Hillsborough testaments: The ex-wife: Angela Woolfall

Angela Woolfall's husband survived Hillsborough on the day, but their marriage broke down as a result of the mental and physical injuries he had suffered.

Michael was 32 when he went to Hillsborough. He was a steward at Anfield and had got into pen 3 at around 2.15pm. He leant on a crush barrier to read his programme and before he realised, he found he was trapped. The crush became so bad he began to pass out. Two lads in front of the barrier had a bit more room, and they kept slapping his face to keep him conscious. But the pain was too much, and he couldn't breathe. The next thing he knew he woke up in the Northern General in Sheffield.

The hospital phoned me at 6.30pm to say they had Michael. I said: "I had a feeling I was going to hear from you." I just knew. I had been glued to the television, but my daughter, Sam, who was two at the time, kept saying: "I want to watch Thomas the Tank ... Thomas the Tank, Mummy!" I was going out of my mind. My brother's wife drove us over the Pennines. The thing I remember most was all these half-empty coaches coming back.

Michael had ended up hanging over this barrier. He severed the nerves in the top of his leg, which has left him partially disabled, and he suffered broken ribs - one of these fans had been hammering on his chest to revive him. He only found out what had happened three weeks later, when he went to the rearranged match at Old Trafford and bumped into these lads. One of them said: "Last time we saw you, you were dead!" They had been giving him the kiss of life when a policeman came over and said: "You're wasting your time, lads, leave him there with ... " (there was a line of bodies, you know). These lads got the fright of their lives when they saw Michael on his crutches, but they were overjoyed because their efforts hadn't been in vain.

Nine months later, there was a TV documentary about Hillsborough, and the camera zoomed down the tunnel and on to the terrace. Michael went into a trance, watching it; he relived it all, there on the sofa. He was saying: "I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I'm going to die!" And he had stopped breathing. He was speaking, screaming, clutching his trousers ... I witnessed what he'd been through, but when he came round he couldn't remember.

It was about 18 months later that he learned his injuries were permanent. Michael had been a scaffolder, but although he gave it a good go he had to call it a day in 1990. He hated not being able to work, and I had to work full-time as a legal secretary. He's not on crutches any more, but he says it's like having toothache in the top of his legs.

We were assigned a family counsellor, and that helped, but Michael became a very selfish person. He began to go out a lot - he was out all the time - and he was drinking more than he had before. His excuse was that it was the only way he could sleep. He was frightened to go to sleep, and frightened that he might not wake up.

Everyone loved him; he was just an outgoing, good bloke. But he would never speak about the fact that he was left for dead. When he was having counselling I was sitting there thinking: "I'm suffering too, you know." Because he was shutting me out - there was no way of helping him, and that upset me a lot.

Our second child, Ben, was born in 1991, which was a lovely surprise, but Michael just couldn't snap out of it. I was thinking: "If Hillsborough hadn't happened, I'd be really pissed off with you." But it was like: "What will people think of me if things don't work out? It will be my fault." I was burnt out trying to support him, and it became one-way support. He just wanted to go into his own world.

The eldest knew by the time she was six or seven that Daddy had been through something terrible, and the kids began to dread Saturdays - match days. I began to sense things weren't going to work out in about 1994 or 95, but it took me two years to pluck up the courage to end it. We went to the pub and I said: "This isn't working any more." He looked quite relieved, actually. We split up, and then divorced in 1998. He remarried in 1999 or 2000.

It's only in the past 18 months I've started to feel like I'm my own person again. Sam is 22 now, and Ben's 17. None of us blames Michael for what happened, and we're all still friends. The most important thing is that he's alive. But I lost my husband at Hillsborough, and that gets overlooked. I've found it hard to commit to a new relationship, but when you have kids you have to get on with things, and as a mother they come first.


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