Home » Tournament in Focus » - English Premier League » They went to a match and never came back (Part Twelve)

They went to a match and never came back (Part Twelve)

Continuing the series that looks at those thankfully rare times in football history when fans went to a football match but never made it home afterwards.

(For Part One click here; Part Two here; Part Three here; Part Four here; Part Five here; Part Six here; Part Seven here;  Part Eight here; Part Nine here; Part Ten here, and part Eleven here).


There have been more column inches written, mote TV films and mor documentaries made about what happened during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in April 1989 than any other stadium tragedy.

As recently as last year a UK coroner ruled that Andrew Devine, who had suffered irreversible brain damage on that fateful day, and who had just died, was the 97th victim.

The bald facts are that shortly before kick-off on the day, the police match commander ordered a gate at one end of the ground to be opened to ease overcrowding outside the stadium. An influx of Liverpool supporters poured into already overcrowded pen and a deadly crush ensued. Barriers erected by the side of the pitch prevented those caught at the front from escaping and many were left with simply nowhere to go.

94 people died on the day itself, another person died in hospital a few days later, and another victim passed away in 1993, with Devine making It 97. Hundreds more were injured in what is the highest casualty toll in British sporting history.

79 of those who died were under 30, and the oldest were in their sixties.

What clouded the story were initial reports planted by South Yorkshire Police and fanned by sections of the tabloid media (particularly “The Sun”) that hooliganism and drunkenness by Liverpool supporters was to blame, feeding off the narrative that they had also been involved in the Heysel Stadium tragedy four years later.

After many years of countless campaigning by the families of the victims, who refused to accept the verdict of the first coroner’s inquest that the deaths were accidental, a second inquest ruled that the supporters were unlawfully killed.

That ruled that their deaths were due to gross negligence by the police and ambulance services, and that the old-fashioned design of the stadium also contributed to the tragedy, and the fans were not to blame for what happened to them.

Following this disaster and the Bradford Fire tragedy of four years later, the Taylor Report led to a  number of key safety improvements at British sports stadia, most notably the elimination of fenced standing terraces in favour of all-seater stadiums in the top two tiers of English football.

Arguably, no single move has had a bigger impact on the culture of football supporters in Britain, transitioning the supporter base from one rooted in the working classes to a more middle-class mix.

It also had a profound effect on the social concord between football fans  and the  police in England – no longer would the match going public accept being treated like caged animals by the authorities.

33 years later it is still not possible to buy a copy of The Sun newspaper in Liverpool because outlets refuse to stock it.

Leave a Reply