A survivor's tale
Robbie Ashcroft and his brother were in the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough. In his own words he recalls the horror of Hillsborough and the immediate aftermath
Before I put my memories of the day into words, can I just tell you something about my brother and I? (This will become clearer later.) I'm over 6ft 2ins and my brother is 6ft 5ins. We are both large people. A bit fat even.
We had been in the Leppings Lane terrace previously; 1988 for the semi-final - also against Nottingham Forest - Sheffield Wednesday v Liverpool a couple of times in the League, and another semi-final between Liverpool and Arsenal.
At one point during the 1980 Arsenal semi-final, both of us (along with all the other people in that pen) lost our feet. The pressure of the crowd actually moved us sideways and towards the centre of the terrace, fortunately we were able to retain our footing and nothing serious happened.
When the draw was made between Liverpool and Forest and the venue was announced as Hillsborough, I recall Peter Robinson [the then Liverpool executive vice-chairman] saying Liverpool should be allocated the Kop end and Forest given the Leppings Lane end. We were a bigger club than Forest and thus had a larger support.
I think the police intervened and said if this were to happen, the fans would "mix" together outside as Forest travelled up from the south side of the city and Liverpool entered from the north.
We set off by car very early and hit roadworks when entering Sheffield. We parked up in a housing estate about three miles from the ground and had plenty of time to walk up.
As we walked closer to the ground with other Liverpool supporters, it seemed odd that very few stopped off to visit the pubs. We decided not to bother having any beers and got some soft drinks and snacks from a corner shop.
We turned into Leppings Lane and made our way into the ground. Remember, we had been here before; we entered the terraces via the right-hand side entrance. We even had time to go back down to the gents and also get some coffees.
As time went by, it was obvious other people had remember previous visits and learned like us. It was cramped in the side section and very hot.
As the game kicked off, Liverpool attacked the Kop end and I think Peter Beardsley had a shot that was either saved by their goalie or maybe hit the bar.
It was then that it happened, an almighty surge from the Liverpool crowd in the middle pen. We thought a barrier had been uprooted, and then it struck home.
Liverpool supporters were climbing onto the steel fences at the front screaming at the police to open the locked gates, I even saw police pushing and hitting supporters back down into the terrace, they had no idea what was going on.
As time passed, we helped what seemed like hundreds of Liverpool fans climb into our area of the ground. Each one screaming at the police for not opening the gates, each one telling us people had died.
Eventually they opened the gates and members of the crowd spilled onto the pitch, to ease the pressure. What a sight. I'd seen dead bodies before but nothing like this, it was carnage. If I live to be 100, I will never forget what I saw that day.
Some fans started placing bodies onto advertising hoardings and carrying them up to the Main Stand. Instinctively we helped. Time stood still, I have no idea what time we left the ground, but can remember a local giving us a cup of tea and letting us phone home to let our loved ones know that we were safe.
The journey back to Liverpool lasted an eternity. We were very quiet.
As days passed, Liverpool opened Anfield so that people could pay their tributes to the 96. As I entered Anfield, tears ran down my face, we walked up to the Kop to our usual spec and just stood and stared; the full horror of Hillsborough struck home.
Scarves, flags, football shirts from any team you could mention were spread out on the Kop; it was an awesome sight.
The most moving sight I have seen in my life has to be the thousands of bouquets laid on the Kop-end side of the pitch. I visited Anfield four times during that period, each time the Kop and the pitch grew into something more beautiful and more incredible. It was ablaze of colour, red and white, blue and white and a sea of flowers.
Liverpool FC announced that they would play their first football game against Glasgow Celtic - away as a mark of respect. Years before Celtic supporters had beaten me up; another ghost now needed to be laid to rest.
The game was on Sunday April 30, and we set off by car early that morning. I was a bag of nerves as we ate up the miles and approached Glasgow. My stomach tightened and as I recalled the previous visit.
On arrival we realised that there were already hundreds of Liverpool supporters there, my heart skipped a beat when one of the lads said let's go for a beer. We got inside a Celtic pub that was full of Liverpool and Celtic fans. We got a drink and managed to find a seat to sit down.
A huge green-and-white honey monster of a Glasgow Celtic supporter pulled up a chair and sat with us. I was petrified. He and his mates turned out to be fantastic people, they didn't ask if we wanted a drink, they insisted we let them get them in. They would not let us return the compliment. The honey monster was called Dave - and what a great person he was.
We left the pub and headed for the ground with our new friends. We approached the Liverpool end and said thanks for the company, but we were going in the away entrance. Dave and his mates responded: "Don't go in there, come around here with us, you will enjoy it more."
So we walked around the ground and joined the line to get into The Jungle. Loads of Liverpool fans were already in line ahead of us. It must have taken us 10 minutes to get onto the terrace, most of the Celtic supporters kept hugging us and saying that they felt for us.
We got onto the terrace to be greeted with a Liverpool banner in our end that read: "The people of Merseyside would like to thank the people of Glasgow for your support during these difficult times". As kick off approached the noise from the Liverpool end grew and grew, then it happened.
Celtic supporters and Liverpool supporters began to sing You'll Never Walk Alone as one; the tears flowed from all of our new Celtic friends and us. This was one of the most moving moments we had ever experienced.
The game, from what I can remember, was a slow tempo affair; Liverpool won 5-1. I think each Liverpool goal was celebrated with more pleasure by the Celtic fans.
After the game, Dave and his friends walked us back to the car. Celtic supporters tossed their scarves around us and we exchanged pleasantries.
Dave gave me his Celtic shirt and I gave him my Liverpool scarf that I had had for years. A few years later, we met up with Dave and the lads at Ian Rush's testimonial and repaid their kindness by treating them to some Liverpool hospitality. We even turned up at Neville Southall's [ex-Everton goalkeeper] testimonial and met them then.
The tragedy at least helped me to learn to trust and respect Celtic supporters, brilliant people we'll never forget.
Once the Reds were ready to play football again, we played Everton at Goodison in an evening game. Somehow we managed to get tickets for the Everton end; it was full of Liverpool and Everton supporters. The banner we had seen in Glasgow was displayed from the upper tier of the Park End stand.
The banter between the two sets of supporters was good, just before the game started there was a minute's silence which was impeccably adhered to and You'll Never Walk Alone was played over the Everton public address system.
Of course the ground was awash with a sea of red and white, and then the Everton supporters behind us held their blue-and-white scarves up and joined in to sing You'll Never Walk Alone. Grown men, Liverpool and Everton supporters were crying side by side as our anthem boomed out at Goodison.
It's a shame that it took such a tragedy to re-build the bonds that over the years had been broken.
Lest we forget the 96.
Copyright - Robbie "Mottman" Ashcroft