Today is a very solemn day in the history of sports, as it was 20 years ago today that 96 Liverpool soccer fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England.
The day will be marked all over Great Britain, but especially in Liverpool. (Last night I wrapped my Liverpool scarf around the microphone stand at Trivia Night in memory of The 96.) On April 15, 1989, Liverpool was facing Nottingham Forest in the F.A. Cup semifinals, on a neutral site at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
England was in the middle of its worst bouts of hooliganism, and most stadiums in the country put up fences to keep fans off the playing field. An estimated 5,000 fans tried to get in at the section reserved for the Liverpool fans, as opposition fans are segregated at all soccer matches in England. Many fans without tickets were able to get in in the ensuing surge of fans entering the stadium.
As the match began, the fans were packed in so tight in the terraces, or standing area behind the goal, that they began to suffocate and die. When the referee noticed fans trying to climb the fences to escape about six minutes into the match, it was stopped and emergency personnel entered the park, and the disaster was witnessed by the entire country, as it was to be broadcast on "Match of the Day" later in the day.
It was a tragic day of incredible carnage, as 96 fans died, with nearly 800 injured. The youngest death was a 10-year-old boy. I can remember being incredibly horrified by the pictures in the newspapers the next day, and I almost got physically ill by what I saw. I can still recall a photo of a young fan's face being pressed up against the fences. I'll never forget it.
Here is more on the Hillsborough tragedy from Wikipedia.
It was around that time that I became a Liverpool fan. (I've always thought there was a connection between Liverpool and Boston, and that's among the reasons I support them. But that's a discussion for another time.)
There was some controversy in the last few weeks, as Liverpool's match with Chelsea was originally scheduled for the 15th, but it was wisely switched to April 14th when the outcry from Liverpool and their supporters about not having to play on such a solemn day. (Liverpool would play to a 4-4 tie on Tuesday and were eliminated from the Champions League.)
So to honor those fans who lost their lives 20 years ago today, here are two YouTube clips sent to me by my friend Eddie. The first is a set of clips of the disaster and its aftermath, with a roll call of the 96 fans who perished at Hillsborough. The second is a stirring singing of "You'll Never Walk Alone," Liverpool's song, in honor of the fallen fans.
May God bless the victims and their families, and all supporters of the Liverpool Football Club.
May they all never walk alone.