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I mentioned that there were lots of things I have wanted to write about, had I had more time to do so and still get a blog up within a relevant timescale. One of those was the Hillsborough verdict.

I have no connection with Hillsborough. But back in 1989, within weeks of it happening, I wrote an extended essay on football and hooliganism because, like many, I believed what I had read in the press. My dad had been at Heysel in 1985; I’d been to umpteen football matches with him during the 1980s where there was an underlying fear of hooliganism; and I lumped Hillsborough in with a load of other incidents and wrote about what makes people riot.

A few years later, I was walking past the Houses of Parliament when I bumped into my then former BBC colleague, and now also former Betfair colleague and good friend, Simon Foat. He was standing in a small posse with banners, demonstrating as part of the Hillsborough Action Group. It was really the first time that I realised how wrongly things had been portrayed and how little I had understood. I have thought about it many times in the months and years since.

This weekend, I read in The Week this article, which was first produced in The Times. I thought it was so tremendously powerful that I decided there was little point in my writing about the subject myself: instead, I would flagrantly breach copyright, and post it. If you have any interest in the subject, it is well worth a read.


The journalist Adrian Tempany was one of the Liverpool fans who were trapped in two desperately overcrowded pens at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989

The Leppings Lane, pens three and four, the crush. These are words now familiar to millions after the shocking revelations of this week’s report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. For me, and thousands of other survivors, they are not only words but images, burnt into the mind over 23 years.

On 15 April 1989, I walked through a set of creaking turnstiles, onto a dilapidated concourse and down a tunnel into Hillsborough. At the end of the tunnel stood a radial fence, and I turned right, into pen three. I took my usual position on a terrace, about halfway up and to the right of the right-hand goalpost. As the sun beat down, a beach ball was launched along the terrace. People stood to read their programmes. FA Cup semi-final day. Where would you rather be, I thought?

But by 2.35pm, we were fixed in position, and this seemed to be getting tight. People around me began to jockey for space, and by 2.40pm, sweating and increasingly agitated, men, women and children were using their heads, shoulders or knees to try to move people off them. Someone’s breath was blowing hot on my head. Around me, the same cry: “Please, get off me.” And the reply, always the same: “Sorry lad, I can’t move.”

The entire Leppings Lane terrace was designed to hold 10,100 people. Lord Justice Taylor found that if its capacity was exceeded that day it was by no more than 24. However, poor signposting and an absence of police supervision meant that pens three and four – the two behind the goal – were filled with about 3,000 people; Lord Justice Taylor ruled in 1989 that they should have held 1,693.

The crush in pen three began at about 2.35pm, 25 minutes before the kick-off. It would go on, getting worse, until at least 3.10pm, when the gates in the perimeter fence were finally unlocked. Many people died, slowly and agonisingly, over the course of nearly 40 minutes. Some died over the course of at least an hour. The next time you watch a game of football, imagine being crushed for almost the entire first half of that match. How badly? Well, take an old red phone box, strip out the phone and the fittings, and settle yourself in. Now the door opens behind you, and a group of people are shoved in. How many? Talking to fellow survivors, we reached a conservative estimate of seven, at least. So, you are now one of at least eight people in a phone box. The door is closed again. It will not be opened for half an hour.

By 2.50pm, I was trapped in that box. The paralysis was terrifying; but there was something else. I could feel an energy building up behind me: it would swirl and grind, and as it broke, 50 or 60 of us were picked up, one lump of tangled, compacted limbs, and ground against each other; the crush barriers, the fence. “I got through that,” I thought, but I was tiring.

Two minutes later, 2,000 people were invited to enter a large exit gate by the turnstiles, to relieve a crush simultaneously building up outside the stadium. Without anyone to direct them elsewhere, they headed for that tunnel. A bottleneck developed, and because that tunnel had a one in six downward gradient they were picked up and thrown down it, in a wave of limbs, into the two already overcrowded pens behind the goal. Arms were now bent at impossible angles. One survivor recalls people being driven off their feet, into the air, and deposited on his head; another how the glass face on his watch popped out.

But there was no release for us: the new influx of fans created an even bigger swirl of energy. We were lifted up again, and like garments in an overfull washing machine, slowly we went, round and round, ground and ground. We couldn’t see where this was coming from, or why. I could move my mouth and my eyes, and no more. Occasionally a hand popped up in front of me – mine – and I tried to manoeuvre a shoulder away from my face, to stick my head into a patch of air. But my arm was dragged down again, and I was starting to lose hope.

With my head twisted to the left, I could see through the gap between the North Stand and the huge Spion Kop at the far end, and out to the hills around Sheffield. Cars were pottering along country lanes; people were going to the shops, for a spring drive. I wondered if they were listening to the radio. If they knew we were in trouble, they might call the police. What exactly were the police doing that day? One of the lines now being trotted out is that Hillsborough couldn’t happen today, because communications are so much better than they were in 1989. Certainly, police radios broke down at Hillsborough, and communication was patchy. But surely the police did not need technology to realise that people were dying in front of their eyes in pens three and four. Our fans at the front were crushed into the metal perimeter fence with such impact the fence was bulging towards the pitch. The blue paint on the fence was ground to spots of powder on their cheeks.

Behind them, ten or 12 feet back, I was one of hundreds of people screaming for my life – for half an hour. In those two pens, people were turning blue, their faces contorted in pain, and confusion. Some were crying. Others had vomit trailing from their chins. There was a smell of excrement and urine, as people’s organs began to fail.

I do not want to talk here about what it is like to accept that your life is over. But I had to. I was 19, and it is a long way back from there. Suffice to say that after trying to resist that crush for half an hour, and failing to escape, I gave up. I was exhausted, and I made my peace and said my goodbyes. Only at about 3.10pm, four minutes after the match was abandoned, was the gate in the perimeter fence finally opened. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard a voice in my head: “If you can hang on for another two minutes, you’ll live.” I did, to fight for this day.

I have often suspected that part of the reason for the lack of public support for our case since 1989 is down to a human instinct. Not everyone suffers from arachnophobia, or agoraphobia, or a fear of buttons. But claustrophobia is a gut fear. To understand what happened at Hillsborough is to put yourself in our position, and I imagine this was too much for many to bear. This absence of empathy may have allowed alternative narratives to take hold: better to believe that “this wouldn’t have happened to me. It could only have happened to them.”

But the bigger narrative is dark, and it is unravelling. This week, South Yorkshire Police, the Police Federation, the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, The Sun and the former Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick have been exposed as parties to what Michael Mansfield, QC, declared the biggest cover-up in British history. Others will surely be flushed out.

As a journalist, I was at the press conference in Liverpool last Wednesday. When it was revealed that 41 people could have been saved, I almost broke down. The truth is that 96 people could have been saved, because this was an entirely avoidable disaster. What cannot be avoided now is justice.

Today, after 23 years, the survivors’ battle is almost won: we stand exonerated, though the trauma will never lift. Now, along with the other survivors of Hillsborough, I will stand alongside the families on the next leg of their long journey.  And for the first time, I have real hope that as the full truth about Hillsborough is finally revealed, the public will stand with us.


This article originally appeared in The Times.

© Adrian Tempany/The Times

– Reproduced from The Week UK iPad edition –


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2 Responses

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  1. upandatthem says

    A very powerful article, glad you posted, what now? I believe the death penalty would be too good for those responsible, how have they lived with themselves all these years?

  2. MD says

    Good question. In a way, that’s the most extraordinary thing about it.

    Read Kelvin Mackenzie in this week’s Spectator…

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