Heysel and Hillsborough survived Derek Pickup and now recall his cousin Nigel on the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox tragedy.


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For Derek Pickup, memories of Ibrox, Heysel and Hillsborough are quite distinct. He will never forget, though, as he prepares to remember once more.

The youngest survivor of the Ibrox tragedy, which took the lives of 66 fans on January 2, 1971, was his cousin Nigel. By a horrific twist of fate, Derek was there when 39 Juventus fans were killed in the European Cup final of 1985, and four years later, when Liverpool lost the match to 96, he survived the Leppings Lane scrum.

To this day, Pickup still mourns the suicides, each of which was so cruel and tragic. He can only admire her strength of character as he comforts his mother Dorothy to cope with the pain and sorrow each time.

It’s young Nigel, only eight years old and watching his first ever match, who’s going to be at the forefront of their minds today as rangers, fans and survivors recall those who went to the match and never returned. It’s a destiny that Derek knows all too well.

“My mom is exceptional, she’s 87 and still has her skills,” Pickup told Times Sport. Her life, however, has been marred by soccer tragedies and by losing people to soccer.

“It had such a big effect on the family when we lost Nigel in ’71. With my dad, my uncle and my grandmother, Nigel is buried.

“In ’85 I was at Heysel and in’ 89 at Hillsborough. My mother said that I would never go to another soccer game after Heysel. We had lost Nigel and she said I wouldn’t go again.

I used to be part of the Merchant Navy, and I went to any game I could when I was home on leave. I stood behind the gates at Hillsborough.

Twelve doors down from my mother lived Jon-Paul Gilhooley, Hillsborough’s youngest survivor. She had so much to do with soccer tragedies, there was certainly no one else in the world who had to go through as much as she did.

“We didn’t have phones in Heysel and we didn’t have phones in Hillsborough, so my mother watched it on TV and didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”

Due to the disparity in time, coverage and circumstances, it is perhaps natural that the Ibrox disaster may not have the profile of the incidents in Heysel and Hillsborough, but the lives lost and touched by the tragedy remain just as important to remember.

Nigel was going to spend New Year’s Eve in Scotland, traveling with a family friend to Ibrox. The first and last game he would ever see would be the 1-1 draw between Rangers and Celtic.

It was the first soccer game ever for Nigel,” Pickup said. “He was eight years old and never returned. You can’t make that up. It’s a tragic, sad tale like that.

He was a boy from Liverpool, but since he emigrated to Canada, the bond was not made and not understood by a lot of people on Merseyside. He was the first link between the two clubs and the tragic story of Nigel will never be forgotten.

At the age of eight, just think of the joy on his face. Somebody says he has a ticket to an Old Firm game for you, and you’re off to your very first game. There must have been tremendous feelings for him, but he would never come back.

“Jon-Paul was ten when he went to an FA Cup semi-final and he never came back. It’s just so sad, and both boys will always be remembered.”

Had fate dealt him another hand, on that harrowing afternoon at Hillsborough, Pickup would have suffered the same fate as Gilhooley, who was Steven Gerrard’s older cousin and from the same Huyton estate in Liverpool.

As memories of that day resurface in his mind, there is an emotional tremor in his voice. His first impulse, as he had spent the night at the Amsterdam train station in Heysel four years earlier, was to call home and let his mother know he was safe.

All with whom Pickup had traveled to Sheffield finally made it safe again. One was found in the area, and when the scale of the disaster became apparent, another was running on the M62.

“My mother has been scarred by soccer tragedies for years and I’ll never forget that day at Hillsborough,” Pickup said. I recall walking up the hill and returning to our vehicles, and there were two phone booths, and we had no mobile phones.

“There were coins in one, and there were cards in the other, and it was every time you walked through the cars,


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