Arsenal went top, but the only thing that mattered was Hillsborough

JEM MAIDMENT looks at the legacy of the Hillsborough disaster. April 15, 1989. Arsenal move three points clear of Liverpool in the race for their first title in 18 years after a 1-0 victory over a Newcastle United side heading for relegation. Even taking into account Highbury s underwhelming reputation, the 38,000-st

April 15, 1989. Arsenal move three points clear of Liverpool in the race for their first title in 18 years after a 1-0 victory over a Newcastle United side heading for relegation.

Even taking into account Highbury's underwhelming reputation, the 38,000-strong crowd greet the final whistle with a surprisingly muted cheer and polite applause.

Then, they slowly file out in bewilderment.

Via transistor radios and word of mouth - mobile phones were in their infancy back in the late 80s - they were learning that nearly 200 miles north, a tragedy was unfolding that would, literally, change the face of English football forever.

By the time the were heading home in virtual silence, many of the 94 Liverpool fans who were to perish that day were lying in rows in a temporary morgue beneath the stands of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium home.

The number of those who were to die after being pulled out of the twisted steel in the Leppings Lane End would, eventually, rise to 96.

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"We had no idea what was happening during the game, not even at half time - the focus was solely on three points," Arsenal's match winner that day, Brian Marwood, tells Ham&High Sport on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

"Our form had been stuttering since the turn of the year and we badly needed the win. The pressure was on us to deliver and, fortunately, I scrambled home a late goal to get the win - it wasn't pretty but it counted."

Once back in the dressing room, the full scale of tragedy began to emerge. Marwood, a former Sheffield Wednesday player, soon pushed his own personal glory aside as he listened intently to radio and TV reports.

"Looking back, it wasn't until the Sunday before everybody had the chance to let the tragedy sink in," he recalls.

"Bob Wilson was breaking the story on Grandstand and I understand some details were held back at the time until the horrific stories were confirmed. Now, it would be wall-to-wall coverage, but then it was different.

"Things were very sketchy. The players were hearing bits and pieces and it was becoming clear something terrible had happened. But nobody knew much concrete detail.

"I knew Hillsborough very well after my time there and had some great friends at the club and in the area, still do.

"Some of those friends had carried bodies from the field of play. My old pal Dave Barber, the groundsman at Wednesday, is a lovely man and he must have seen horrible things nobody should have to see.

"There were many other wonderful people I knew who would be affected by it.

"Did we see a disaster like this coming? As players, no. Hillsborough, remember, was a much-loved traditional ground that hosted World Cup games and many FA Cup semi-finals over the years - it was a ground fit for the big games."

Back in north London, Arsenal led the way in showing solidarity with Liverpool.

The club openly defied Football League rules and cancelled their immediate matches forthwith. Others soon followed Arsenal's stance.

"It was exactly the right thing to do," adds Marwood, who was to miss the final five games of that title-winning season after picking up a groin strain that afternoon.

"Football was secondary. You start to think about those poor people who had lost loved ones - nobody wanted to play football.

"Arsenal did as much as they could from afar. Liverpool FC conducted themselves with such dignity. It's a club renowned for having the right values and they showed that in the days and weeks after Hillsborough.

"The club and its fans are still having to deal with that awful day, 20 years later."

It is a period Marwood, whose goal proved vital in securing Arsenal's first title since 1971, will never forget.

"From the elation of scoring that goal, of being totally in the zone, of stretching our lead at the top of the table, we were all left stunned by Hillsborough.

"The subsequent Taylor Report and the move to all-seater stadiums completely changed English football and its treatment of fans.

"The 80s will always be remembered for awful disasters at football grounds; the Bradford stadium fire, the violence and deaths at Heysel and, then, Hillsborough.

"You could say, Emirates Stadium would not be here now were it not for what happened that afternoon 20 years ago."