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Soccer man's Hillsborough tribute

PUBLISHED: 08:36 16 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:11 07 July 2010

A Dereham man pulled to safety during the Hillsborough disaster has made an emotional trip to Liverpool to join the thousands that gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the football tragedy yesterday.

A Dereham man pulled to safety during the Hillsborough disaster has made an emotional trip to Liverpool to join the thousands that gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the football tragedy yesterday.

Liverpool fan Paul Williams was just 18 when he went to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium in 1989.

Before the game he swapped his seated ticket for a place on the ill-fated Leppings Lane terrace - a decision that put him right at the heart of the worst sporting disaster in British history.

Two decades on, Mr Williams, now 38, vividly remembers the crush that killed 96 people and injured more than 700. Yesterday he attended a memorial service on the Kop at Anfield during which 96 candles were lit and there was a two-minute silence at 3.06pm - exactly 20 years since the FA Cup semi-final was abandoned.

“It is the first time I have been back to a memorial there since the first anniversary. It is something I felt I needed to do,” said Mr Williams, who also laid flowers at the memorial built in memory of those who died in the disaster.

Looking back to April 15, 1989, he said: “I got into the stadium at 2.10pm for the 3pm kick-off. I was near the front of the terrace, near a crash barrier around kick-off time. It was already very busy and as kick-off came there was a surge down the terrace and that is when everybody started screaming, crying and vomiting.

“The crash barrier went and I was forced further down to the front. It went from being uncomfortable to unbearable. It was just a case of trying to get out. There was an old chap there and I tried my best to get him out of the front of the terrace but I do not know what happened to him.

“I got out of the front of the terrace onto the pitch through the safety gate which burst open. I was pitch-side for about five minutes but then the police shepherded us back into the next pen, which filled up rapidly, and people started lifting us out to the seating area above.”

He added: “It was horrifying. You had to walk through the bodies - I felt so helpless, but you could not do anything. I saw a lad of about nine or ten being carried by his dad and he was dead.”

Physically, Mr Williams escaped with just a scratched chest and a ripped shirt, but emotionally the tragedy took its toll and left him unable to sleep because of the awful scenes of the deadly crush that would flash through his mind.

But Mr Williams, a power linesman who has a four-year-old daughter called Molly, said coping with the disaster has become easier for him with time.

“It was still extremely raw the first year. It was still very emotional, but time fades memories to a certain extent but it is something you do not forget. It does not go away. I still remember completely every detail but rather than dwelling on that I prefer to think about when Liverpool won the Champions League in Istanbul.”

Mr Williams finds inspiration from part of Liverpool's adopted anthem - Gerry and The Pacemakers' legendary song You'll Never Walk Alone - which says, “At the end of a storm, There's a golden sky, And the sweet silver song of a lark.”

He said: “It is how it has transformed, in my mind, from the horror of Hillsborough to the joy of Istanbul.”

But the Hillsborough disaster continues to be controversial and highly sensitive, with many questions left unanswered about what happened on that fateful day, an issue that Mr Williams continues to find upsetting.

“It still shocks me that the full truth has not come out. There is no closure for the families,” said Mr Williams, who supports the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

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