Actor, writer and Hillsborough survivor Neil Fitzmaurice gives his own moving and detailed account of the day and the aftermath.
I was really excited because it was my first away match as a Liverpool fan - it was all brand new to me. I had butterflies in my stomach and I was looking forward to meeting my mates. I went down to my mate's house and they had this van that'd been modified. It had a table and seats in the back. I only knew two of the people there - the rest I met in the back of the van. That's the fun of away games. There were probably about 12 of us in the back of this thing. I remember it being a blistering hot day and I had a leather jacket with me. We had a few drinks, a game of cards and talked about what was going to unfold. There was a lot of anticipation for a great day.
We parked up some distance away - you can never get close to the ground. We then set off down the road towards Leppings Lane but after about 500 yards I realised it was too hot for this leather jacket - thank God. Who knows what might have happened if I hadn't turned back to put it in the van - I'm thinking in terms of the time I'd have got to the ground and how hot I'd have been. My immediate mates hung on for me and as we made our way to the ground, my impression as a first time away supporter was that it was like the Jones Gang riding into High Noon. Things were boarded up as thousands of us made our way down the road - it was as if a bad presence was coming to town. It shouldn't have been like that - the mood was jubilation because we were in the semi-final of the FA Cup. But Sheffield wasn't used to this kind of thing, and with all the hype surrounding football fans at the time, it was a case of 'lock up your daughters and board up your windows'. It wasn't a welcoming feeling at all.
There was a large group of people there - most were just hanging about soaking up the atmosphere. When we did start heading in, the first thing that struck me was the size of the turnstiles. They were basically gaps in brick walls - you were almost having to go in sideways. That was where the crushes started, though perhaps you could say they were the kind of crushes you always had to put up with at the football. Once we got in, there was a huge blue gate that was closed, and the area was swelling up like a bottleneck. I can remember a policeman on a white horse and he was adding to the congestion because the horse was kicking out if anyone got too near. The gate was eventually opened and fans started to pour in. My brother Peter travelled separately and he came up to me. He'd been before and knew of a really weird design fault. He told me there was another two entrances that you couldn't see. I'd presumed there was only one way in. Our Peter left then, so me and my mates started walking down this really dank, dark tunnel towards the stand. The game had already kicked off at this stage and we heard our fans singing, so we joined in. We were midway down when this wave hit us. We were literally lifted.
There were two pens separated by a fence. Just by luck and fate I ended up in the side I did because there were a lot more deaths in the other side. We were pushed forward into the pens and we just hit the fans like a wedge. It's at this point I realised how out of control things had become and I remember shouting to my mate Ian, who'd gone two or three people ahead, 'Let's get out of here and watch it in the pub.' Then I realised I was basically paralysed from the neck down. I had no control over my body. The panic hit me because fans were building up behind me - word had got out that the match had kicked off. These waves started. You'd move five or six feet and then there'd be another crush. One of the miracles of that day arrived when Peter Beardsley hit the bar. If he had scored at that point, the fans would have gone mad and there would have been hundreds more deaths. I couldn't see the game - all I could see were heads. My senses were being attacked - touch, sight and sound. The noise was deafening and I'd forgotten there was a game on. The glass in my watch blew out in the crush. People were starting to fall and if you fell you didn't get back up. It was blind panic.
Fans were trying to climb over the chicken wire fences and I distinctly remember many being thrown back in by the police. I remember police officers in black gloves punching people's hands down onto the spikes on the fences to get them to let go. At no stage was the mindset of the police that there was a tragedy going on. They saw it as drunken Liverpool fans fighting at a football match. That's what they were trained for. The crush intensified and I looked round and saw people fainting. Some were lifted in the air and it was as if they were floating.
A deal with God
By now word was getting back about what was happening, so people started rushing out. That caused its own trouble for people back in the tunnel. I believe I was only seconds away from losing consciousness. I silently did a deal with God, looking up and telling Him: "Get me out and I'll go to church every day." It sounds ridiculous now. Someone near me was trying to lift themselves up and as he did his elbow ended up in my throat. It wasn't his fault, he was just trying to get out. I moved my head and he lost his balance, so he put his hand on my shoulder and I was pushed back. This meant I pushed the guy in front of me and he fell… I can see his face as if it was yesterday. For one reason or another there was suddenly some room. There was a guy next to me with a Crown Paints Liverpool top, moustache and a feathered haircut. The Scouser look of the time, you know. He was about 40-odd and I was 17. I grabbed his arm and we started moving towards the steps in between the pens that led to the pitch - but stupidly the safety gate designed to ease congestion was locked. We started lifting some people over the fence. There was this guy - he was purple and grey. I presumed he was unconscious but it turned out he was dead. As we lifted him up I told him to get onto the pitch once he was over the fence, but as soon as we let go of him he just thudded to the floor. That's when I knew we had to get out of there. I climbed onto barrier, down and onto the pitch. I fell on my back and I distinctly remember a completely blue sky. I totally switched off from everything going on around me.
I got up and it was absolute pandemonium. My first thought was that my brother had been through what I'd just been through. Then something miraculous happened. I was 10 or 15 yards onto the pitch and in the midst of the screams I heard 'Fitzy'. I turned right and without scanning the crowd I spotted my brother's best mate and my brother in the pens. I collapsed at that point. I had two brothers there - one in another stand - but Peter was the one I didn't think would get through it. I was in a state but I got myself together. My mate Ian was trying to pull down one of the fences. They had ballooned with the force. I went to help with another couple of lads but we were stopped by police officers. They never said a word - they couldn't. They just started pushing us backwards, their eyes dead. I can still see their faces now. They had completely short-circuited. We said, 'Help us pull the fence down'. No answer. A guy from St John's Ambulance came up to me and opened a tin with a tube of Savlon and a bandage in. This kid was crying. I just looked at him and thought, 'What's that going to do?' Ambulances had oxygen canisters that were empty - there was such a lack of provision.
A lot of people who'd died were at the side of the pitch with coats over their faces. Other people were being resuscitated; people with eyeballs hanging out - it was like a battleground. No one should ever have to see these kind of things. The one thing I'm eternally proud of that day is the Liverpool fans. The stereotype of these people were lager-drinking louts who cause trouble, but, that day, when a lot of the police officers there didn't know what the hell to do, it was Liverpool fans who were breaking up advertising hoardings to use as stretchers or using their coats. They even tried to get the net down to use as a rope ladder. These were people who, at the time, were supposedly not fit for work. I started carrying advertising hoarding towards the side of the pitch which had become a morgue, if you like. I found my brother and he said he thought there'd be five deaths - I looked at him and went, 'At least 50'.
It was strange. You hear stories about Vietnam war veterans not mixing with anyone and it's true. There's a pub near Anfield called The Park and I was just there every day. It was just thousands of lost souls. We just sat talking about it all day. I couldn't really speak to my family about it - it's that old thing about if you weren't there you can't possibly know. I was chain smoking and drinking and drinking and drinking without getting drunk. I became friends with one guy who had been in the army - he'd done two tours of Northern Island. He carried a kid off at the ground, put him down in front of an officer and screamed at him to do something. The officer set his Alsatian on him. We just sat there telling these stories and met a lot of people from different backgrounds. We became dependent on each other for quite a long time. There was also massive guilt - survivor guilt. I was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder two years after Hillsborough. To this day now I panic immediately if anywhere starts to get too crowded. For the first couple of years I couldn't wear a belt or any restrictive clothes. I walked round in trackies and shell suits. Sleeping was really tough - I used to switch the telly on and fall asleep in front of it. The moment my head hit the pillow and I closed my eyes I was back there.
I read their headline on the way back to Hillsborough - they invited us back on coaches for drop-ins with psychologists. Someone bought the paper and it was passed around the coach. When we got to Leppings Lane we were all very, very angry at being blamed. I felt like everybody hated us. Anyway, part of these drop-ins was retracing your steps - going down the tunnel and into the pens. I went back onto the pitch and broke down - it was all a bit too much. As I was crying, this social working came up and told me there was someone to see me. I looked up and through these tears I saw a figure dressed in black with big, shaggy hair. It was Craig Johnston, a bit of a hero of mine. He came over, gave me a hug and asked me to tell him what had happened.
The Memorial Match
The Memorial Match against Celtic (Liverpool's first game after the disaster) was one of my biggest healing moments. There were four of us and when we got into Glasgow in our Liverpool colours people were clapping us in the streets. Ibrox had a stadium disaster and they'd lost fans. There was a massive bond. What I realised that weekend was that we just wanted people to hug us and understand how bad it was. The problem in Liverpool was that everyone was suffering. No one wanted to speak to anyone because no one wanted to upset anyone. But in Glasgow people were openly supportive.
The Cup final
It was all very delicately done - there was a lot of consideration for the fans and a lot of room. I had to go and stand there - face the fear, if you like. It was Liverpool v Everton, so you were with Scousers - people who understood. It was just about seeing this thing out.
I was asked to go down to Sheffield Crown Court and give evidence to Lord Justice Taylor. It was basically my account of the day. What struck me was what a hiding to nothing the defence were in for - there was no way they could win that case. It was cut and dried, even though in the end we didn't win as we wanted. There was a whole team of defence lawyers asking ridiculous questions - a lot of it was trying to put Liverpool fans in the dock. I was quite eloquent but they kept interrupting me and saying they couldn't understand my accent. I told them I'd had brand new trainees that were wrecked and he said, 'Sorry, you're going to have to say that again in English'. Their whole argument was that we were an accident waiting to happen because we were drunk. It was a shambles. I was taken from there to go on the News at Ten because they'd got CCTV coverage of the policeman on a white horse and, under quite a lot of pressure, I'd had to retract that part of my statement. It was a weird day and I came back knowing they didn't have a leg to stand on. Lord Taylor's inquiry and the rejuvenation of football grounds had to happen because these grounds were all about 100 years old. This had been on the cards.
For all I went through that day, I still can't imagine what the parents of those who died were feeling. I can't imagine the emptiness they've got. If they can spend the rest of their lives fighting for justice, they should. They need it - they need to fill that gap and they need to know someone has been held responsible. It's an odd one. Deep down I don't believe there will ever be justice. It's just this country I guess - the law is above the law. No one person is going to be made responsible. But I hope they do - and while they're making a noise people are having to listen. And while they're making a noise, they'll save lives. They shouldn't go away, because my pain doesn't go away and neither does theirs.
I'm still a passionate Liverpool supporter but it's made me very cynical about football. Will Hillsborough happen again? Not on the same scale I don't think, but things will go wrong at football matches again - I totally believe that. The same stupid things are happening. I went to the 2007 Champions League final and it was mayhem. As a Liverpool fan, I have to say I was disappointed with the way some Liverpool fans acted - people who were old enough to know better. Not giving enough tickets was a massive problem, and I have nothing against fans going over without tickets - but fans forcing turnstiles without tickets? I have a massive problem with that. Every generation should know about Hillsborough, about the Bradford City disaster and about Ibrox. They should be taught about it, because it's the only way to get through to them that you can't behave in certain ways at football grounds.