Peter Willis is an accomplished designer and award winning illustrator who contributes regularly to true faith. For those who read our match-day newsletter, The Special, Peter is the lad who creates all of the cartoon graphic images we use in them. Peter is also the lad who designed the WE ARE UNITED and GEORDIE PRIDE surfer flags that are displayed in the Gallowgate End by Gallowgate Flags. Peter has also designed all of the true faith t-shirts we have had on sale. Peter was present at the Hillsborough Disaster, having travelled as a student with some Liverpool supporting friends whilst a student in North Wales. This piece is Peter’s account of his experiences at Hillsborough in the Leppings Lane End. Peter has never spoken or written of his experiences previously and only did so after being invited to do so by true faith. The images used as illustration in the article below have been provided by Peter. We are indebted to Peter this piece:
On the 15th April 1989 I want to the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Notts Forest at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.
It was supposed to be a bit of a jolly boys day out with a couple of mates but it turned into the biggest tragedy and injustice in British history.
I studied art and design at Wrexham College in North East Wales between 1988 and 1990. It was a pretty desperate place at the time but some cracking fellow students made up for how shit it was.
The majority of the people there were from the North West area and most of them were Scousers.
I grew up a Newcastle United supporter but was also a bit of a Liverpool fan. As I was getting into football they were the top team in Europe and pretty much the only team you ever saw on TV.
While I was at college I would go and watch anyone play for my football fix. Most of my mates were Reds so I spent a lot of my weekends at Anfield. I also went to watch Everton, Wrexham and Wales when they played in town.
On Friday 14th April me and two other mates decided we would go to Sheffield the following day and try and get tickets to watch the game. If we failed we were just going to go on the razz in Sheffield until our bus home was due.
On the morning of the match only my mate Tommo showed up for the bus. Tommo was a big Liverpool fan with a very broad Scouse accent.
We got the bus from Chester and set off to Sheffield, it was a beautiful sunny spring day. The thing I remember about the journey is the joy on the face of the fans for the big day out. Surprisingly it was mostly Forest fans we passed on the way.
We got to the ground very early and managed to get a couple of tickets straight away. We tossed a coin to see who would get the first one and it was me, in the Liverpool end at the Lapping’s Lane. Tommo got one in the Forest end. Looking back it would have made more sense for Tommo to go in the Liverpool end with him being a Scouser.
I had been to Hillsborough before to watch Newcastle as a 15 year old in 1985. I got the train down with some other school mates. It wasn’t long upon arrival I got my first taste of the South Yorkshire Police force. As soon as we arrived and got off the train we were herded up and put on a bus. We were then driven up to the ground and locked on of those cages that they used to transport newspapers up and down the country on trains. The cage looked into another fenced off area just outside the turnstile – pretty heavy handed for school kids I thought, As people who followed football back then knows no one gave a fuck about football fans.
Me and Tommo arranged a place we would meet after the game and I entered the ground. Anyone familiar with the stadium knows you have to enter the terrace through a single dark tunnel. The terrace is then sectioned of into three parts – a bit like the old Gallowgate was back in the day. The difference being you could make your was to any of the sections via a walk away that went across the back wall from one end to the other.
The trouble was on the day everybody just piled into the centre section and the two end sections were half empty in comparison. During all this time there was a Police box high above the crowd watching everything – they did nothing.
I was in the crowd long before the gate was open and to say it was full would be an understatement. I enjoyed the atmosphere of a big game and loved being in the thick of the singing etc. It was very different on this day though. Within five or ten minutes I decided I was going to move somewhere else in the enclosure.
It wasn’t long before I realised, that was going to be very difficult. Everything started to get really uncomfortable at this point. It became difficult to catch my breath. I was reaching up to try and get some fresh air and it was increasingly difficult.
As the terrace became even fuller, I was lifted off my feet. At this point I could not catch any fresh air or feel my feet on the ground. Despite all this I was still not panicked. I had been in many a stadium so was used to this type of thing. I presumed that the ground swell would ease off and go back to normal.
I was totally unaware of the gate being open outside but suddenly the terrace became even more crowded. I will never forget the image of this Liverpool fan in front of me in a white Crown Paints shirt. With his back to the pitch – he was probably sitting on a barrier shouting for people to move back because “people are fucking dying here.” Even at that point I thought his statement was a bit over the top. That was possibly 10 or 20 minutes before kick off, if memory serves me well.
The match kicked off and I was seriously uncomfortable at this point. I just wanted to get out but was jammed in. I remember Beardsley hitting the bar and then it kicked-off. Fans started climbing over the fence and piling onto the pitch. Fans were screaming at the Police on the other side of the fence, but constables looked back at the fans as if they were speaking another language.
At this point the Forest fans started booing the Liverpool fans. I think four years after Heysel everyone presumed it was another pitch invasion.
It seemed to take an age before people cottoned on that this was much different. I decided I HAD to get out no matter what. I looked around and weighed up my options. I was closest to the fence so that would have been the obvious option. I could go back through the tunnel or try and make my way to the back where I could see people being hauled up to the stand above. By this time the desperate crush had eased off a bit, I could touch the ground with my feet again. As I put one foot down I felt something under my foot. I don’t know if it was a hand, an arm, scarf, coat jumper or what but it was a horrible feeling and the moment that it really kicked in that I could be in danger.
The route to the back of the enclosure was the furthest away but thank God it was my decision to get out that way. I managed to make my way to the back and was feeling feint. Before I knew it I had been hurled up and landed on the floor of the stand above. To say it was chaos was an understatement, there were also no officials there just fans trying to save each other.
As I landed flat on my face above all I could see was feet rushing around me, I was worried I thought I was going to get crushed at that point.
When I got up I saw a mate of mine who was a big Liverpool fan. His trousers had been pulled down and he could hardly breathe – it was a massive shock.
Once Kingy had pulled round I looked down towards the pitch to see what was happening – it was possibly the worst sight I will ever see.
There was a pile of bodies laying either side of the steps leading up from the terrace to the pitch-side gate.
It is hard to tell how many people were lying there but it was a lot – there was devastation everywhere.
At this point everything you would have seen on TV was unfolding on the pitch and it was at that point I realised that someone had died as he had a blanket laid over his head and body, naively I still thought the people either side of the steps had just fainted, and it was hard to take it all in.
As we stood there watching it become obvious people had died. We sat in the stadium a while and then left.
There was chaos everywhere. I remember scarves and plastic cups lying about all over the place and it really looked like a bomb had dropped.
I was going to head home with my mate and not go back to college. Amazingly, I bumped into Tommo outside the stadium and explained my decision.
It surprised me when I got out the amount of people who were queuing for the phone box; it never dawned on me for one second that people back home would be aware of the tragedy that had just happened.
The walk from the stadium to the car was horrific. There was confusion everywhere and I saw sporadic scuffles as tense and confused people desperately tried to find out about loved ones.
We walked through an estate and I remember the look on people’s faces as they looked at us, I still didn’t realise the magnitude of what had just happened.
We got into the car and turned the radio on, it was not surprisingly very sombre and the death count was going up and up.
We headed north and stopped off at a motorway station somewhere in Yorkshire and I decided to ring my mam, I thought I would have to explain what had happened and why I was on my way home from college.
My Mam screamed as I said hello, she shouted to my Dad that it was me and I was safe. I had told them on the Friday we were off to the match. They had spent all day Saturday watching the footage live on TV trying to spot me; they had taped the footage and were watching it over and over frantically trying to spot me.
Eventually I arrived home and my Mam ran out of the door to hug me. I broke down at that point as all the confusion came out. My Mam had phoned the doctor to come out and the Priest(??) the Doctor gave me some tablets to help me sleep (which my Mam took).
I woke in the morning to a bright fresh spring day only to see my face on every news clip and paper across the world.
Luckily for me I have had no psychological effects of the tragedy and it has certainly helped living in the North East away from everything. It has been locked firmly in the back of my mind. I never talk about it; it makes me feel too sad.
The older I get the sadder I feel about that day in 1989. Every anniversary me and Tommo text each other just to feel glad to be alive I suppose and also remember the dead.
The truth coming out has been satisfying to say the least – I could have told you where the blame lay 10 minutes after the match. It was that obvious.
I can’t believe the cover up and lies. I presumed I was wrong after all of these years. Governments and the Police don’t cover up that type of thing do they?
PETER WILLIS – FOLLOW PETER ON @Pedro_69_