Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives. Peter Beardsley was playing for Liverpool that day and Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson discovers the tragedy is something he still finds difficult to talk about.

IT IS very rare that you hear a footballer expressing satisfaction that one of their shots failed to produce a goal. Speak to Peter Beardsley about his memories of the Hillsborough disaster, though, and that is exactly what happens.

Four minutes into the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, Beardsley, who is currently employed on the coaching staff of Newcastle United, fired a drive against the crossbar.

At the time, he knew nothing of the tragedy that was unfolding at the Leppings Lane end of the ground and was disappointed that he had not shot his side into the lead.

Today, with the benefit of 20 years’ worth of hindsight, he is simply relieved that his efforts did not make a disastrous situation worse.

“At the time, I was disappointed,” said Beardsley, who still finds it difficult to talk about the April afternoon on which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives. “But it was good that I didn’t score because people outside the ground heard the roar when I hit the bar and tried even harder to get into the terraces.

“They were just excited – they didn’t know what was happening at the front. If I had scored, the fans would’ve been even more excited and more people could have been crushed.

“But as soon as I hit the bar I turned round, and from even way up the pitch I could see there was trouble behind the goal. There were people climbing over the fences. We didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

Two minutes after Beardsley’s shot hit the crossbar, referee Ray Lewis was instructed to lead the players off the field of play.

Along with the rest of the Liverpool team, Beardsley spent more than an hour in the dressing room, fearing the worst, but not really knowing what was unfolding in the rest of the stadium.

“Graham Kelly (FA chief executive) came in and told us he would get the game back on as soon as possible,”

said Beardsley. “He came in every 15 minutes or so and said that.

“We didn’t have a clue that people were losing their lives outside. But the dressing rooms backed on to a car park, and we could hear the sirens. There were players in that dressing room who had been at Heysel, so they were fearing the worst.

“We were still sat in our kit at 4.30pm. We didn’t know what had happened until we left the dressing room and met our families.”

By then, the magnitude of the tragedy was becoming horribly apparent, and in the next few weeks and months, Liverpool Football Club became the focus of a city’s pain.

A succession of funerals underlined the depth of the suffering, but while manager Kenny Dalglish attended dozens, Beardsley could only bring himself to go to one.

As a shy and quiet 28-yearold, he found the pain of what had happened too much to bear.

“I went to a funeral of one of the victims in Burnley,”

he said. “The family were magnificent with me, but I found it really hard. I’d only been to one funeral before that, but this one was for a teenage boy.

“I can go to funerals now, of young children who I’ve met in hospital and who’ve died. And as sad as it is, I can cope with it now. But I couldn’t then. It was terrible.

“Kenny was unbelievable.

He was more of man than I was. Both he and his wife Marina went to dozens of funerals and did whatever they could to help the bereaved families.

“A lot of people, me included, believe that the reason Kenny left the club was because mentally he’d had enough, it took so much out of him.”

The Hillsborough tragedy proved a watershed in the English game. The Taylor Report into the disaster led to the introduction of allseater stadia and hastened the gentrification of the game that accompanied the advent of the Premier League. But the changes came at a price.

“No one should ever forget what went on that day,” said Beardsley. “Some good came from it in terms of the improved safety in the grounds, all-seater stadia.

“People forget what it was like watching football back then. I remember as a lad watching Newcastle at St James’ Park being in some uncomfortable situations with the crowd all packed in tightly. Grounds today are a lot safer.

So at least something positive came from a tragedy.”