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Liverpool legend reveals his break down after Hillsborough

SoccerBy Sunday World
The 96 victims of Hillsborough live in the memory of all Liverpool fans
The 96 victims of Hillsborough live in the memory of all Liverpool fans

Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol has recounted a harrowing tale of his emotional collapse following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, after admitted he hit the bottle in a bid to cope with the tragedy.

Nicol was part of the Liverpool team on the fateful afternoon that saw 96 of the club’s supporters lose their lives after a crush in the Leppings Lane end of an overcrowded Hillsborough stadium during the FA Cup semi-final.

Now he has spoken about the tragedy for the first time in his new book, with the impact it had on his personal and professional life lingering to this day.

“After Hillsborough, and up until I finally left Liverpool in January 1995, I never had the same focus that I’d had before the tragedy,” he writes.

“It’s only now, looking back, that I realise just how much of an effect it had on me as a player. Three years, I reckon.

“Everything I had done before April 1989 was simply geared towards playing my best on the Saturday. But from the end of that season, and until I left, I was not the same player or anywhere near as focused as I was before Hillsborough.

“I went from drinking at the right time to doing so whenever I got the chance which - surprise, surprise - shows on the field, right?

“I had friends who had drinking establishments and I went there too often. Far too often. But that was because I could.

“Previously I would go at the right time, not all the time. Then I started doing it at the wrong time. A couple of pints here. A couple of pints there. Then more and more.

“Three years of being unable to focus properly. Three years of playing in a bubble. Three years on autopilot.

“I should have left Liverpool Football Club long before I did. That sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. I loved the club - still do, always will - but I simply could not rid my mind of Hillsborough. Consciously and subconsciously, it was eating away at me.

“Eventually, I just couldn’t take it any more. God alone knows how the survivors and families have coped.

“To this day, none of the players talk about Hillsborough when in each other’s company. We never brought it up back then, we don’t bring it up now and, I imagine, it will never be brought up in the future.

"We just don’t know how to talk about it among ourselves. It’s too close to home.

“At the time, the club asked us if we wanted counselling. It was our choice. They left it up to us.

“How were WE to know what we needed? We were just footballers. We were not equipped to do all those things we had to do. Counselling should have been mandatory.”

Nicol went on to tell a story of how he took his emotional problems to manager Kenny Dalglish and was shocked by the response that came his way.

“Five months after Hillsborough - in September 1989 - we beat Derby County 3-0 at the Baseball Ground. The night before the game, I went to see Kenny in his hotel room. I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t know why and had no idea what to do. I was lost,” he added.

“I trusted him and wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. He asked what was wrong. I told him I was drinking too much. I told him I didn’t feel myself. I told him I wasn’t focussed.

“I was half-expecting a response along the lines of; ‘Right. Get a grip of yourself and don’t be so stupid. If you know you’re drinking too much then you just need to look after yourself better’.

“The real Kenny would have told me off. Told me to stop drinking. Told me to get my arse in gear. But this version of Kenny didn’t say that.

“At the time I was shocked at his response. But now it makes sense — he was in the same boat as me. He just couldn’t let it go either.”

Stevie Nicol: 5 League Titles And A Packet Of Crisps is on sale from Thursday September 8.