Articles

Hillsborough testaments: Adrian Tempany

On Saturday 15 April 1989, eight of us set off from Nottingham for Sheffield under a beautiful blue sky. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and our two cars - one carrying four Forest fans, one four Liverpool fans - made short work of the motorway. We had made a loose arrangement to meet up after the game (no mobiles back then), but when our driver parked the car a mile or so from Hillsborough, we realised we'd come in at the west end of the ground, behind the Leppings Lane stand - the Liverpool end.

I'd been a Liverpool fan since I was six years old. I went to my first cup final at 16, and had my first season ticket on the Kop before I'd left school. But in 1988-89, aged 19 and in my gap year, I couldn't afford one. Two weeks before the semi-final, the phone went. My brother, a Forest season ticket holder, had a spare. "It's for the Forest end, mate," he said. "Come and educate yourself."

Now, as we approached the stadium on Leppings Lane, we split up - I'd only met the other three lads for the first time that day - and I set off for the Forest end. The residential streets around the stadium were barricaded at each end, so I approached two policemen and asked how to get round the ground. "You don't," they said. I moved on to the next street, where a senior officer, wearing a flat hat, was talking to a constable. I asked again. "You a Liverpool fan? You're not going up the Forest end. Forget it." They turned away.

I hid any trace of my colours and gave it one last try. Fifty yards on stood another senior officer. He stopped me before I got within five yards of him. "I've just seen you," he said. "You've already spoken to four of my men and I know what they've told you." He pointed at the entrance to the Leppings Lane stand. "Now get to that turnstile right on the end. The fella there is letting in fans with Forest tickets."

Strangely, I turned to walk away. That fella wasn't going to let me in with a Forest ticket. But I hadn't walked a few steps before the policeman shouted at me. I'll never forget his words: "This is your last chance," he said. It wasn't an offer. Two minutes later, I was through the turnstile. As I made my way towards the tunnel that led to the terrace behind the goal, I didn't dare look back. I couldn't believe my luck.

It was 2.15pm when I walked into pen 3 on the Leppings Lane and took up a spot just to the right of Bruce Grobbelaar's goal, about 10ft from the perimeter fence. I had travelled to matches alone since I was 15, and today, as always, I made for the liveliest spot, right among the choir and the comedians. For 10 minutes I stood in the sun, taking in the sight of a big old stadium slowly filling up on FA Cup semi-final day, leaning idly on one of the crash barriers that stood like staples on the terraces to limit a crowd surge.

By 2.30pm it was getting strangely uncomfortable. Looking around, I could see that fans older and clearly more seasoned than me were getting edgy. I shrugged two people off my back and pushed my way under the crush barrier, so that it was now behind me, and not on my chest. Ten minutes later, it would have been too late. By then, 20 minutes before kick-off, the crowd around me was wheezing and sweating and settling slowly, grudgingly, like cement. I had been in tight crowds before, but this was different. A silence was falling over the people around me. Some were hyperventilating, others were fainting. I was starting to panic now, but I was stuck. The pressure was tightening like a vice. My eyes began searching for police, or stewards, but no one was coming. Slowly, my legs, my backside, my arms and finally my chest went numb. One ear was folded in against my cheekbone by the head of a man to my right. I could move my head, my eyes and my mouth, and no more. My right foot seemed to move involuntarily, until I realised it wasn't on the ground but planted on the calf of a man in front of me.

I had never felt anything like this before: not on the Kop, not at Wembley. And it was about to get worse. That crush barrier was a few feet to my right, but I didn't see it. Because the light was slowly closing around my head. By now I was gasping for breath, and worried that my neck wasn't moving freely. Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright. Three men had long stopped breathing and were now staring, with a fixed, almost disinterested expression, into the distance. Their faces were bleached white, but turning blue, their lips a cold violet. The only comfort I could find was that thousands of people who were still alive were now shouting for help, screaming, "There are people dead in here!" There were CCTV cameras trained on us. And there were police just a few feet in front of the fence who must have realised that metal crush barriers in our pen were bursting out of the ground.

Unbelievably, at 3pm, the match kicked off. I remember the roar of the crowd around the ground, and the stillness that followed in pen 3 as people gave up screaming for help to save the air in their lungs. By this time my lungs were burning and freezing with alternate breaths. I was paralysed from the neck down. Rival chants were bouncing the length of the ground, and I thought of my brother, watching from the opposite end of the stadium, where I should have been. Two police officers were sharing a joke, nervously, on the cinder track, 10ft away. No one was coming to help. 

I had been crushed on that terrace for over half an hour. I was exhausted, and stiff with shock. Incredibly, two people to my left had managed to climb above the crush, and were now crawling on all fours over the shoulders and heads of people around me, to the fence at the front. Unable to move, too exhausted now to shout, I wondered how they had managed to get out. And why it had been decided that I wouldn't.

It was then that I caught the eye of a policeman just the other side of the fence. It was an unmistakable, meaningful moment: because for four or five seconds, across the heads of scores of people, we looked each other in the eye.

I lost him when I mouthed the words, "Help us." He smiled to himself and shook his head at me, and walked on, a little uncertainly.

At that point I thought: "We've been left to die." Many people already had. People bigger than me, smaller than me, and smarter than me were gone. Now it was my turn. Fifty seconds, my brain was telling me: you've got 50 seconds left. I don't know where the figure came from, but there wasn't a moment of doubt in my mind: just a calm, orderly voice telling me to hurry up and take in the final minute of my life. As the seconds ticked down to 45, 40, 35, my lungs began to falter. I screwed up every ounce of strength left in my body - to lever myself into the air, climb on to someone's shoulders, escape. But as I heaved and strained, my body wouldn't move an inch. Those pressed tight around me were heavy, some were unconscious; others were gibbering, trying to black out what was happening.

I counted down to 20 seconds, and then at 15, or 14, I gave up. At 10 seconds, nine, eight, I floated away for a moment, briefly euphoric. Then I settled into my body, opened my mouth towards the sky and sucked what I could out of it. And then I closed my eyes. Five seconds later, they opened. The sky was still blue. And the police had finally opened the gate in the fence and were swearing at us. And I had survived.

That the very act of surviving a major tragedy changes people's lives and personalities is obvious. But to what extent is not. Family and friends who knew me then and now will tell me I'm the same person. I think they're right, a few psychological bumps and bruises aside.

After escaping through the gate in that fence, I carried two people across a football pitch to a gym that had become a mortuary. One was barely alive when, along with six or seven other fans, I picked him up off the grass and laid him on an advertising hoarding. By the time we had run the length of the left wing, he was dead. We went back for another: there was a row of bodies by the goal-line. Help yourself, the police seemed to be saying. We kicked another board over, but as it lay flat on the ground a policeman walked over and stood on it. "You can't just vandalise the stadium," he said. So we picked up this lad by his arms and legs. As we ran his big, heavy body along, bumping his head on the grass in the vain hope of reviving him, I gazed down at the little ring of blue marks now swelling round his belly, like a baby's footprints.

We stopped in the corner of the pitch, at a bottleneck by the football club's gym. People were waiting for orders, ambulances, oxygen. There were dozens of fans there, holding the injured and the dead - on boards, by the arms and legs, in their arms. I stood there looking up for my brother, wondering how he was dealing with this. As we entered the gymnasium, there were medics going to work on people; policemen and fans with their heads in their hands, priests administering the last rites. The man we were holding now was dead when we picked him up, but I found it hard to let go of his hand. Eventually his body, coated in a gelatinous sweat, slipped from my grasp and on to the shiny floor.

A few bumps and bruises? The truth is that I will never know if the person I am today, nearing middle age, was the man I was always likely to be - the result of my genes, my schooling, my childhood friendships - or whether I am the reconstructed remains of that traumatised teenager. This leaves me something of a mystery to myself - a problem common among survivors.

It would take a psychologist to unlock parts of my mind that have been numb for 20 years, and some that I have surrendered. If in a sense I have come from Hillsborough, I am not prepared to go back. What I have long suspected is that, emotionally, the clock stopped at 19. Since holding death at arm's length I've held the advancing years there, too. I was a mature teenager, but I haven't grown up since at the same pace as my friends. I haven't had kids. I won't let my own youth go just yet. I will turn 40 next year, but to most people I seem to be around 30.

It wasn't until many years later that I realised I'd suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. It lasted for four years. I cried a lot, and randomly. I felt cold and angry, and empty. I'd never felt like this before. At times I felt overjoyed to be alive. The next day, I might wake up feeling half-dead. I woke up one day on the kitchen floor, after blacking out. (Get up, make a cup of tea, don't tell Mum and Dad.) I drank heavily, but socially, and verbally abused police officers in the street, and I spent two nights cooling off in a police cell, in the early 90s, for my troubles. (Still haven't told Mum and Dad.)

Then, strangely, one day it was over. Since then, since my mid-20s, I have never begrudged Hillsborough its place in my life. If I had lost someone that day then I would feel differently. But it is such an integral part of my life, and I have to live with who I am.

Perhaps the most important thing Hillsborough taught me is honesty. There is so much about 15 April 1989 that is wrong, and false, and dishonest, that survivors cling to what they know to be true. Lord Justice Taylor described the Liverpool fans' reaction at Hillsborough as "magnificent". But to experience something so terrible, to be accused of thieving and pissing on police officers when you were in the process of trying to save lives, or comforting people in their final moments, is an insult so deep in the psyche that honesty becomes the key not just to remembering but to anything that really matters in life. And it's honesty that allows me to look other survivors in the eye and know that we did what we could.

Some of this will be news to my friends and my family reading this. And to my girlfriend, too, who was my girlfriend that day. But then, there are many secrets to a disaster - not to surviving one, but to living with one. Today, 20 years on, thousands of people still bear the scars of Hillsborough - some more visibly than I do, others inevitably less so.

ON NEXT PAGE you can read about when Adrian decided to attend a game at Anfield for the first time 20 years after Hillsborough. A truly moving story.

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