THE Hillsborough disaster is something Alan Griffiths from Alcester will never forget because he was one of the hundreds of Liverpool fans trapped in the Leppings Lane stand but managed to escape a fatal crush which claimed 96 lives.
As a young man in his 20s Alan went to a lot of Liverpool games, and believes the fact that he kept fit at his local gym during those years saved his life as he was able to climb over the metal fences that were designed to keep fans off the pitch.
Sadly, it was these same fences that led to some of the most horrific scenes on that FA Cup semi-final day in Sheffield on 15th April 1989.
What happened at Hillsborough was to haunt Alan Griffiths, now aged 54, for most of his life and for 30 years he was a psychological victim of the tragedy he witnessed alongside his friend who went to the same match and also survived.
On match day, Alan and his friend swapped tickets with an elderly gentleman and his grandson who they’d never met before and who had standing tickets for Leppings Lane. Alan and his friend had seat tickets and agreed to a swap because they wanted to be in with the Liverpool fans to sing and cheer the side on. After all these years Alan hasn’t met up with the other two people he swapped tickets with.
Once the Hillsborough tragedy struck, Alan and his friend got on the pitch and quickly joined the rescue operation but many of the people they were carrying away from the scene were already dead.
“When we got on the pitch we started to help other fans and carried some of them on advertising hoardings to get help. We tried to revive some but couldn’t and then ambulance staff tried as well but they couldn’t and said they were dead. We then took the people to the gym where there were 50 to 60 bodies already on the floor,” Alan said.
Years later he enrolled on a first aid course which included CPR training while sipping on a coffee with other people before training started he spotted 15 mannequins on the floor of the training room and the sight immediately took him back to Hillsborough.
“I rushed out the room sweating, feeling sick and panicking – it brought it all back. Even when I went to the cinema I had to sit on the end seat because I didn’t want to be trapped. I think men are meant to toughen up like soldiers,” Alan said.
He has now given his full support to an awareness campaign launched this week to encourage people to get help early after experiencing trauma.
“I had PTSD and couldn’t even talk about the horrors of Hillsborough – now I Can, thanks to fantastic local therapy and counselling services,” said Alan.
He now realises he’d bottled up those emotions but after receiving treatment he is supporting Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust’s #NowICan campaign after counselling helped him come to terms with the horrors he witnessed .
“I am supporting the #NowICan campaign, because these amazing therapy services have changed my life,” said Alan.
“After Hillsborough, I stopped going to football matches for a while because I was always on edge in crowded and confined spaces. Now I can fully enjoy my passion for football once again and now I can cope with the crowds – no more nightmares, no more panicking. Like me, many people bottle things up, are worried about accepting they need help, or don’t know where to turn. This fantastic service is on our doorstop, it’s life-changing, and it’s completely free. You don’t even need to see your GP,” he added.
CWPT’s Helen Stephenson said: “I am really pleased that we have been able to help Alan. We want people to know we can help, no matter how big or small the problem seems to be. Our highly skilled and diverse team members are really good at listening and making people feel comfortable, and the stories shared by users of our service as part of our #NowICan campaign demonstrate the long-lasting, positive impact they have experienced as a result.”
Alan said: “It was 30 years to the day before I finally accepted I needed help. I had been in Sheffield on business earlier this year and, aware that it was the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, decided to return to the ground,” said Alan.
“I was totally unprepared for how it would make me feel. I had an emotional breakdown – I just stood outside the ground in floods of tears.
“As soon as I got home, I went to my GP who referred me to Coventry and Warwickshire’s psychological therapy service.
“I knew in my heart I wasn’t coping but didn’t really understand how it had affected me. I was bottling it up, I just couldn’t talk about what happened and struggled in situations that brought back that awful day.
“Denise, my wife, is a nurse and she had suspected I had hyper-vigilance and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but thanks to my counsellor, Andy Sgorbini, I have been able to process what happened and I finally coming to terms with it.”
Run by the NHS, these services are totally free and confidential. Anyone living in the area can call 024 7667 1090 to speak to a trained colleague who will listen, ask some simple questions, and arrange an assessment.
For more information and updates visit the CWPT website and follow us on Twitter @CWPT_IAPT and @CWPT_NHS #NowICan