Twenty years on from the Hillsborough tragedy, we speak exclusively to then manager Kenny Dalglish about his memories of Liverpool Football Club's darkest day.


What do you remember about the morning of April 15, 1989, and the build-up to the FA Cup semi-final?

We had been the previous year to the same venue and to play the same opposition, so we had prepared in exactly the same way. We stayed in the same hotel, the training preparations were the same and everything was normal. We ate at the same time on the morning of the game and left our hotel as usual to travel to the ground. There was nothing to suggest it was any different to the year before.

When did it dawn on you that there was something seriously wrong at the ground?

When we saw someone on the pitch. The referee came over then with a policeman and stopped the game. I never noticed anything until that time.

Did you have family at the ground on that day?

My wife Marina and my daughter Kelly were in the Director's Box. My son Paul had a bit of a ritual going with Roy Evans' lad Stephen because they had travelled to the first game of that Cup run at Carlisle, had a bit of lunch and a good time and so they kept it going to the semi-final. They were in the stand opposite the Main Stand, but I never knew they had to go through the Leppings Lane End to get to their seats. Obviously, when it became clear there wouldn't be any more football played I saw Kelly and Marina, but we were waiting for Paul. A steward saw him and brought him across the pitch. Yes, we had family there but we were the fortunate ones.

What's your recollection of the way the Liverpool fans conducted themselves that day, especially in their attempts to save lives?

You can see the footage afterwards and see people trying to help others. You can see people trying to lift others out of the Leppings Lane crush and into the stand above, you see people who were stronger than others trying to help those who needed it. The people on the pitch were using the advertising boards for stretchers. They were trying the very best they could to help the police and the ambulancemen. It must have been horrific to have been in the Leppings Lane.

Did that make some of the media coverage which followed Hillsborough more difficult to stomach?

The people were absolutely magnificent in enduring Hillsborough and then in the aftermath the people of Merseyside and football people in general were fantastic in the support they gave everyone and in the way they turned up to the ground to pay their respects. Even now, the eternal flame burns outside the ground and has never been vandalised in any way, shape or form. I think that's a tremendous mark of respect from football fans who come to Anfield, because it is at the away end. It shows people want to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. The more time people spend talking about the good things the better.

What do you remember about the journey back to Liverpool that night?

There was nothing said on the bus. When the game was called off everybody got changed, went upstairs and met up with their wives. The television was on and they were going through what had happened. That was the only time we became fully aware of what had gone on because when you're down in amongst it you get conflicting stories. For me, that was the time it became clear what had happened. On the journey back there was no conversation whatsoever. Everybody was totally taken aback by what had happened.

Why was it so important to you to offer such a big level of support in the aftermath, often attending numerous funerals on the same day?

I don't think it's important how many we went to. Noel White said at the start that we would like to have a player or a former player from Liverpool Football Club at every funeral. Those who died were Liverpool supporters and this was our chance to show our appreciation to them. We weren't there for any reason other than to show our respects to people who had lost their lives. They supported us and they died coming to support Liverpool Football Club, so the least we could do was to have some representation at every funeral.

We never had a league table of how many players attended how many funerals. It was done because everybody knew it was the right thing to do, and I think the families respected that. We weren't there to get any credit for ourselves, we were there to pay our respects and I think that was respected as well.

One player has said the players could have done with some counselling themselves - is that something you'd agree with?

I think the players were absolutely magnificent. Different people react in different ways and grieve in different ways. Some players did more than others but it doesn't mean it affected them more. Some people aren't strong enough or capable enough or have the personality to go along and do what others did, but that doesn't mean it was a problem. Everyone did everything they possibly could. The wives were magnificent, they were right in amongst it and were serving tea in one of the rooms at the stadium. Maybe everyone could have done with a bit of counselling at the time, but the players weren't affected as badly as the families of those who died at the game.

How important was the support of your wife during that period?

All the wives showed great support to their husbands and to the families. The way they looked after them when they came in, making sure they had tea, and the way the people of Liverpool rallied round to bring in biscuits, deliver milk and tea-bags when they realised what was happening, was fantastic.

What did the whole Hillsborough experience teach you?

It taught me the value of life, really. Football is very, very important but for two or three weeks after Hillsborough it became unimportant. The most important part of that time were the peoples lives. Those who lost people were the ones who made the decision of whether we went back to play or not. For me, the greatest thing we did was to win the FA Cup that year. There were so many Evertonians who came to Anfield to pay their respects who had never been in the ground before. The rivalry went out of the window for that, just as it did with Manchester United who had many supporters coming over. It pulled a lot of fans closer together and made people realise it could have been their team. Hillsborough put things into perspective and certainly put football on the back-burner in the aftermath.

After it was decided we would go ahead and play again we had to do our best. When we went to Celtic Park for the first game afterwards it was an unbelievable occasion and the first competitive game back at Goodison was equally fitting as well. To finish the season with the FA Cup meant a great deal to a great deal of people.

What can you say about the way the families have conducted themselves over the past 20 years?

It must be difficult for them. Every year on April 15 they have the service at Anfield and it must be hard for them to go and visit every year. But I don't think it should ever be forgotten. The families have conducted themselves with a great deal of dignity. Nobody at Liverpool Football Club will ever forget what happened that day and I don't think anybody should. It would be wrong if we did forget it.

I'm sure this year is going to be a special year because it's the 20th anniversary and for the families to also receive the freedom of the City of Liverpool is a fantastic accolade for them.

How important is the annual memorial service at Anfield for everyone at Liverpool Football Club?

Speaking personally, whether you attend the service or not every year you always have a quiet moment at that particular time. I think it is important, so long as the families want it to carry on then I'm sure the club will continue to provide the stadium for their use. As ever, the most important people are the families.

How do you feel, 20 years on, that the families are still fighting for justice and that some even feel they are fighting to clear the names of their loved ones?

These fans only turned up to watch a football match which had been organised by a Football Association which dictated the ground, the kick-off time and what ends the clubs were at. They put the organisation in charge of it - the police. Something went wrong. Everything was perfect the year before, so something went wrong somewhere. If somebody would just stand up and hold themselves accountable for it then I'm sure the families would rest happily with that. They are not looking for a great deal, just for someone to take responsibility for what happened.

The supporters were criticised for turning up late, but I don't see how they can be when you look at the roadworks which were on the motorway at that time. If the authorities had communicated with each other and reported there were buses stuck on the motorway then we could have delayed the match. Whether it be for half an hour or an hour, what difference would it have made? Kick offs had been delayed before and it could have been done again.

The families just want someone to say 'look, it was our fault and we should have done better.'

Twenty years on - what's your one overriding emotion when you look back at the events of that day?

It's always about the families. They were the most important people at the time and they're the most important people now. The people they lost on that day were only there to watch a football match. They were hoping to come back safe and sound, but they didn't. It must be horrific for the families and they must go through it every day of the year.

The legacy from Hillsborough is that there are so many brilliant stadiums now, as a result of the Taylor Report. At least there is something people can point to and say the fans didn't lose their lives for nothing. Although some people would still like to stand on the terracing, it has been proven that sitting down is the safest way to watch the game. That's a fantastic legacy.