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15th April 1989….

NEWS STORY
            HILLSBOROUGH CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER
            Damian Kavanagh 15 April 2006

            I agreed with Bill Shankly’s quote about the greatest day of the
            English season being FA Cup Semi-Final day. At 20 years of age I
            went to my second consecutive Semi-Final at Hillsborough.

          
            Same ground, same opponents and we were to wear red again. I took my
            lucky scarf. No need for superstition though; it was gonna be the
            same outcome as last season… a win and the Reds to Wembley again!
             
            Nottingham Forest had a good side but we were better – better than
            anybody – and after a stuttering season we were right on Arsenal’s
            case for the League title which had looked lost on New Year’s Day
            and now we were just one step from the FA Cup Final again. The
            double-double should have been done the previous season. We’d left
            it late this season but we could just do the impossible this time
            and make up for it.
             
            It looked like Everton would get past a decent Norwich side too in
            the other Semi so there was the prospect of another Scouse Final on
            the horizon. I actually hoped Norwich would win though because the
            stress of derby day is bad enough without the added prize of the FA
            Cup and the massive bragging rights that would go with creating a
            bit of football history. The stick the losers would get would be
            unmerciful. Ian Rush’s equaliser and beating Everton in the 1986
            Final goes down as my favourite ever moment and day as a
            Liverpudlian but I remember the dread of losing while we were a goal
            down; worse than terrible!
             
            Injuries had cleared up, our form was boss and looked to have come
            just in time. We again looked like the team that had entertained and
            wiped the floor with everybody the previous season. My Kop season
            ticket qualified me for a Leppings Lane terrace ticket; that suited
            me fine. I liked standing on the Kop and being part of the singing
            and quickness that had gone on to make us world famous. If I’d had
            the chance to buy a seat I’d have swerved it and not just because it
            would have cost a few more quid.
             
            I’m so proud of our city; for all the unjustified stick the media
            has given us over the years, our team has risen above it and
            achieved true greatness. There are many people in far-off places
            around the world who know the name of Liverpool because of our team.
            Despite not yet regaining our previous consistent standards we are
            still this country’s most successful club – both domestically and in
            Europe.
             
            I got up smart and went with Bailey, who had been my best mate since
            school, to meet two more of my mates, Jamie, who I knew from work,
            and his best mate Scott. Jamie was happy driving so no need for
            Barnes’ or Happy Al’s coaches with all their restrictions of pick-up
            points and times etc. We could go at our leisure, stop off when we
            liked, go for a bevvy and get dropped off at the door back home.
             
            Bailey had temporarily stopped going the match after getting himself
            a girlfriend but I’d got a voucher from somebody who never went to
            the aways and he was made up at me getting him a ticket. Despite the
            nerves of the big day we were confident.
             
            The delay in traffic seemed like no big deal. Thousands on the way
            to the match was gonna slow things up a bit but we’d left in plenty
            of time. We eventually got to the Horse & Jockey for a bevvy…
            Happy Days! Like the previous season, the pub was chocker with Reds
            giving it loads with all the songs. A Liver Bird upon my chest…
             
            I’d been up to the league match against Sheffield Wednesday earlier
            that season but this was a world away from that previous winter’s
            cold draw. Today we had beautiful sunshine.
             
            For the previous season’s Semi-Final, I’d gone with my mates to
            Hillsborough for the first time. We popped into the first ale house
            we came across but it was at the Forest end of things. We had a
            bevvy there, kept a low profile and there were no problems but you
            can’t beat being with your own – especially our own – so we got off
            and found this Horse & Jockey, which was sound.
             
            It was easy to be split up coming out of a match and being a
            stranger in town I made a mental note of the street to which I had
            to return so I could at least ask my way for directions back to the
            car if I got lost – no mobile phones in those days to contact your
            mates with. Jamie parked up in Don Avenue; it was a little way from
            the ground but not too far to walk and off we went.
             
            There was a great atmosphere and no hassle at the Horse & Jockey;
            the singing was as loud and proud as you’d expect. There could
            surely be no other team in the world like ours. I’m so lucky to have
            been born in Liverpool and so lucky to have been born Red! We did an
            hour or so in the pub where there was no sign of the mass drunkeness
            that was spitefully lied about to the media to make excuses for the
            failure of crowd control. For those who have lied about and
            attempted to slur the name of victims who they never even knew to
            cover their own backs, I have nothing but contempt. It would take a
            big man to stand up and be counted and nationally put the record
            straight by publicly retracting the lies that have caused so much
            hurt. All I can say is that we all have to answer to our maker one
            day.
             
            I’m not sure why but we left for the ground just a little earlier
            than we might have expected (I think by the time we’d got another
            bevvy, we’d have been pushing it to get into the specs we wanted). I
            wanted the boss spec right in the middle behind the goal. I always
            stood in the middle of the Kop where all the singing started, so at
            away grounds I’d be looking for the same type of spec. The
            atmosphere at a Semi-Final was always brilliant wherever you were in
            the ground but I still wanted that spec so we strolled up and
            without queuing for long went in through Gate C.
             
            On the walk down to the ground, the four of us had agreed to meet up
            at a bookies we’d passed if we got split up after the match. I did
            notice that unlike the previous season there were no police stops on
            the way to the ground with a check for tickets but thought nothing
            of it.
             
            I got searched as you usually were on the way in. Me and Bailey went
            straight ahead and through the tunnel directly behind the goal after
            buying a programme. It was the obvious route to take; the clearly
            marked entrance that greeted you as you entered the stadium through
            the turnstiles – there were no conspicuous signs directing you to go
            through anywhere else. Jamie and Scott didn’t follow us. They didn’t
            usually go right in the middle of the Kop and decided to go out of
            their way and walk around to the side – I’m glad they did; it was
            chocker in there last time they said.
             
            I noticed from the clock on the stand to my right that it was
            2:15pm. Like I said, this was a little early for me. I always tended
            to go in the Kop at about 2:30pm because any later and by then, the
            crowd congestion would make it almost impossible to get into my spec
            in the middle. The crowd built up steadily like any other match. The
            singing was building up. Everything seemed fine. We’re on the march
            with Kenny’s Army!
             
            When you’re in a large crowd you can’t see what might be happening
            just yards away from you. A big open terrace like the Kop allowed
            you to roam wherever you liked once you’d entered it. This Leppings
            Lane end was a smaller terrace, split into pens with fences that
            were specifically designed to keep supporters in a particular area.
            Many or most fans wouldn’t have realised that the area directly
            behind the goal here was split down the middle into two Pens and
            with radial fences also preventing access to the sides of the
            terrace, either side of the these two central pens. Bailey didn’t
            know this until seeing the media coverage after the disaster and it
            was only later that I learnt that the area that we’d been in was
            called Pen 4. The perimeter fence down the front was to keep fans
            off the pitch. Being a young lad and with grounds having looked like
            this since well before I was going, the wariness I’d obviously have
            about this set up today wasn’t there. In fairness, a paying customer
            at any entertainment event should be able to take their safety for
            granted.
             
            We were leaning backwards onto a crush barrier, like we would in the
            Kop. We were well used to riding the waves of the crowd surges. It’s
            the reverse of what happens at grounds now. These days when somebody
            gets excited and stands up it forces everybody behind to do the same
            in ripple effect if they wanna see the action. Back in those days,
            somebody would strain forward to see the action causing a domino
            effect that would stop at the crush barriers. It could hurt going up
            against these barriers with the force of the crowd behind so I
            always got my back to the barriers and with plenty of people in
            front of me whenever I could. Being young, fit and only a little
            fella, I could wriggle my way around the terraces.
             
            Timings become blurred from now on as I describe what happened next.
            I think from the police videos I later saw that I left the pitch
            some time around 3:45pm.

Cont…
             
            T

cont…

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