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Father of Parmiter's School pupil who died at Hillsborough remembers the disaster
“There was an inevitability we would be at Hillsborough,” said Roger Ball, looking back on a pact he made with his son Kester more than 20 years ago.
Having witnessed Liverpool crash to Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup Final at Wembley, the pair vowed to follow the Reds at every stage of the 1989 competition, until their team were knocked out or won the coveted trophy.
But although Roger survived the Hillsborough disaster, Kester, aged 16, was one of the 96 supporters to lose their lives on April 15, 1989.
A Parmiter's School pupil, Kester was studying four A-levels in the lower sixth form at the time of his death.
He was a member of Greenwood Tennis Club in Chiswell Green, and of the 1st St Albans Scout group.
Roger,a former bank manager, said: “He loved football but was not that good, but he was a very good runner. He held the Parmiter's boys' record for the 1,500m. He used to breeze around a half marathon in 90 minutes.”
The teenager adopted his father's love for Liverpool Football Club and both were season ticket holders in The Kop. They had travelled to Paris in 1981 for the European Cup Final against Real Madrid, when Kester was nine.
The pact they had made at Wembley saw them visit Carlisle, Millwall and Hull in the opening stages of the 1989 FA Cup.
They returned to Anfield for Liverpool's quarter final tie against Brentford, before being drawn against Nottingham Forest in the semi final, to be played at Hillsborough.
Roger said: “Because of the strange way they allocated tickets, we only got two (from the four season tickets Roger, Kester and Kester's two friends owned). We decided to go up anyway and see if we could buy tickets outside the ground.
“As it turned out, nobody ever looked at our tickets.”
The group bought two extra tickets for the Leppings Lane terrace, where Liverpool fans would be stood, at an M1 service station, but then became stuck in traffic heading towards the new Meadowhall shopping centre. After ditching their car, they arrived at 2.30pm.
Roger said: “My heart just sank when I saw what was going on. There was just a melee trying to get through half-a-dozen turnstiles. We joined the back of the scrum but there was no prospect of getting in.”
They saw one fan ejected from a large exit gate – “Gate C” - but later saw it had been opened fully, with streams of fans walking right through it.
“I said we might as well go in. We had our tickets ready but didn't see any stewards or a programme seller.
“There was no running or pushing. The crowd were singing 'We're all part of Kenny's army'. There was an air of great excitement.
“We started getting pushed from behind so I told the boys to go round to the corner flag but I just got swamped down in the front of Pen 4, where most people died.
“I could reach out and touch the front fence. One of the boys got out through the corner so I knew he was all right. The other boy went back through the tunnel. But where me and Kester were was locked solid.
“I was facing away from the pitch. Somebody tapped me and told me to turn round but I couldn't breathe. Somebody bit me on the shoulder, somebody crawled over my head. I lost my spectacles and my watch. It was very nasty. Kester was a foot away from me and standing looking ahead. I thought he was going to be all right.
“I couldn't breathe. I told myself I must stay conscious.”
Meanwhile, Kester's mother Brenda was at home in Farringford Close, Chiswell Green, with his sister Juliette, who was planning an 18th birthday party she would never have.
“Something made me turn the radio on,” Brenda, a former teacher, said. “I put it on Radio 2 which used to have the sports news. I heard a chap with a thick Liverpool accent saying 'there's people dying in there'. It was quite late when Roger phoned. I knew he (Kester) was dead. It was just a case of waiting. I just had this feeling.”
Roger woke up 45 minutes after losing consciousness, lying on the floor outside the Leppings Lane stand.
He saw people being carried out out of the ground and noticed a row of bodies along a fence by the river.
He said: “I was looking for Kester but also looking for the other boys. I didn't recognise any of them. There were six or seven I looked at, all with yellow faces and blue lips.”
Roger found a police incident centre outside Hillsborough, where he registered Kester as a “missing person”.
And as his search continued, he came upon a nearby gym that had been turned into a temporary morgue. There he saw up to 70 bodies lying in rows, each with a number tag.
After he was reunited with Kester's two friends, they travelled to the local hospital.
Roger said: “Every so often a doctor would come out and read a list of people's names who were here but injured. Nobody read out Kester's name.
“I was told Kester could still be at Hillsborough so I went down with my friend who had driven to Sheffield. It was like a scene from hell.
“There was a double decker bus parked with families all crying and screaming and people banging their heads against walls.
“We were taken in by a police officer and they had this big board with polaroids on it. On the fifth or sixth row along, there was Kester. They asked me to formally identify him, which I did.
“They immediately wanted to take a statement from me, but when I read through it, whenever I made critical comment about the police, like the fact when people were dying in the pen they were just walking along, he hadn't put that stuff in. I just wanted to get away from the place so I signed it.”
A joint inquest into the deaths of those fans who died at Hillsborough recorded a verdict of accidental death, but Roger and Brenda, like so many survivors and families of those who died, believe this is an injustice.
Roger said: “When the police opened Gate C, there was no rush of fans, no sign of drunkeness. It was a complete cock-up. A lack of turnstiles, poor police control, wrong decisions. They should have controlled the numbers going into the tunnel. There's no doubt in my mind it was total incompetence by police.
”Anything that could go wrong did go wrong that afternoon, and the police tried to blame it on the fans.”
Three days after the tragedy at Hillsborough, Roger and Brenda, who now live near Aylesbury, travelled to Anfield where they laid a wreath for their son on The Kop where he used to stand, behind the carpet of flowers that filled the pitch.
Liverpool player John Barnes, a former Watford player, joined Hornets Rick Holden, Gary Porter, Tony Coton and Nigel Gibbs at Kester's funeral, which was also attended by the whole sixth form at Parmiter's. Football commentator John Motson spoke at a memorial service for Kester at the school, in High Elms Lane, Garston. The Kester Ball Memorial Fund was also set up in his name.
Roger, 61, said: “Parmiter's were so supportive. The staff, the other pupils and parents, the governors who set up the memorial service and suggesting naming the sixth form block after Kester.
“Kester was lucky to go to such a school. It helped to form him into the young man he became.”
Brenda, 60, added: “He was very loving. The morning he went to Hillsborough he was so excited and gave me a big squeeze.”
Paul Kitchiner, head of sixth form at Parmiter's, remembered Kester as “well liked and respected, an academically talented young man and a keen sportsman”.
He said: “It was typical of his awareness of those less fortunate than himself that only two days before Hillsborough he was discussing with me a charitable fundraising event, a 24-hour table tennis marathon.
“His death had a profound effect on not only his year group but also the whole school. The bond that existed between Kester's family and Parmiter's created an incredibly supportive environment at the most difficult of times. Flowers were placed in Kester Ball House, the Sixth Form Centre named after him, on the anniversary of his death."