HILLSBOROUGH: “I always think I could easily have been the 97th victim”

Mark Aspden, of Avon Bridge in Preston, who survived the horror of the Hillsborough disaster.
Mark Aspden, of Avon Bridge in Preston, who survived the horror of the Hillsborough disaster.
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Preston man Mark Aspden was crushed in the Hillsborough tragedy. He was critically ill in a coma and was even read the Last Rites as it was feared he wouldn’t survive. Amazingly, he pulled through and made a full recovery.

Aasma Day talks to him about his experience.

LOOKING down at the Liverpool football shirt he wore to the Hillsborough match which resulted in a human crush which killed 96 people, Mark Aspden strokes the stitches running down the middle of the shirt.

I can’t imagine how awful that drive to Sheffield must have been for my mum. She had no idea how badly injured I was or if I would survive.

The football shirt was cut off Mark’s body so doctors could treat him as he lay in hospital in a coma after Mark became one of the victims involved in the disaster which remains the worst stadium tragedy in English sports history.

The brain works in mysterious ways to protect people and as Mark fingers the neat stitching that his aunt carried out to mend his butchered shirt, he reveals the stitches are the only clue he was even at the match as all traces that he was even at the match have been wiped from his memory.

But Mark, now 46, who lives in Fulwood, Preston, prefers to have all recollections of the harrowing experience buried in the recesses of his mind and admits he spent years living in fear that something might trigger memories of the painful encounter to be unleashed.

Mark, who was 19 at the time, explains: “It is as if my brain has blocked it all out.

“I don’t even remember going into the grounds.

“I only know what my friend who was with me told me and waking up in hospital after being in a coma.”

Mark, who grew up in Ribbleton, Preston, with his mum Christine, brother and three sisters, says his mum has always been a big Liverpool fan and he remembers getting his first Liverpool football kit at the age of five.

Mark, who was a pupil at Blessed Sacrament Primary School followed by St John Fisher, recalls: “It has always been Liverpool for me.

“I just loved the size of the club and the football they played and the players became your heroes.”

When Mark turned 16, he began working for Royal Mail as a postal cadet and he has now been working there for 30 years and is senior manager of the mail centre.

He met another Liverpool fan at work and began going to matches with him.

Mark remembers: “We used to go to all the home games and many of the away and FA Cup matches too. My friend Martin would drive us there and we would share the petrol money.

“Then at the start of the 1988/89 season, I bought my first season ticket and have had a season ticket ever since.”

As Mark had a season ticket, he automatically qualified to get tickets for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.

Mark says: “I was always going to go on that game and myself and Martin went there on the train and it felt like a normal exciting day of a football match.

“I remember going to the train station and little bits of being on the train.

“I also remember being in a pub in Sheffield before the match where we had a couple of drinks and something to eat.

“I then remember walking to the grounds through a park and I recall using the public toilets in there.

“But after that, I remember nothing else – not even going into the grounds.”

All Mark knows is what his friend has since told him and what he has pieced together from accounts of the tragedy.

The two friends went into the stadium together and ended up being split up just before kick-off after one of them went to the toilet.

However, they were used to this happening at busy football matches and always arranged a meeting place where they would meet at the end of the match if they did get separated.

Mark says: “I would have been stood behind the goals because that’s where myself and Martin always stood.

“I must have been one of the first to be pulled out of the crush because I have since seen hospital documentation where they gave the Hillsborough patients a number and I am listed as patient seven.”

Mark has learned that his chest was squashed in during the human crush which starved him of oxygen causing him to go in a coma.

However, Mark has no memories of the event at all and says the experience was worse for his friend Martin who sat outside the ground in tears after Mark didn’t turn up at their pre-appointed meeting place.

Mark explains: “Police took Martin to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, but I wasn’t there.

“They then took him to the Northern General Hospital and that’s where I’d been admitted and I was in intensive care.

“When he first got to the hospital, they wouldn’t let him see me at first.

“There were no mobile phones in those days and because of the trauma he’d endured, Martin could not remember his home telephone number.

“It was only late at night on the Saturday that one of my relatives got through on the Hillsborough hotline and my uncle drove my mum to the hospital.

“I can’t imagine how awful that drive to Sheffield must have been for my mum.

“She had no idea how badly injured I was or if I would survive.”

When Mark’s mum arrived at the hospital, she found her son was in a coma in intensive care.

The situation seemed so serious, Mark was even given his Last Rites by a priest the following day.

However, against all odds, Mark came round from his coma on the Monday.

Mark says: “The next thing I remembered was waking up on the Monday and not really knowing where I was.

“As I came out of the coma, the Liverpool team and Kenny Dalglish came in to visit myself and the other patients and gave me a signed shirt.”

Mark ended up being in hospital for a few weeks and lost a lot of weight due to the trauma and shock of his experience.

He returned to the hospital for a scan and check-up the following year and everything was fine.

Mark says: “Luckily, I didn’t suffer any lasting physical damage.

“However, it affects you psychologically as even though I don’t remember anything, it is knowing you were there and realising the impact on fans and their families and what they went through.

“I suppose I am lucky to have been the one in the coma.”

He adds: “I always wore a Liverpool shirt when I went on matches and doctors cut the one I was wearing on that day up the centre of it to treat me while I was in the coma.

“My aunty later stitched it up for me and I have still got that shirt.”

Mark confesses he spent years haunted by the fear that his memories of what he endured at Hillsborough might suddenly come flooding back - and he desperately didn’t want them to.

He explains: “I found it extremely difficult to watch anything about Hillsborough. I had seen some of the footage of people being pulled out and I just couldn’t watch it.

“Even now, if something about Hillsborough comes on the television, I have to switch it off or leave the room.

“I always had the fear that my memory of the disaster might one day come back – and I desperately didn’t want them to.

“It frightened me and for many years, I had a constant fear of my brain suddenly remembering it or another trauma triggering it off and forcing me to remember.

“I am one of the lucky ones as I survived.”

Although Mark doesn’t want to remember the details of that day, he says he would love to know who helped him and treated him at the scene and got him to the ambulance.

Mark says: “I was so lucky to be in that mass number of people and to be pulled out as early as I was.

“I just have no idea what happened and who helped me but I am so grateful to everyone who had a hand in helping me survive.”

“But there are no better fans than Liverpool fans in the world. The way they look after each other is wonderful.”

Mark, who is married to Gina and has three children Kieran, Lydia and Charlie, says it is only after becoming a parent himself that he appreciates how difficult it must have been for his mum when he was involved in Hillsborough.

He says: “I have never asked my mum about it as I have always been conscious of how traumatic it must have been for her.

“My own children only understand about Hillsborough recently because of the inquest.

“They know I was at a football match when I was younger and was hurt and was in a coma.

“It still sometimes worries me about the memories coming back and I think my experience has made me more apprehensive.

“However, it also made me value life more and gave me determination to succeed.

“I am lucky to have had a good career with Royal Mail and have worked my way up from cadet to senior manager.

“One of the ironic things that happened to me was last year, I was asked to run Sheffield Mail Centre for six months.

“While I was there, I stayed at the Hampton Hilton Hotel in Sheffield - and this used to be the police station.

“I am still a huge Liverpool fan and have kept going with my season ticket and I also manage an Under 11’s football team.

“I feel for the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough and I am fully behind their fight for justice.

“I hope all the lies come out for the families who suffered.

“I don’t talk to people about Hillsborough and people are wary of mentioning it as they are worried about raking up the trauma.

“However, I don’t remember anything and only know what others have told me.

“I know how lucky I am to have survived and something like that stays with you all your life.

“I always think: ‘I could have been one of the 96 victims’ or ‘I could have been the 97th.’”