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Hillsborough Wednesday, 14 April, 1999, 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK
Journey into grief
Grief and desolation filled the empty ground
By John Thorne, BBC North of England Correspondent

The first sign that the afternoon was tumbling into tragedy came from the Sunday Express football writer covering Bradford City's game that end of the season afternoon.

"My lot don't want anything more from here - not even the score," he told everyone sitting in the Valley Parade press box after filing his half-time report.

"Something has happened at the Hillsborough game. Crowd invasion or something. No one really knows."

Gruelling journey

The BBC news organiser in London knew a bit more. My telephone call from the back of the stand revealed that there were casualties in "an incident" as yet undefined.

John Thorne
I was asked if I could I get down the motorway as quickly as possible, staying tuned to BBC Radio 2, which was then the sports channel on Saturday afternoons.

I do not think I have made such a gruelling journey to cover a new story.

The commentators clearly did not want to believe what they were witnessing.

The BBC Sports Commentator Peter Jones did a sterling job, an award-winning job, of gradually revealing the horror that had been created behind the wire fences on the Leppings Lane terrace.

By the time I parked up the hill from Hillsborough, a good mile away from the stadium, there was an unnatural silence on the surburban streets of Sheffield.

Everyone was walking away from the ground. They were in pairs mostly, supporting each other, some in tears, others just dazed, blank faces pale and twisted with emotional pain.

One man with a Liverpool scarf and red and white club cap, sat on the kerbside, head in hands, sobbing.

The start of the story

Inside the ground, underneath the main stand, the crowd was larger; milling about with little purpose. They were waiting for news, an explanation from the authorities, pressing in on anyone they recognised to hear something that might ease the nightmare.

When I got into the Hillsborough Stadium, the pitch had been cleared of all but the litter and debris of the disaster.

Up in the press box, where the radio microphones were still open to the London studios the sports commentators were just finishing their mammoth eye witness accounts.

I sat in their seat, still warm, and put together an inadequate update as the unique depth of the catastrophe slowly registered.

And that was just the start of a story that has cut through the sporting world of the North, and beyond, for a decade; in different ways in different cities, and most cruelly amongst the families of the victims.

They have had to recover as best they can from the crushing, senseless loss at first with the stigma , falsely spread, that the Liverpool fans were also the culprits.

Through a single-minded effort, through services, ceremonies, inquests, police investigations, official inquiries, court actions, memorials, protests, plays and programmes, the Hillsborough families have created a determined public profile.

It has helped to change the face of football, of crowd safety and control, and ensured that the legacy of their personal tragedy is something lasting and constructive.

Referee Ray Lewis explains the pain of the memory
Links to more Hillsborough stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Hillsborough stories

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