so.
What I found appalling was that no information came out over the loudspeaker system for what seemed ages. I remember hearing fire engine sirens and ambulances wailing for at least ten minutes before we saw their appearance. One ambulance came on and we could see people being carried on the makeshift stretchers as well as people helping each other to get away from the crowd behind the goal.
When Kenny Dlaglish came on to announce that "we have a serious situation..." everyone was still thinking (or perhaps hoping) the game would re-start. Eventually it was announced that he game would be abandoned and would everybody leave quietly.
I remember that rather then feeling disappointed, I was relieved that we had not been exposed to any trouble or violence and we headed back to the car. As soon as we turned on the radio it was a shock to learn they were reporting several deaths.
By the time we hit the motorway this was now being talked of as being as many as 50 dead. On arrival back in Nottingham some 40 minutes later, we were greeted by my father-in-law who had been anxiously waiting in the driveway looking for us.
He had been watching all the events unfold on television and was obviously concerned by our safety. Word had also spread to Canada by this time and I remember immediately calling home to Vancouver to reassure my wife that we were safe.
Early the next morning I drove to Heathrow, picked up every copy of the Sunday newspapers and spent the entire 10 hour flight back to Vancouver reading about the dreadful events I had just witnessed.
To say the least, I was thankful that my son and I had tickets at the opposite end, and my heart went out to any parent who had lost a son or daughter-it could easily have been us.
I recount all of this as first a parent who bleeds for those who lost loved ones, and second as a lover of the beautiful game who hopes that the lessons learned from this disaster will never be forgotten.
Justice for the families has not been done - nor seen to be done, and while maybe some steps will be taken to remedy this by today's government announcements - there is no excuse for the past 8 years of cover-ups, inaction, and ineptitudes. Lastly as a Forest fan, the memories of our epic cup battles with Liverpool will forever be tainted by the events of that day.