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Hillsborough disaster: Canterbury author Danny Rhodes relives memories of tragedy 25 years ago in new book

When football mad teenager Danny Rhodes took the train to Sheffield to watch his boyhood team in an FA Cup semi-final, it should have been one of the happiest days of his life.

But standing in the opposite terraces at Hillsborough, Danny watched in horror as 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives when they were crushed to death 25 years ago today.

Now 42, the Canterbury author is set to release new book Fan, which tells the story of Nottingham Forest supporter John Finch who attended the game when he was 18.

Injured fans are carried on stretchers during the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, 1989. Picture: Ross Parry/Sheffield Star

It comes on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy as fresh inquests are ordered to establish how the victims died.

Danny said he can still remember everything about the day that will be remembered as the worst disaster in British sporting history.

He said: "Quite early on, we recognised things weren't right at Leppings Lane.

"The two central pens were pretty empty, but the rest of the terraces were virtually empty. It just didn't look right.

"Probably about five or six minutes into the game their fans started to spill over onto the track behind the goal.

"Eventually a policeman ran onto the pitch, spoke to the referee and the disaster unfolded."

A young fan is carried away by a police officer after being crushed in the Leppings Lane stand at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989. Picture: Ross Parry/Sheffield Star
The crush at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough. Picture: Ross Parry/Sheffield Star
Football fans climb to safety during the crush at Hillsborough. Picture: Ross Parry/Sheffield Star

He added: "I remember standing on the terrace and we watched the Liverpool fans carrying their injured supporters across the pitch down to our end of the ground.

"We saw the injured people laid out on the turf and you could see things were bad. The initial feeling was shock.

"As we walked back towards the station, we heard the death toll rising on the radios.

"We phoned home told our families and then we went back to our lives. Sunday morning I got up and Monday morning I went back to work.

"I was a 17-year-old lad and I witnessed the worst disaster in British sporting history. There was nothing in place to deal with that."

Floral tributes outside the Hillsborough stadium. Picture: rossparry.co.uk/Tom Maddick

Danny, a creative writing tutor at Canterbury Christ Church University, said his mind raced after researching Hillsbrough 20 years after the tragedy in Sheffield during the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

He added: "I started looking more deeply into Hillsborough and bit by bit started to build a picture.

"I had a lot of emotional resonance. I find my mind would be racing whether it was remembering an old friend or reading a fan's experience.

"We weren't in danger we were at the other end but what we had was a grandstand view of tragedy."

Hillsborough survivor Danny Rhodes will be talking about his book at Deal Library Picture: Ruth Cuerden

Fan tells the story of secondary school teacher John Finch, who revisits his home town 15 years after witnessing the tragic events at Hillsborough.

Described as a semi-autobiographical novel, Danny said: "John Finch is me really.

"A lot of the things that happened to John Finch in the book happened to me in real life. I had a few quite interesing life experiences that helped to build that character.

He said he hopes the inquests taking place into the 96 death will lead to families receiving long-awaited closure.

Danny added: "Hopefully this book and the inquests taking place will give me the chance to put it all to bed.

"I wouldn't say Hillsborough has burdened me, but it's been there and this process has brought it all to life."

Danny will attend Whitstable's first literary festival WhitLit to speak about the book on Sunday, May 11 at the Horsebridge Centre. The talk will take place at 11am, to book tickets or for more information visit www.whitlit.co.uk.

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