An official inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Taylor, blamed poor policing and inadequate facilities. But no-one has ever been successfully prosecuted for the tragedy.
Many survivors and bereaved family members still hope that justice will one day be done. Here, some explain how the day transformed their lives.
Damian Kavanagh from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, was 20 when he was caught in the crush.
Before, I would have changed places with the 96
We couldn't move left, right or anything. There was no help coming to us and we knew we weren't going to get any. The police were just ignoring the screams for help.
Somehow, I managed to wriggle up a little bit. I crawled over the heads of all the people, escaping through a gate in the perimeter fence.
I remember kneeling down on the pitch and getting grass stains on my knees. I broke down, started to cry, but got myself together quickly and then helped carry the injured on the advertising boards.
Afterwards, the Sun newspaper said it was our fault, which clearly it wasn't.
The allegations were that the fans were pick-pocketing the dead, urinating on a policeman while he was giving the kiss of life - even repeating the allegations is hard work. They're not even believable, are they?
I just cannot describe the rage about that. It's still there and always will be.
Pat Joynes reflects on the death of her son Nick at Hillsborough
It took a couple of years for me to go in and do a proper day's work.
Inch by inch, it was a very slow process which must have been very difficult for my mum and dad to watch.
I'd be out on the ale, having a pint with my mates, and I'd just go home crying.
But because I've gone to counselling, because I'm a talker, that's helped me.
I went to see an RAF psychologist as part of the legal process and inquiry. He diagnosed me with moderately severe post traumatic stress disorder. He had debriefed Gulf War veterans and said I talked about life in the same way.
Taylor Report, published in 1990, recommended all-seater stadiums
Police criticised for poor handling of crowds
Allegations made that ticketless Liverpool fans helped cause the disaster
But Lord Taylor said: "The figures do suggest that there was not a very significant body of ticketless fans in the crowd which built up"
Police officer in charge and deputy subject of private prosecution for manslaughter in 2000
Jury could not reach verdict over former chief superintendent David Duckenfield
Application for retrial rejected
Former superintendent Bernard Murray acquitted
It's difficult to watch the telly sometimes. When the tsunami happened, I couldn't really watch it - it was the same with 9/11. It touches a raw nerve, taking us back to our own darkest of days.
My son James, who was born in 1998, has straightened me out. Before, I would have changed places with the 96. But I can't say I feel like that now because of James.
I'm not trying to big myself up. But there's a lot of people who were in my situation who can't even talk about it. I think it's important that the truth is told.
It's hard to go through it over again but it has to be done so people understand what really happened.
The lies did their job because the heads of those responsible didn't roll. You'll notice how much we want to talk about it, but now the silence is deafening from the people who said bad things about us.
The truth is on our side, so we'll never go away.
John Glover lost his 20-year-old son Ian at Hillsborough. A decade later, another son, Joe, who had been badly traumatised by the tragedy, was killed in an industrial accident. John co-founded the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
I was watching the snooker on television when a newsflash came up saying there were problems at Hillsborough.
Ian Glover was among the 96 victims
I knew my sons were there - they used to go to see Liverpool all the time. But I thought they would be all right because they got there early.
My wife took the phone call. It was my eldest son John. He said Joe and Ian had both been in the crush, and Ian had died.
Even now, I just can't describe how I felt.
In 20 years my family has never been the same. I didn't just lose one son at Hillsborough. I lost two.
For a long time, Joe slept on the grave of his dead brother.
They said he was so traumatised he'd never work again. By 1999 he'd found a job.
Then he was crushed to death while unloading a wagon. He died pushing his friend out of the way of a five-tonne marble load and taking the weight himself.
Hillsborough just destroyed me. For a long time I was taking Prozac tablets and lithium. I just dread anything like this happening again.
Delores Steele: "It took six hours before we located Phillip"
Ricky Tomlinson played me in Jimmy McGovern's TV drama about Hillsborough. I thought his performance was very good. But to be honest with you, I've never been able to watch it all the way through.
I thought Lord Justice Taylor's summing up was more or less right - it was a failure of police control.
But the people responsible are still walking free.
I don't know whether justice will ever be done. But I have to keep fighting for my sons. I just want the truth.
Kenny Derbyshire, 42, and Wendy White, 43, were both at Hillsborough. They have been together for two-and-a-half years.
I was in the front row of the stand above where it all happened. I had a bird's eye view.
We saw a lad about 12 or 13 down below and I shouted: "Get him out of there." My friend managed to pull him out. Others started pulling up people to try and help them.
Kenny Derbyshire and Wendy White were brought together by the disaster
I went into shock afterwards. I'd be shaking quite a lot. The worst bit was when someone at work tried to tell me what had happened.
They said: "It was just the fans trying to get in." I was stunned.
Looking back, I think I would have benefited from counselling. But it was difficult to acknowledge that someone else is going to know how to help you.
I'd been brought up to believe in authority, but they couldn't acknowledge what had happened. I became very cynical.
I went to an away game and I saw someone in a Hillsborough Justice Campaign T-shirt. Through getting involved I met Kenny.
I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders because I could talk to somebody.
I was pulled up into the stands where Wendy was, although I didn't know her at the time.
I sometimes wonder about the fella who pulled me up: whether he's still alive and what happened to him.
You just couldn't get away from it. It was with you 24/7.
My performance dropped at work. Two months afterwards I was given my redundancy. I was unemployed for two years.
Some fans managed to escape onto a tier above the main crush
What [Sun editor Kelvin] Mackenzie wrote stunned the whole of Liverpool. We're still stung today by the lies he wrote.
Those 96 people lost their lives, and it's hard to believe that they can't get the justice they deserve.
One day we'll get justice. Maybe when we do get justice, the pain will go away.
But I did meet Wendy. We used to meet for a cup of tea. We became best friends.
She knows what I'm going through and I know what she's going through. In the past, I'd mention it to girlfriends, but they wouldn't understand.
We've just got a house together and we're getting married next year. That's the only good thing to come out of Hillsborough.
Below is a selection of your comments.
This was such a sad disaster. At the time I was a serving police officer in Birmingham, and participated in the policing of many cup and first division games at Villa Park. The problem prior to the Taylor report was that the clubs paid big wages to players, but left all the organisation down to the police. At the turn of a hat, for instance, the club would decide to have a match, and then inform the police at the last minute. Stewarding was none existent, the grounds were archaic and unsafe. At Birmingham city the mens' urinal was a brick wall painted with bitumen paint. Rusty old corrugated iron, and asbestos sheeting, cages like a zoo, squalor... And the fans being made to pay a fortune for this. The deaths of these people brought forward tremendous improvements.
I was there with my brother, dad and two of my brothers friends, we all had season tickets, and always will follow Liverpool football club. It deeply affected all of us in different ways and still does. Tomorrow at about three o'clock I am going to stop working and go outside and just have a moment's silence to myself and breathe in the fresh air, and to remember them 96 fans who can never do that again.
Nikki Smith, Leeds, West Yorks
My Dad and brother couldn't find me after the match (as there were no mobiles then). The people of Sheffield were fantastic and opened up their front doors where we queued to use their phones (one call each, leaving money on the side). I phoned my Mum so as she could let our family know I was OK. The bloke who played Terry in Brookside was in front of me in the queue. We didn't speak, everyone was in shock. My younger brother left my Dad at the car and eventually found me. He hugged me. We both cried. We will never forget.
David Price, Newport, Monmouthshire
I was caught in a crush trying to get in the Leppings Lane end at a semi-final four years earlier in 1981 at the Spurs v Wolves game. We missed most of the first half and upon complaining to the police a number of us Spurs fans were escorted to the Wolves end. After the game I went to the old FA headquarters at Lancaster Gate to complain. I eventually received a letter of apology and an offer of two tickets for a future FA cup semi-final. Within the letter it explained that police instructions were that no matter which part of the ground Spurs fans had standing tickets for, they were to be re-directed to the Leppings Lane end. The letter admitted there were in excess of 2,500 people through the turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end than the stand was intended to accommodate. When claiming my "free" ticket for the following year I had to send in the letter. My one regret is that I did not keep copy. Every time I see the footage I always think that could have been me and my friends in 1981.
Bob Barclay, Chelmsford, Essex
My best friend's uncle died at Hillsborough, he was 29. My most vivid memory is going to his mum's house the next day and seeing the devastation on everyone's faces. He was from a typically large Liverpudlian family. I think that's the worst thing, seeing the family try to carry on, see his fiancee sobbing, and not knowing what to do. So we went to the Kop and laid flowers.
I am a Man United fan and was caught in a crush trying to get in the Leppings Lane end at a semi-final four years earlier. It was a frightening experience but we were treated like scum by the police and stewards who were not able to cope. What happened in '89 was a terrible accident waiting to happen but no lessons were learned after '85. As a football fan with no particular love for LFC, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the bereaved and to the survivors. There is no place for club rivalry in the face of such horrific events affecting ordinary football-loving people.
Brian Leyland, Wrexham UK
I was at Hillsborough both in '88 and '89, same day, same team. '88 was perfect into the ground, '89 was chaos. I was crushed against the turnstiles going in and three men managed to push me through. Me and my mate where halfway down the tunnel when he decided he wanted something to eat so we walked back out. We stood and watched as gate C was opened and hundreds poured through, straight down the tunnel. We made our way around the side of the ground back towards the centre of the goal. What I saw there will never leave me. I try not to think about it or talk about it too much as the images in my head are still so vivid. I was lucky when so many never made it home that day.
Richard, Wirral, England
Regardless of what football team you support you can't help to feel deeply saddened at what happened. The silver lining of this cloud is that lessons were learnt and it hasn't happened since in the UK. We have much better quality stadiums that for most leagues are all seated, no fencing and the quality of policing and stewarding has dramatically improved. Going to football games is a much safer experience now.
Alex, Birmingham, UK
My son was at the front and suffered back injuries. However the greatest injury was to his mind he has spent the past 20 years in and out of hospital. He lost a promising career. My son went to Hillsborough but a different lad came home. We still live with its effects and the loss and pain.
Jacquline Tully, Wigan
I was working as an RGN in Doncaster on the fateful day, the first we heard was when we were told to expect transfers from Sheffield hospitals making room for the injured. We then all gathered round the TVs to watch the tragedy as it unfolded. Several of our staff had family members at the match.
Trish Randall, Palm Bay, Florida
I remain proud that my team, Arsenal, were not permitted to hold semi-finals because our Board refused to erect the fences at the front of the stands.
It is shocking that 20 years on no-one has been held accountable for the decisions taken that day that led to the deaths of 96 innocent football fans. I was 18 at the time and 20 years after the Taylor Report was implemented, Northern Ireland's football venues have still to benefit from it.
My best friend was at Hillsborough, he was one of the Forest fans who helped by using advertising hoardings as makeshift stretchers. He still can't talk about that day and has never been to Hillsborough since.
Even today football fans are treated badly. Home or away I've never paid so much money to be treated so badly. Herded like animals and threats to report you to police if you even dare to complain about something to a steward. I recently asked to be allowed out of a stadium as I had left my money in the car. I politely explained the situation only to find myself being threatened with expulsion for daring to question the re-entry policy was. There is no other place I can think off that treats you so badly as a sold-out football club. With many on the waiting list for season tickets, they can afford to be unhelpful.
I think that we have learnt a valuable lesson from this tragedy and football grounds are much safer these days. I am a regular to the England games at the new Wembley - the organisation that has to go in to get the thousands of fans in and out of the ground is second to none. My thoughts and prayers go to all the families in Liverpool at this sad time.
Paul Carre, Winchester
As the match was not being televised, the kick off should have been delayed. I've been at games when that has happened - if there are roadworks, a late supporters' train or whatever. Delaying the KO would have eased the push from outside since fans would have had more time to get in safely. The police chief and the referee should have made this decision.
In Scotland in 1971 we had a disaster comparable to Hillsborough at Ibrox, it didn't result in any legislation but to Rangers FC's credit it resulted in them building a modern stadium.
I was there with brothers and friends. We had travelled in the trusty "match-mobile" which had taken us to many stadiums around the country for several years previously. Everything normal... by 3.06pm that day everything had changed. We all survived because we were lucky enough to have tickets for another section, but to this day I think it could easily have been us. Instead of relief I have guilt. I could do nothing to help. I still see flash-backs of broken bodies and wonder how the victims' families whose lacerated souls must ache every day cope. God bless.
Paul Robinson, Anfield, Liverpool
I am an Everton fan and remember being excited about the prospect of an all Merseyside derby. I was in Dundee following Hearts and remember a tannoy announcement at half-time saying that the game had been abandoned due to crowd trouble. Once our game had finished, it soon turned out this was not the case. Watching the horrific events on TV that night will live with me forever. It was fitting that Liverpool won the trophy that year, and no one grudged them that.
Stuart, East Calder
Why would prosecuting the police help anyone? I understand that families of the 96 want justice, but at the end of the day it wouldn't help anyone by prosecuting individuals. Any policeman involved will have lived with what happened all these years and that is a terrible burden to bear.
Emma, there are so many levels of injustice and pain directed toward the treatment of the fans, bereaved and bystanders that day it is beyond belief. It's so difficult to appreciate unless you look into the facts of the day and the aftermath, so I forgive anyone for shrugging their shoulders at it. Ignorance is bliss. But put yourself in the shoes of families and friends of those who were lost. You would feel different. And that is why it will not be forgotten.
David Evans, Liverpool
If the crush barriers were not up to standard why use Hillsborough for the match? Why not use a ground more suitable for an event such as this?
Dave Pritchard, Coventry
Mr Pritchard, all grounds at the time were of this general type. It could have happened anywhere. The problem wasn't so much the crush barriers as it was the great wire pens around the stands that prevented anybody getting out.
Ian Hampson, Manchester
I was only nine, sitting at home excited about seeing Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final, then some of the worst images I have ever seen were broadcast. It brought a tear to my eye then and it still does. The tragedy will never be forgotten.
I was at Highbury watching Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0 that day. The full enormity of the horror became clear after the game, I can remember the pub jam-packed full of supporters, watching the footage on TV. You could have heard a pin drop in there. Everyone was having the same thought, "there but for the grace of God..." Ninety-six innocent fans, and their friends and families, paid the ultimate price that day for the years of violence and neglect inflicted upon our national game. Supporters were treated like animals week in week out, hence the initial assumption they were troublemakers at the front of the Leppings Lane end intent on invading the pitch, not human beings fighting for their lives. The small percentage of "supporters" that caused trouble during the 70s and 80s ensured that the perception by the government, authorities and police that if you attended a football match, you were a troublemaker. That day changed football forever.
Matt P, W Sussex
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