Gary Burns

Gary was 17 at the time of Hillsborough. He remembers it as if it were yesterday. Gary's account of what happended in pen 4 is very graphic. He tells it how it was, including the reaction of people outside Liverpool, based upon the crap they read in the Sun. By clicking on the audio buttons you can hear Gary recounting his experiences.

How old were you?

"17 years old."

Did you go to most games?

"Yeah, home and away. I was living near Northampton and we went on the supporters coach. We went to the semi-final the year before but I had a seat that year.


"Caught the coach at 11.00am,relaxed mood everyone quietly confident of a good game. Sun shining, not too hot, a little overcast in places. Had already received my £6 ticket for the Leppings Lane terrace and watched as the other tickets were distributed on the coach. I noticed that there were two spare seat tickets. I thought about changing my ticket for a seat but decided not to because the atmosphere would be better standing and that I would save the £2!

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

"Arrived at the ground about 1.45pm. Seemed busy around the entrance of Leppings Lane, as the coach passed, so decided to stay on the coach and get off further away from the ground. Coach went back up the hill, I got off with Geoff and his son Ryan. We walked down, warm day, seemed to be Liverpool fans everywhere. We were surprised that there was no police cordon stopping anyone who didn't have a ticket, as they did the year before at the previous semi-final. Stopped at a newsagent just outside the ground, met another lad off the coach joked about the shop having no change. Walked through the blue gates towards the turnstiles."

Did you notice any difference from the year before?

"When you walked down, there was a hill towards the ground and they had metal barriers like a cordon with police on it, you had to show them your ticket before you could pass through the cordon. There was none of that from the year before. There was no filtering. When we were there, there wasn't that many people outside, there was no queuing or control. There was just a crowd of people trying to find their own way in., milling around trying to get near to the turnstiles.

"Everyone was good-humoured, many supporters began to sing, I joined in. I can remember a mounted policeman sitting there not really knowing what to do for the best. Liverpool fans started joking with him, he joked back.

"The whole scene was stupid, the flow through the turnstiles was very slow because of the lack of definite queues for each turnstile. People were eager but not desperate to get in but at least when you are in a queue at least you can see the end and you feel that you are actually going somewhere but not here. Finally the mounted policeman started to look worried, his horse turning one way then another, he shouted across to another policeman who was stood by the far turnstile. He then started to try and sort things out, he shouted for people to move back, forwards, sideways but it was too little too late.

"Eventually I was close to the turnstiles and finally got myself into a position in front of one of the turnstiles, I then noticed that one supporter had entered the turnstile but was involved in a conversation with the bloke on the gate. Suddenly the policeman who was stood next to the turnstile turned and entered the turnstile and started talking to the gateman. The policeman then grabbed hold of the supporter by the arm and tried to push him out of the turnstile entrance but with the crowd there was nowhere for the policeman to go, so he turned said something to the gateman and let the supporter enter through. What the problem was I don't know because I couldn't hear anything, but it was obvious that even at this early stage the police had no control.


"I finally entered the ground through turnstile three, third from the left near a big blue gate. Police officers were on the other side randomly searching people, they didn't search me and I stood and waited for the others. They finally came through moaning that the horse had nearly stood on Ryan's foot. We walked across a courtyard and towards a toilet, which was on the right of the tunnel. As we did I mentioned to Geoff that if it was like that outside what would it be like inside. We bought a programme and made our way through the only obvious entrance to the terracing, through the tunnel.

"The tunnel was a strange design, long, narrow but dark with no light's at all and the floor sloped upwards as you walked through but with the darkness you never noticed the slope. There weren't many other people walking through the tunnel as the three of us did but I can remember half stumbling because you couldn't see the slope in the darkness. Then as you got closer to the end and came into the daylight you were suddenly confronted by the dividing fence separating pen's 3 and 4. We went to the left side of the fence into pen 4."

How full was it at that time?

"We walked down into pen 4 and stopped about half way down the terracing. The top half of pen 4 was packed but there was space further down and with Ryan only being small we moved so that he could see. As we stood settling into our vantage point I kept glancing behind towards the top half of the terrace where all the singing was starting. I wanted to move backwards, I wanted to be where all the atmosphere would be. I asked Geoff if he minded if I moved, he said he didn't, "Go and stand with the young ones," he said.

"I made my way back and tried to make my way into the singing throng. I can remember a beach ball being thrown around, the large multi-coloured ball bouncing off unexpected heads who weren't watching, cheers from all round. The ball was now being thrown between the two pens. Everyone having a good time, very good humoured with the atmosphere building, the buzz of anticipation as we looked forward to another semi-final win.

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

"I tried to stand in my new spot for about five minutes but it was packed, the crowd swaying one way then another. I was used to standing, I'm over six foot, had a season ticket for the Kop and had learnt the art of watching football amongst the best footballing crowd there was. But this was boisterous, it was getting packed so I decided to move back down and stand with Geoff and his son. I found them and said that it was too busy up there and joked that I was knackered already!

"A tall bloke came and stood right in front of us so we had to move again. We moved further down the pen, towards the front of the pen, towards the fencing. The middle of the pen down to the bottom was fairly empty, there wasn't many people stood in front of us. There was big, wide open spaces but behind us was busy. We stayed there for a while. We kept looking round for somewhere the Geoff's son could see and we looked across at the corner pen (pen 5) and we thought it would be a good view if we could get up there but we didn't know how you'd get up there. We'd come through the tunnel to get into the ground, there wasn't any other obvious entrances. We thought you might have to have a specific ticket or that bit's not open. We couldn't see any immediate way of getting to it so we thought we'll stay where we are. The ground started filling up a bit more, nothing untoward. It must have been about 2.30 p.m., it was beginning to fill up but again nothing out of the ordinary and again you got the feeling that the pens were full and you couldn't get anymore in. In front of us there was still space, it was obviously filling up behind but you don't really look behind."

Could you distinguish they were pens?

"Yes because when we came through the tunnel you had the separating fences right in front. We knew we were in pens. As we came through the tunnel it was a case of left or right so we went left, which is probably how we ended up in pen 4."

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Did you notice anything about pen 3 - that it was worse?

When we got in, pen 3 was probably fuller than pen 4. That's probably half the reason why we went into pen 4 subconsciously. It seemed to be filling up but nothing out of the ordinary but then suddenly it seemed really busy.

"You were suddenly aware of people stood around you or next to you or behind you. Then the space in front filled up but even then you thought it's just filling up - it's getting close to the kick-off. All of a sudden it seemed a bit tighter, people were standing on your feet and still trying to come past you, still trying to find some space to stand and they were coming past and seeing there wasn't really anywhere to go. People were trying to level out trying to find somewhere to stand. Suddenly you realised that you couldn't really move that well. You were pinned up against other people. You thought surely there can't be many more people coming in or if there are there couldn't be much space. I couldn't see where my mates were. I shouted out but I couldn't see them at all. There was still people trying to move down and people in front were shouting 'move back' and people were shouting back 'there's nowhere to move to.'


"Then it started to get uncomfortable, I suddenly realised that I couldn't move, I was pinned, sandwiched in place. I was separated from the others, I shouted Geoff's name but heard no reply. I began to try and look around but I couldn't move my shoulders to turn, so I moved my head left and right but I still couldn't see them. I thought the pressure would ease as the crowd would find space but the pressure slowly increased. I now found myself so close to the fence at the front of pen 4 that, if I'd been able to, I was close enough to touch the fence. I was now to the left of the goal (as you looked at the goal from the pens)."

Were you aware of the gates onto the perimeter track where you could have got out that way?

"No. I can remember everyone cheering as the two teams came out onto the pitch but I couldn't see much and was too concerned about what was happening around me. You kept thinking people would move into a different pen or they would open another pen up or this is as busy as it's going to get, they're not going to let any more in.

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

There was a woman in front, I couldn't see her, she started screaming, she was shouting out 'let me out.' She was somewhere to the right of me, I couldn't see who it was but this plea for help turned into a full wrenched scream, one long continuous scream. I can remember thinking to myself "Please stop screaming you'll be alright, please stop." I kept thinking if someone's screaming like that, if there's something, someone can do they're going to do it.

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"But it continued, she started pleading for someone to help her. Everyone it seemed was shouting at anyone who walked past on the running track, but nobody took any notice. I can remember a steward walking along, how could he ignore all the noise especially the woman screaming. From behind someone shouted, "Hey bollocks open the gate, there's people dying in here!" The steward kept walking past pen 4 and then across the front of pen 3, he then suddenly stopped turned and faced pen 3.Surely he can't ignore us now, open your eyes, do something I thought. I could hear others shouting at him pleading, but he gazed into pen 3 for a second and turned away face expressionless. Don't walk away do something.

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

"I then noticed that a couple of photographers who were positioned on the running track behind the advertisement boards, had turned around and now had their cameras focused towards pen 4 taking pictures, I shouted, "Put the fucking camera down and help us!" But still they crouched moving their cameras to get a better picture. Surely if they had noticed that something drastic was happening it was worth taking pictures of why had no-one else noticed and helped.

Was the atmosphere one of panic?

"People in front were shouting. People were shouting out behind but you couldn't turn your head to look round. Every so often you would get someone yelling out in agony, then it would stop. Then they would yell out again. There was a lot of noise but every so often you would hear someone shouting out louder above the noise.

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"I couldn't see behind. I felt something by my leg. If you were stood on the Kop, you'd get little kids crawl through your legs. I couldn't see a kid but the voice was low down and right behind me. He was half crying and panicking saying 'I've got to get out, get over the fence' but I said 'I can't.' He said 'reach out and get over the fence.' This lad was really panicking. I could feel his chin half way up my back, he sounded young so I thought he can't be that big. I thought I can't have this lad screaming in my ear, so I said 'grab my shoulders, climb up my back and you can get out.'

"He started doing this. I thought as long as my legs don't buckle, I'll be fine. There was nowhere to move sideways or forward or backwards. I told him to try and free his arms, to grab hold of my shoulders to pull himself up and climb up my back. From the position of his head I guessed he couldn't be that tall so he'd be quite easy to support. His hands reached up and grabbed my shoulders, he started to try and scramble himself up, his fingers dug into my shoulder blades. My legs almost buckled under the weight as he started pulling down on my shoulders but I knew that he would soon be there. He was so close I could feel his belt scraping on my back, then he pulled himself up, his feet searching for upwards leverage dug into my back.

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"I couldn't take much more of this but I could feel his knees on my shoulders, one final effort and he reached forward and grabbed hold of the top of the spikes. Feet swinging up, scuffing my ears as he placed his feet either side of my head, he leapt forward and he was on the fence and gone. Never saw his face, I can remember his trainers though, he must have been about 12 or 13. He said 'thanks mate.'

"I selfishly thought I'd have a bit more room and I quickly moved my arms down to protect my rib cage, ran my arms straight down and bent them across to try and protect my ribs. That was the last time I was able to move my arms.

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

"I thought now I've got more room. So I put my arms down to protect my ribs. The woman had stopped screaming. There was pressure but every so often it got tighter. When it wasn't tight, you were trying to gulp and get air. I strained my neck. There was a layer of hot air above your head, it was like a sauna. You'd gulp the air in but then you couldn't breathe out. You were taking sort panting breaths.

"I never saw the game kick-off. There were too many people in front. There was a young lad on the perimeter fence who said 'Beardsley's hit the bar.' You heard a groan from the crowd. This lad started singing 'Liverpool.' Someone shouted 'shut up, this is serious.' The lad got over the fence and went.

"It was still tight, you couldn't see anyway out. There were people who had got out who were on the fence trying to pull people up but if you looked at pen 3 there was more on that fence. But the fence was so high it was difficult. The blue metal mesh of the fence that seemed to reach high above your head, which then met the spiked top that reached back and pointed inwards towards the pens. The design of the fence made it difficult for the un-official rescuers, you could see them as they tried to try and stretch over and beyond the spikes and then find the strength to grip and hold one of the flailing arms, trying desperately, frantically all they could do. Where's the help, its only our own who are trying to help.

Click to hear Gary's recollection (requires realplayer)

"People were shouting 'coming down' and you knew someone was being passed down. Anyone who had been on the Kop knew and had seen the practice of someone injured being passed down to the front for treatment. It was football supporter's unofficial emergency exit. I looked to my right and saw a bloke being passed down. I managed to get my arms up. I had hold of his head and shoulders. We couldn't move him forward. I looked in his face and his eyes were shut. I never thought it would be possible for a person to turn that colour, he was white, seemed as if he'd been bleached in the sun, his lipsand his nostrils were blue. It was as if he was wearing blue lipstick but this was real.

"He opened his eyes, his pupils were dilated and dark but he opened his eyes and looked as though he was slowly trying to focus at me. I started to cry, "It's alright mate your getting out, it's over!" I tapped his face at first then slapped him harder. Some lads got up on the fence. We started to lift him up and he opened his eyes. He looked at me. We lifted him up and I said 'you're getting out.' He didn't blink. His pupils were getting larger. The lads on the fence grabbed him and he was gone.

"It was the strangest, surreal feeling of being in the open air, underneath a perfectly blue sky but not being able to breathe. Choking in the open air. It seemed that a foot above everyone's head there was this layer of hot stale air, no fresh air, no breeze, like an invisible roof above your head. I tried stretching my neck muscles upwards to try and find fresher cool air. It was also hot how but it was the aroma in the air that I had never smelt before or since. I could smell vomit, urine etc but this was something unknown. It smelt similar to other things but at the same time smelt nothing like them. It filled your nostrils, I could taste it, I tried to swallow to get rid of the taste but this was impossible because there was no moisture inside my mouth.

"I used to wake up in the middle of the night and I could smell that aroma. I can only describe it as the smell of fear, a pungent substance that is produced deep down from inside the human body and filled the air around me.

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"Minutes seemed like hours, people still screaming, pleading begging for help. I could see glimpses of the pitch, through the metal blue mesh of the fence, the beautifully green grass. Looking through the mesh it seemed as though I was looking at a television picture of the outside window, almost like looking through a viewfinder. Everything was in place in front of you, the other side of the fence but somehow you were detached from all this. Five foot in front of me was safety, the normal world where you could breathe normally not like a fish out of water. It had might as well been a thousand miles away. My brain kept telling my lungs to breathe but you couldn't."

Did you see police at the front of pen 4?

"The only people I can remember was the steward that walked past, the photographers and a policewoman but that was it. People patrolling up and down just oblivious to what was going on."

Do you remember people in front you?

"No. There was so many people but no room in front for any people."

How did you get out?

"Then I noticed that some fans in front of me to the left had managed one by one to climb the dividing railings that separated pens 4and5.Above the heads of the crush you could see them scrambling over the fence. Then the people to the side of me started to move slowly sideways, gaps started to appear, crumbled up figures that had remained jammed unable to move for an eternity started to move.

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"Gradually as more people climbed over the fence I saw the first glimpse of concrete terracing strewn with litter, but the first signs of escape. My head nearly exploded as I was released from the iron grasp of the crush, I rushed forward a few steps towards the dividing railings. A man was stood there he put his hand out to slow me down, "Slow down lad, take your time." He was stood there acting like a marshal for people climbing the fence, calming people down and helping anyone who was struggling. Selfishly I just wanted to get out.

"It was only when I was stood next to the railings that I realised how daunting they looked, long,tall and topped by large pointed blue spikes. They must have been 7 foot tall, designed for containment not escape like all the fences that surrounded the Leppings Lane terracing.

"I don't know how I jumped over but I can't honestly remember my feet touching the fence, I remember being on the way over and looking down the other side. I dropped down, my programme fell out of my pocket so I picked it up. I found myself in a gangway (which was lower than the terracing) that separated pens 4 and 5 about 2 foot wide flanked on either side by metal railings. The entrance to the pitch was blocked by a small gate, I walked up a couple of steps and I ducked down but still banged my back as I made my way through the small opening.

"I got onto the running track. The fresh air hit me. I went down on my knees. I then sat at the edge of the pitch because I thought I'd get nicked for a pitch invasion. You still thought 'I'm somewhere I shouldn't be.' It was only then I realised the teams had gone off.

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"I fell to my knees and realised how hot I was. My clothes were soaking wet, I was breathing heavily. Someone asked me if I was alright and if I was to move back out of the way. A lad carried another lad out who was wearing a bright white jacket. His hands were the same colour. The other lad shouted 'help me, someone help me.' There was a St John's ambulance man. He got down on his knees and pulled his chin down and started giving him mouth to mouth. He stopped and bent down and put he ear to his mouth and just shook his head. The lad said 'where are you going?' because the ambulance man was walking away.

"I turned round and there was more people being laid out on the ground. Motionless, they looked as though they were asleep in surroundings of crazed perpetual motion.

"I knew people had died. Before that I'd never seen a dead body. I though you would see blood or wounds or some type of injury but these people looked like they fainted. I though I don't want to see this anymore. I can't look at this anymore. I moved to the edge of the penalty area. I remember looking for my mates. I was walking around. I saw them and I remember hugging them. We didn't say a lot.

"There was more people being treated, more people being given mouth to mouth. A lad said he heard there were 12 dead, another lad said 17. I thought, yes, there is that many dead. We stood there in shock. I didn't seem to have the energy. I think now, why didn't I help, go back to the fences. I noticed there was lot of activity on pen 3. There were people off the coach who spotted us on the pitch. People weren't chatting, they were quiet.

"The Forest fans started singing something. There were groups of police moving towards the halfway line. It looked like there were containing fans. All the people trying to help were supporters, the only people doing something. Frantic fans trying to resuscitate friends, loved ones, total strangers, it didn't matter, shouting for help. It wasn't like a scene from a Hollywood film there was no blood, no wounds, no visible signs of injury, just white pale faces, blue lips.

"Then groups of lads started running past carrying the injured on advertisement boards ripped of their hoardings used as make shift stretchers. . We thought it best to get out of the way. Some lad had a bucket, he was giving people water. People were looking after each other. Out the way, let us through," they shouted on mass, anxious, worried frantic expressions on their faces as they sped past, flanking the person lying on the board. Occasionally an arm would drape over the side of the board, hanging limbless, bouncing around with each step of the carriers. Other lads would come rushing past shouting, 'Hurry up, he's alive, out of the way.'

"The majority of these 'stretchers' were being supported by other supporters, apart from the young St. John Ambulance man I saw I can't remember seeing that many other uniforms helping in the rescue, many of them stood around, talking into radios which blurted out all of many of incomprehensible garbage. I can remember suddenly numbers of policeman running towards the half way line to form a cordon, silly clueless bastards even now they didn't know or appreciate what was going on. The logic's simple, Liverpool fans on the pitch, must be a pitch invasion, stop them attacking the Forest fans at the other end of the ground at all costs. Ignore all rumours of people dying or needing attention. This is a public disturbance.

"Someone asked me for a ciggie but my hands were shaking that much I couldn't get one out so I gave him the packet. The three of sat still not saying a word until the pens were empty, a steward or a policewoman asked us to make our way out of the ground. Dazed in a state of shock we left by an entrance at the bottom of the corner terracing that we had previously wanted to stand. It seemed like we were the last people to leave. We remember seeing the lad in the pen with his head in his hands.

"We walked out towards the banking straight out on the street. I couldn't believe how many ambulances there were. It was like a taxi rank. We walked towards the coach then I thought - telephone.

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"We saw a massive queue for the phones. A slow patient queue, a pensioner stood in the doorway telling all these strangers were the phone was, embarrassed not knowing what to say or act, he kept saying 'sorry mate.' One by one people ringing loved ones, short messages all the same, excuses saying that they couldn't speak for long because of the queue. Lads leaving change on the table next to the phone, so much that it started falling onto the carpet, thanking the elderly couple and then leaving. I rang home, my dad answered, my mum was screaming in the background.

"We were the last 3 people back to the coach, so they'd sent people out looking for us. We were going down the M1 an stopped at a service station. I went to the toilets. There were skinheads, Forest fans, who were saying 'what's the score, 26-nil or is it 37-nil. No it must be 42-nil by now.' I couldn't do anything. The police ran it and got them out.

"I got back to my car at about 9.30. It used to take me 40 minutes to drive home but it took me 1 hour 10 minutes. I got in and explained what happened but not about the lad I held in my arms.

"The next day, my dad asked if I wanted to go to mass. I didn't really want to go. My body was bruised. I said I'd go but wanted to go straight in, not stand outside talking. The priest said a prayer for all those who'd died. I started crying. It was the last place I wanted to be but they kept me in there.

"I watched the service on the Sunday. People kept coming round to ask what happened. We went to the ground on the Thursday. We put our flowers down on the pitch and I just broke down. A steward come over and took us into the players lounge. Someone gave me a Liverpool shirt and said 'we'll get it signed.' John Aldridge came over to talk to us. I thought it was wrong. Everyone in the lounge was a bereaved family.

"I went to school on the Friday. I was doing my A levels. One lad saw me and said 'we thought you were dead.' The following Saturday, mum and dad took me to watch rugby. We went into the club house and a lad came and sat at the table going on about scousers killing each other. I said 'what do you know about that?' He said 'haven't you read the papers, didn't you see what The Sun said, robbing scousers.' I said 'what do you know?' He said 'what's up with you, what do you know about it?' I said 'I was there.' He said 'I know what I read, I spoke to police I trained with and they said the same, they know what they saw.' I got up and grabbed hold of him. Some lads got hold of him and said 'leave it.' He said 'why can't he take the fucking truth?'

"I went to school on the Monday. My eyes would fill up, I was thinking, what am I doing here? A lad walked into the common room and said 'have you heard what's going round? What's Liverpool fans favourite song? Take my breath away.' One teacher said I should go to Liverpool. I found it hard. I felt like I wasn't part of it, people didn't expect me to have been there. I wanted to speak to someone who was there. A lot of people outside of Liverpool didn't hear consistent accounts, so when the papers were out they believed them. I felt guilty. If I could have died but someone else got out, I'd have been happy with that.

"For a long time I wanted to go round bereaved families and say 'sorry I'm here. I survived and I'm sorry.' I wanted to find out if the bloke I helped had died or survived. I'd study pictures looking for him. My dad had asked a solicitor about suing someone but they said I hadn't got a claim because I hadn't died.

"I started work in a bank in November 1989. I thought I was fine at the time. When I went into the safe I was sweating. I'd make excuses so I wouldn't have to go down there. No-one knew how to cope. I told my gran I'd sat in the seats. I wasn't doing very well at work. Reports said I was in a daze, that I was distant.

"It came to the first anniversary. Me and a lad were going to drive up and stay in a bed and breakfast. I went to work and said I wanted the time off. The manager said no. I told him I was at Hillsborough. He still said no. He said 'why do you want to remember it.' I said if I didn't get the day off, I would be ill.' He said if I did, I wouldn't be working there much longer. I got a mate to do a solicitors letter saying I was suing the club and I had to up and see the solicitors. The manager said he didn't believe the paper it was printed on but I could have the day off but to take it off next year's holiday. One lad at work said 'The Sun said you were pickpocketing, they don't print lies.' A year on, the only thing he could remember was The Sun."