Hillsborough – the 97 remembered: An Athletic special project


Thirty-four years ago tomorrow, around 24,000 Liverpool supporters travelled to Sheffield for an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

It should have been a celebration of the very best that English football had to offer: two fine teams, led by giants of the game, tussling for the right to play at Wembley against the backdrop of beautiful spring sunshine. Instead, the day descended into tragedy: 94 fans died on the day after catastrophic overcrowding in the Leppings Lane end of the stadium led to a crush. Three more later died of injuries sustained that afternoon.

Hillsborough changed everything – for the families of those who died, the survivors who were traumatised by what they saw, and for English football more widely – although, shamefully, the battle for justice was only just beginning. It ultimately took 27 years to fully exonerate the fans who died, with a second inquest ruling they had been unlawfully killed and that the blame instead rested with South Yorkshire Police, the ambulance service and the inadequacies of the stadium itself.

The Hillsborough memorial at Anfield (Photo: Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)

The events of the day itself and its agonising aftermath have been well chronicled, not least by The Athletic. But as another anniversary approaches, we felt it was time to remember how those 97 men and women lived rather than how they died and to tell the human stories that lie behind the sombre statistics.

“People talk about ‘the 97’ but each one of those people was an individual with a different story, much loved by their family and friends,” said Kerry Aspinall, whose brother, James, died at Hillsborough and whose mother, Margaret, is the chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

“Each of them left a big hole in so many lives. Telling the stories of who they were and why they’re so sorely missed is an important way of keeping their memories and their legacies alive.”

We wrote to family members of all the fans who died, asking if they wished to share their stories. Understandably, many did not want to relive the pain of that day and declined to take part. Others asked us to use the pen pictures that were read by themselves or family members when the second inquest began in 2014.

But several wanted the world to know about the people they had loved – what and who they cared about, their achievements and ambitions, and what might have happened had they not been caught in the tragedy.

These are those stories – all are free to read.

(Top photo design by Eamonn Dalton)