On Saturday, April 15, 1989, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest squared off in the semifinals.
More than 53,000 spectators from the two teams would arrive at Hillsborough for the 15.00 kickoff because the game was sold out.
Despite being a far larger team, Liverpool fans were given Leppings Lane, the smaller end of the stadium, so that their path would not cross with Forest supporters traveling from the south.
At the time, stringent segregation was mandated due to the reputation of hooliganism among football crowds.
Around noon, spectators started to arrive at Leppings Lane. Only seven of the entrance’s few turnstiles were reserved for the 10,100 spectators who had tickets for the standing terraces.
After passing through the turnstiles, spectators would have noticed a long tunnel that descended to the terrace and was marked “Standing.”
The terrace was split into “pens” by high fences, which were standard practice on grounds at the time, corralling fans into blocks and keeping them away from the pitch.
Pens 3 and 4 near the back of the goal were directly accessible from the tunnel. Poor signage made it difficult to find other pens; the inquests heard that a sign offering refreshments was larger than one directing people to pens 1 and 2.
On that particular day, there was neither a mechanism in place nor a way to count how many fans were in each pen to guarantee that they were split equally among them.
Ch Supt David Duckenfield oversaw the game. He had little prior experience policing football games and was fresh to his position.
Police intended protesters to “find their own level” by dispersing over the cages in search of space, but this proved challenging because access to the pens was only through small gates in the back.
Crowd Gathered Outside
A crowd had begun to gather at the Leppings Lane turnstiles by 14.15, and it grew quickly over the course of the following 30 minutes.
Only 4,383 people had entered the stadium by 14.30 due to the poor flow of traffic through the seven turnstiles, which meant 5,700 ticketed supporters were expected to enter the venue in the 30 minutes prior to kickoff.
The inquests were informed that Mr. Duckenfield and Supt. Bernard Murray talked about postponing the game’s start to let fans enter but ultimately decided against it.
By 14.45, thousands of people were lining up alongside Gate C, a significant exit gate, and at the turnstiles.
For those in the front, it was difficult to get out of the congestion due to the area’s funnel-like structure. As it grew more challenging to use the turnstiles, people began to get smacked.
When Did Gate C Open?
Supt. Roger Marshall, the police officer in command of the area, stated during the inquests that he believed someone was “going to get killed here” if the exit gates weren’t opened to release the pressure.
At 14.52, Mr. Duckenfield gave the order and the gates were unlocked after he had made many requests.
Then, some 2,000 spectators entered the stadium. The majority of people passing from Gate C made their way straight for the tunnel leading to Pens 3 and 4.
The influx seriously crushed the enclosures. To escape, spectators started scaling side gates and entering the next pens, which were noticeably less crowded.
The total number of pens was officially 2,200. It was then determined that, despite changes to the ground at that time, this had not been updated since 1979.
The start of the game was at 14.59. Fans in the two center pens slammed into the barriers and the fences. In pen 3, one of the barriers gave way, allowing people to collapse on top of one another.
Those who lived reported witnessing someone pass out in front of their eyes.
Others were pulled to safety by spectators in the top tiers as supporters continued to scale surrounding fences to escape.
At 15:06, Supt. Roger Greenwood entered the field and ordered the referee to halt play.
In the frenzied aftermath, supporters attempted to provide first aid to the injured while also tearing up advertising hoardings to use as impromptu stretchers.
The government’s response to the crisis was disorganized and sluggish.
Staff from South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service at the scene also failed to notice and declare a serious event, and police took their time to do so. The jury came to the conclusion that this prolonged the emergency response times.
Despite the fact that numerous ambulances were sent, entrance to the pitch was delayed because police were reporting “crowd unrest.” Firefighters with cutting gear had issues getting into the ground.
Only two ambulances arrived at the Leppings Lane end of the field, and only 14 of the 96 fatalities ever received hospital admission.
According to the verdict in the inquests, the tragedy was caused by police planning mistakes, stadium flaws, and delays in the emergency response. It wasn’t the fans’ behavior that was at fault.
The jury found that match director Ch Supt David Duckenfield owed the stadium’s patrons a duty of care on that particular day.
They concluded that he had violated this duty of care, that this amounted to gross negligence, and that the 96 victims had been wrongfully murdered.
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