Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Lessons From Leppings Lane: Hillsborough. Thirty Years On

Posted on 14 April 2019 by Connor Woolley

96. The number that will forever be bonded to the city of Liverpool.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. When, on April 15th 1989, 96 people were crushed to death in Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

For the families of the victims it has been three decades of pain, grief and injustice.

Ahead of the anniversary the SportsGazette spoke with a Liverpool fan, Nottingham Forest fan and a sports journalist to recall the tragedy and what we have learnt since.

John Eccleston, a Liverpool fan, was just 22-years -old when he witnessed the tragic events unfold before him.

“I do remember the first few people coming out. Unfortunately they were all in a very bad way. I certainly saw bodies,” John recalls.

“The fact we were sitting, in the South stand, was quite unusual. We very rarely got seats. Usually we chose to stand.

“It put me off seeing live football. I didn’t go to a match for five years. I don’t know if it was the shock about what I had seen or nervousness about football grounds. It just didn’t appeal to me,” he says.

John has since moved to London and has adopted Brentford as his second club. His affinity to Liverpool FC, though, will forever be stronger because of Hillsborough.

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Russ, a Nottingham Forest fan, sat over 100 metres away looking on. He admits he was confused about what was happening at first.

“When people started to come onto the pitch we didn’t really know what was going on. After Heysel and the stigma attached to Liverpool fans we thought it was hooliganism,” says Russ.

“I will always remember my friend turning to me to say ‘something doesn’t look right. It’s too busy’.

“Then, as soon as he said that, the referee took the teams off the pitch.”

There is no better person than Russ to refute the hooligan stereotype, created after Heysel and shamefully re-enforced by the Sun, as he now lives in Liverpool.

“The people here are great. They’ve been nothing but friendly since we moved. I had my pre-conceptions about Scousers but none of it is true. They’re just lovely people.”

Turning back to the events of April 15th 1989 Russ says:

“I’ve still got memories of them bringing people out on the advertising hoardings covered up. To comprehend them being dead was horrendous.

“To think that they went to the match and didn’t come home is scary. It took a long time to get over to be honest.”

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For Russ, John and all the other fans who attended Hillsborough, what they saw will forever be burned into the back of their minds.

We, as a footballing society, are still comprehending the consequences of Hillsborough. The mistakes, poor decisions and neglect that led up to that day, accompanied with the brazen dishonesty in the aftermath are all tragic points to learn from.

David Randles is a sports journalist, from Liverpool, who formerly worked for the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Football Club.

As a fourteen-year-old, David watched the tragedy unfold on the television. When he speaks, David’s words are passionate yet measured.

 “I will always remember watching all the people and bodies spilling out onto the pitch. You could see, even on the television, that there was a real sense of panic,” says David.

Being so young made it difficult for David to fully grasp the magnitude of Hillsborough. As he grew up, though, his understanding matured.

Now, as a Sports Journalist, David looks back on the way the media handled Hillsborough with his own experiences and critical knowledge to hand.

 “It was the first time a lie – exit gate c being broken down by Liverpool fans – had been peddled via official sources and the media’s live coverage.

“Journalists and the media have a responsibility to check facts before reporting as truth. It does, however, become much more difficult when reporting live,” he explains.

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Young journalists, sports or else, can learn a lot from Hillsborough. David has these words of advice for anyone thinking about working in the industry:

“The main lesson a journalist can take from Hillsborough is to double check, then triple check, your sources. You just can’t believe, on face-value, what people say to you.”

The reason David says this is because of the infamous Sun article titled ‘The Truth’. The Sun received its information from a local Sheffield-based news agency called Whites.

“Once they (Whites) got the same information from a few different sources they decided it was enough to run with. The nationals then took the information and, without fact checking for themselves, ran with it too,” David explains and continues,

“Too much weight was given to official sources. They abused their power to manipulate the message. Official sources should be reliable in a crisis situation but, as we’ve since established, that wasn’t the case.”

This information, or misinformation, was given to Whites by senior figures in the Police force, Ambulance service and a local MP.  

Other national newspapers did use the same information. However, it was the way the Sun relayed it, stemming from the headline, that infuriated the people of Liverpool.

“That headline put all those details into a completely different context. Whereas the other newspapers wrote ‘it was claimed’ the Sun used the information as solid facts. The story was put out with little thought about the consequences,” says David.

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Sensitive information should always be checked. In the instant, digital, world of social media this is more important than ever.

Since 1989 the media, organisations such as the Police, and politics, have increased their efforts to maintain transparency.

Journalists now have strict codes of conduct, such as the IPSO code and OFCOM broadcasting code, to adhere too. Sometimes, though, things can still go wrong. Therefore you should always question things.

Liverpool FC will hold a minutes silence before Sunday’s match with Chelsea. The city will also observe a minutes silence on the anniversary at 03:06 p.m.

In Nottingham, on April 15th, a minutes silence will be held at 03:06 p.m. to commemorate the tragedy and remember the 96 who lost their lives.

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