Monday 24 July 2017

Terrible nightmare is always at back of my mind - Houghton

Liverpool fans desperately try to escape the crush at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989. Photo: PA
Liverpool fans desperately try to escape the crush at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989. Photo: PA
A relative reacts after the jury delivered its verdict at the new inquests
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For some, yesterday's verdict will finally offer closure but for others, living with the nightmare of that fateful day on April 15 in 1989 will remain a daily toil.

Former Ireland star Ray Houghton was in the Liverpool team that afternoon in Hillsborough and the vivid memories of how events unfolded will never leave him.

"It's always there in your mind. As much as you've had great moments in your career, this one stands out as the worst and it's always going to be at the back of your mind," Houghton explains. "I was at the (FA Cup) semi-final on Sunday, Watford and Crystal Palace, and I was thinking 'why couldn't we have played at Wembley? Why did we have to play at Sheffield Wednesday, a small ground where the Notts Forest fans had the big end and Liverpool had (the smaller end)'"

These are the kind of questions that may never be answered but 27 years after the tragedy occurred, Houghton fully expects more truths to emerge.

As Houghton recalls his memories of Hillsborough, the initial sense of confusion that was followed by utter horror is something that one can only imagine.

"When you're there on the day as a player, you think could you have done more? But we just didn't know," he sighs. "When it happened, I remember going home and seeing the fences around and thinking is this what football has come to? That we've to lock people in.

"Six-foot fences all around the stadium to stop them getting on the pitch. Had it gone that bad? Then, you see the pictures of the people trying to get out but couldn't because of the fences.

"You feel the anger and the pain of being there and seeing it. I remember people coming in and saying that there were people dying out there. We'd not a clue there was a crush going on. I thought some of the Forest fans had got in our end and there was trouble. What was unfolding was the disaster.

"We were in the changing room for 10-15 minutes and the ref said 'Keep yourselves warm, you'll be going back on'. He didn't understand the enormity of it.

"Then, we were waiting, waiting and waiting and some fans were coming in between the two changing rooms and that was when we realised what was going on. They were saying people were dead. We realised then something major was going on.

"Kenny (Dalglish) and Brian Clough were summoned to do a tannoy announcement to calm everything down. We went upstairs to the lounge and it was being shown on TV.

"I had family at the game but there was no mobile phones to check they were OK. If you'd have asked the players then to end the season, we genuinely would have said OK. Nobody wanted to play on after that. The lads weren't interested in training.

"Some of those fans used to come down to the ground for autographs and we saw their faces in the pictures up against the fencing on the newspaper. It was very much a family club back then."

Yesterday's verdict was a result of a lot of incredible work by a group of people who have refused to give up on the truth. "Last Wednesday, I spoke to a lady whose brother had died at Hillsborough," Houghton says. "Some people who knew her, they told me it encompasses her life. All she talks about and all her thoughts are about what's happened. She could tell you everything that has happened every day in court.

"She's living her life through Hillsborough, she's not lived her own life and that won't stop tomorrow."

For some, the nightmare will never be fully over.

Irish Independent

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