CLARETS defender Michael Duff witnessed the Hillsborough tragedy unfold with his own eyes.
And, 23 years on, he cannot believe the scale of the cover-up, which was laid bare by an independent panel on Wednesday.
Duff, then 11, was in the main stand at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, a youngster on Nottingham Forest’s books, watching his beloved Liverpool.
A total of 96 Reds supporters died as a result of huge flaws in responding to a crush in the Leppings Lane End at the FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, and they were exonerated of any blame for the disaster by the report, which concluded that South Yorkshire Police and the ambulance service made “strenuous attempts to deflect blame” for the deaths on the Liverpool fans.
Duff said: “You’d like to think that the Government and the police force can be trusted but they tried to pin the blame on the fans. It must’ve been hard enough for the families trying to deal with people going to a football match and not coming home, but then to blame those fans, saying they did it themselves and it was their own fault must be hard to take.
“Growing up over the last 23 years you realise what’s been said and what’s been done.
“It’s pretty sickening really. I signed the petition and kept an eye on the campaign. I suppose because I was there and because I’ve always been in football it’s always been of interest.”
Duff remembers the day pretty vividly: “I was in the main stand, in line with the 18-yard box at the other end of the pitch.
“I was a kid at Forest at the time and Liverpool were the team you wanted to go and watch at the time. It was my first big game really. I was 11 at the time.
“It was the usual build up. My dad being military, getting to the game about three hours before and we parked about three miles away. The actual six minutes of the game I remember being really good - Beardsley hit the bar. But you noticed during that six minutes something was happening, and obviously the game got called off.
“I was in the Forest end, about three or four rows back from the front.
“Forest fans at the time thought they were trying to cause trouble.
“One thing that sticks in my head was a lad, he was about 20, tearing advertising boards off. Forest fans were giving him dog’s abuse, he was crying his eyes out and he ripped this board off shouting ‘I’ve got five brothers in there and I can’t find one of them’.
“That was one of my abiding memories about what happened.”
Fans at the ground, in an era without mobile phones and the internet, struggled to find out what was going on, but the severity of the situation was obvious: “You knew it was something serious from then, just with the amount of people spilling over the sides.
“You could see that there was people either in a very bad state or dead. It would’ve been about 3-30 p.m. when we left. There was a line of police on the halfway line and it was about that point that my old man grabbed me and we took off.
“At that point we still weren’t sure what was happening. We realised it was something bad but at the time we thought there was going to be a riot.
“I remember coming away, there was no mobile phones then, so it was a case of trying to find a phone box that didn’t have 40 people stood outside to try and ring home. We parked a couple of miles away so by the time we got back you realised a little bit more about what was happening.
“It was weird, I was only 11 at the time so things are a bit hazy. All the headlines that came out afterwards and what’s been proved on Wednesday is disgusting. The cover up seems to have gone a long way up with the police. You hear they were taking alcohol tests from 10 year olds and things like that. It’s disgusting.
“There was no attachment to me in the sense that I didn’t know anybody, but the uncovering of the whole cover up makes it quite startling that something like that can happen in this country.”