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Ridsdale and I Part 6 - 15.04.89
Thursday, 15th Apr 2021 22:14 by Mark Monk

With today being the 32nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, this episode of my tale looks back to the tragic day that 96 Liverpool fans went to and FA Cup Semi-Final and never came home.

I think the term "dead rubber" would be used today when, on Saturday April 15th 1989 Leeds United took on Brighton in a game which had no implications either way other than it be a dress rehearsal for the corresponding fixture in the forthcoming 89/90 season.

As usual, I was up with the lark that morning and I remember it being it a chilly but sunny Spring day, the sort of day you get at that time of year that convinces you following the gloom of winter things are about to get better.

How ironic!

My mum and dad's pub was having some extensive, much needed renovation work done and one of the builders, Graham, was putting a bit of overtime in rendering the outside. He pulled my leg asking why I was bothering with today's game, a meaningless clash, his team was Derby. I chatted to him as I waited for my lift to Burton.

I caught my normal train and it was, my normal Saturday match day routine; Webster's Bitter breakfast, meander around the clothes and record shops- I think I bought Blue Monday by New Order on CD single, then the novelty (to me) of a daylight kebab at Zam Zam on Upper Briggate then a wander down to the ground and no doubt a stop for a pint of Tetley's en route.

I decided I'd break with tradition and stand on the Kop that day, for the first time ever. The game kicked off, there was barely 14,000 there and Andy Williams scored a decent enough goal just before half-time, the quality of which defied the standard of the game. It would prove to be the winner.

At half-time, Tom Schofield the PA announcer started to read out the half time scores and birthday greetings etc, it was FA Cup Semi-final day, a million miles from the mediocrity of mid-table Division Two. Tom told us that Everton were beating Norwich at Villa Park.

I don't remember his exact words but he said that the other game between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool at Hillsborough had been abandoned after an incident in the crowd from which, he had unconfirmed reports of there being fatalities.

I'm sorry to have to say that some of my fellow Leeds fans were clearly cheered by the news. Obviously we did not live in the digital age back then and had no idea of the tragedy unfolding 25 miles or so to the south in Sheffield. But even if just one fan had died it still would have been a tragedy. Nobody should go to a football match and never come home.

It was the darkest day ever in the history of the British game. In the end 96 Liverpool fans died that day and appallingly it took three-decades for them to get justice.

At the time, football fans were an embarrassment to the government, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was waging a war at the time for compulsory ID cards to be carried to games.

The Thatcher supporting Sun newspaper was no better, printing filthy lies about the disaster, a move which backfired because it's sales plummeted to almost zero thanks to the hatchet job done by then editor Kelvin McKenzie.

Having beaten the Seagulls 1-0, I headed back to Leeds Station none-the-wiser. Even the Yorkshire Evening Post which was on sale with the match report up to half-time didn't really have a lot of information about Hillsborough.

Obviously my train back to the Midlands had to go back through Sheffield. As we pulled into the old station, there were clearly fans of both clubs who'd been to the game. Some had red eyes, matching their scarves and shirts. There were quite a few police on duty too but normally a train carrying football fans of many different persuasions could be a recipe for trouble or some lively banter.

The train was deathly silent. No noise other than the guard coming through to check tickets, which I felt was unbelievably crass, obviously he was none the wiser also at what horrors those Liverpool and Nottingham Forest fans had witnessed on that darkest of dark days.

And if you can’t wait for the next episode to appear on toellandback, you can sneak a peek at my blog by clicking on this link.

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