Hillsborough tragedy hero died after coronavirus battle

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved Hillsborough survivor captured in a poignant image in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Dave Roland was pictured sitting on the Leppings Lane terrace with his head in his hands following the disaster.

The harrowing scene followed his brave efforts to help a boy caught alongside him in the crush that claimed the lives of 96 innocent men, women and children.

The 65-year-old died last week, days before the 31st anniversary of the tragedy, following a short battle with coronavirus.

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His family today paid a touching tribute to him, describing him as a "proud Scouser" who gave joy to everyone around him.

His daughter, Michelle Hopwood, said: "He was youthful, unique, kind-hearted and fun.

"He was the ultimate Peter Pan which helped form a joyful bond with his grandchildren, always turning up in daft hats and glasses, playing board games or being competitive telling them he could do anything because he was ‘the best’ at whatever the topic of conversation was.

Much-loved grandad and Hillsborough survivor Dave Roland, who died aged 65 after testing positive for coronavirus

"He beamed with pride when he attended events that his grandchildren were participating in and loved to take photographs to show them off.

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"He was known for being kind and generous to a fault.

"We have received so many messages from people who have explained the impact dad had on their lives, from taking so many to their first Liverpool game standing them on a box in the Kop, to pouring out words of advice which some men are now saying changed their lives, even keeping them out of prison.

"Carl [Michelle's brother] says he is the dad he is to his daughter, because of the type of dad my dad was to us."

Dave, who lived in Woolton, was 34 when he travelled to Sheffield to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

After escaping the Leppings Lane crush he and friend John Owen attempted to help Henry Rogers after finding him battling for life on the Hillsborough pitch.

Sadly, they were unable to save the 17-year-old.

Giving evidence at the inquests into the disaster, which resulted in jurors ruling the victims were unlawfully killed, Dave said: "I always remember the blazing sunshine shining down on him, so John had him in his arms and I had hold of his hand… He just went lifeless and we got pulled away.”

After seeing a picture of Henry in the ECHO, Dave and John traced his parents and visited them.

Henry Rogers, who died in the Hillsborough disaster

He said: “The exact words I used, because I can remember it to this day: ‘We have come to explain to you that Henry wasn’t on his own when he died, and we thought it would be comfort for you to know, rather than not know’.”

Both brave survivors attended Henry’s funeral.

Michelle said the tragedy had a significant impact on her dad, who separated from wife Christine two years later – though the pair remained friends up to her death last year.

She told the ECHO: "He slowly stopped attending football matches after Hillsborough, we knew it was simply too painful for him.

"It took a long time for him to fully talk about what he had experienced. When he did finally relay the events he revealed the horrors of being pinned against the crush barrier, seeing the faces of fear around him and trying desperately to help a young boy nearby.

"Dad did take great comfort from attending the Hillsborough Inquiry to give evidence in the case of Henry Rogers, a sort of closure.

"Giving evidence didn’t come easy to him and going to the courthouse in support of the truth and for the families involved was so important to him.

"I’ll never forget how he shook pretty much the whole car journey there.

"But as soon as we arrived he stepped out knowing the importance of his statement.

"This was just who he was, putting others first even at the cost of causing himself upset."

Dave, who was born in Toxteth, often denied the harrowing image of the survivor sitting alone with his head in his hands on the afternoon of April 15, 1989, was him.

His family believe it may have brought up too many painful memories from the day.

When he moved home and found the jacket he was pictured wearing, Michelle said it opened up old wounds.

File photo dated 15/04/89 of Liverpool supporter Dave Roland sitting with his head in his hands after the FA Cup Semi Final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. PA Photo. Credit: John Giles/PA Wire

Yet, while the disaster changed his life, she said it did not define it.

Despite the impact it had, his love of music, football, his city and his family helped him find fun and joy in the world – and bring it to those who met him.

She said: "His love of music and football was prevalent in every conversation.

"He would never miss a match, no matter what other occasions were on, always to be found at his favourite table in John Brodie’s [on Allerton Road].

"His partner Ann shared his love of football. It was always entertaining seeing him revert to being like a child whenever he saw one of the team players – once stopping a family meal because he saw Kenny Dalglish in the same restaurant.

"He was frustrated by the impact that the restrictions, as a result of coronavirus, had on football games and the pending premier league fixtures and he was so excited at the prospect of seeing Liverpool lift another trophy."

Much-loved grandad and Hillsborough survivor Dave Roland, who died aged 65 after testing positive for coronavirus

Dave worked as a project manager for Doorset Technology Ltd in Speke and was planning to retire at the end of this year.

Fit and healthy when the pandemic broke, Michelle believes he had a false sense of "invincibility" – though he wore a mask and gloves as advice hardened.

Believing he caught the condition before society was placed on lockdown, she said he displayed no symptoms beyond tiredness until he collapsed and was taken into the Royal.

There, his situation deteriorated until his death on April 6.

This came despite what Michelle described as incredible and compassionate care from the NHS staff who fought to save him.

With Dave a huge fan of David Bowie, this even extended to nurses playing his favourite songs to him on their phones while he received treatment.

Michelle said: "The nursing staff always responded so well to the barrage of questions on the phone from myself and his partner Ann, often asked through tears, and yet still took the time to find out information about dad as a person, a caring gift we will always be grateful for.

"It made our hearts lift when we were told how they spoke to him when they turned him to prone position, how they would play Bowie music through their phones and how they turned the radio up to sing along to him, in full knowledge that he could not hear yet they still put compassion and the patient as a person over what academic knowledge has taught them.

Much-loved grandad and Hillsborough survivor Dave Roland, who died aged 65 after testing positive for coronavirus

"If I could’ve taken a picture of what the ICU staff are facing on a daily basis I fully believe it would have been enough to shock everyone to stay home.

"The images in the news do not convey the gravity of the situation.

"I was shocked at how young the patients in ICU were, fully expecting it to be full of elderly patients, yet there is a huge sense of professionalism and calm.

"I’m sure the staff are exhausted and doing the best they can but what I witnessed was nothing short of care executed with pride, professionalism, calmness and compassion.

"It was so touching to see how emotional the staff got when dad finally slipped away, we felt that the staff had been his family that week."

Michelle said her dad's last words to her were "I Love You" and the last message he sent was a text to say a hug "would be wonderful".

Since his death, his family has been overwhelmed by the tributes that have poured in for him.

As well as those who knew and loved him getting in touch and sharing fond memories, the poignant image of Dave at Hillsborough has been shared by thousands online.

While most of those who shared it did not know him, their words of support have touched his family and friends.

Reflecting on his life, and the impact of Hillsborough on it, Michelle concluded: "People pass comments on how tragic his life was as a result of the disaster, which it was, however dad went on to live a full life and always had a smile on his face, always full of witty one-liners, borderline inappropriate jokes and bad dad jokes.

"He loved to share a daily meme on Facebook – something so many of us are missing now.

"Dad was always seeking something after Hillsborough which I believe he only found at the end of his life – peace.

"But he simply made people feel good about themselves when they were in his company, whether through what he did for them or what he said to them and in this difficult time we hope everyone can do the same to those around them.

"That should be his legacy."