Leading Norwich City figures recall the day tragedy struck at Hillsborough

Norwich City players (from left) Robert Rosario, Ian Crook, Trevor Putney and, partially hidden, Bryan Gunn leave the pitch after their side's 1-0 defeat to Everton at Villa Park in 1989. They had no idea at the time that lives had been lost in the other semi-final at Hillsborough. Norwich City players (from left) Robert Rosario, Ian Crook, Trevor Putney and, partially hidden, Bryan Gunn leave the pitch after their side's 1-0 defeat to Everton at Villa Park in 1989. They had no idea at the time that lives had been lost in the other semi-final at Hillsborough.

Thursday, September 13, 2012
11:09 AM

Leading Norwich City figures involved in the “forgotten” FA Cup semi-final on the day of the Hillsborough disaster have expressed a wish that the victims’ families will find peace of mind from the admission that Liverpool supporters were not to blame for the tragedy.

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The Canaries lost 1-0 to the Reds’ big rivals, Everton, at Villa Park on the same day in 1989 that a crush at the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest tie in Sheffield killed 96 people.

Newly-published documents yesterday revealed that police and emergency services made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster on to innocent fans.

The disclosures were made by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which has been overseeing the release of thousands of official documents relating to Britain’s worst sporting disaster. Prime Minister David Cameron offered a “profound” apology to the families of those who died, telling the House of Commons that the report made clear that “the Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster”.

Ironically, Norwich were originally due to play at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy –- Saturday, April 15, 1989. But their scheduled Division One fixture against Sheffield Wednesday was postponed when they reached the FA Cup semi-finals, and the stadium was chosen as the venue for the Liverpool tie.

Bryan Gunn, City goalkeeper against Everton, said yesterday’s disclosure brought back memories of a tragic day. He said: “It is important that the families are finally getting some answers about what happened at Hillsborough and I hope that will give them some peace of mind.

“There have been lots of theories over the years about who or what was to blame and at last the relatives may be able to take some comfort.

“It’s only right that in this long fight on behalf of their loved ones they can get some sense of justice and peace of mind and try to move on in the future, though they will always have their memories of their loved ones.”

The tragedy unfolded while the Canaries were playing their own semi-final, 90 miles away in Birmingham.

“We didn’t really know what was happening while we were on the pitch but there were murmurs about what was going on at Hillsborough,” said Gunn.

“We were devastated to have lost our semi-final but when we stopped off at Newport Pagnell on the way home for a bite to eat and saw the TV screens with the news coming through, I remember being with Trevor Putney and there were tears in our eyes. It was horrendous. It’s not easy to speak about it, even now.

“Norwich always had a great relationship with Liverpool and we had a pretty good record up there and I would spend time up there in the 80s after matches, and the fans I met up there were always great to me.”

Dave Stringer, who was in charge at the first of his two FA Cup semi-finals as City manager, said events at Hillsborough made his team’s defeat insignificant in comparison.

“Immediately afterwards there was the disappointment of having lost the game but when it became apparent what kind of tragedy had happened at the other game it paled away,” said Stringer.

“Because we were playing Everton, some of their team had members of the family who were Liverpool supporters and were actually at the game.

“So even for the winners of our match there was a flatness and disbelief when they heard what others were going through and that they had relatives who may have been involved in that situation.

“I think it did the same for the crowd at the end. News filtered through during the game but we didn’t know any detail and it wasn’t until a bit later we knew there had been fatalities. I am sure from the families’ point of view that they will feel they have now got some closure after all these years.”

Another former Norwich boss, Nigel Worthington, was a Sheffield Wednesday player in 1989, and was sitting in the stand at Hillsborough as the tragedy unfolded. He had a free Saturday because the Owls’ game against the Canaries had been postponed.

Speaking on a previous Hillsborough anniversary, he said: “You realised what a terrible, terrible experience you had been witnessing.”

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