Saturday, 21 March 2015


The phone rang; it was someone I knew in Sheffield.  It was a tip off, there were some returned tickets for the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough going on sale, the Sheffield Wednesday ground,  but you had to be quick.

Doing a Nicki Lauda type run I made it in time to get a couple.  This was 1974 when Newcastle United, with MacDonald wearing the number 9 and scoring twice beat Burnley.  During the 70's and 80's, I was at Hillsborough a handful of times, as well as Bramall Lane, the other Sheffield United ground.

When the Hillsborough Disaster occurred in 1989, I had over forty years of attending soccer and rugby matches, sometimes in the stands, especially if with our youngsters, sometimes on the terraces.

A couple of times I made into Director's Boxes and on one occasion the Royal Box at Wembley with HRH Princess Anne there and the benefit of a good long lunch to prepare me for the rigours of being quiet and correct, unlike at times on the terraces.

In the late 1940's there was one mid week game, rare then before floodlights, when Liverpool, where I was staying, were at Bolton.  The station was just across the park so it was an easy trip.  Also, being mid week then the crowd would have been thin.  This was a couple of years after the Bolton Wanderers Burnden Park Disaster with loss of life and I was on the same terrace.  It was easy to see how it happened.

In those forty odd years, because of moving around, being here and there, being in places and looking for something to do going to a game that happened to be on, there was a lot of experience in many grounds to draw on when I was looking at the TV footage of the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989.

In particular I knew the Leppings Lane end from being in the West Stand behind the goal.  A feature of the way in to this West Stand and the terrace in front of it was that it was relatively small and therefore much easier to police and control.

As Sheffield had two what were then major teams almost every Saturday during the season one or other team would be playing at home and with sizeable crowds.  At Hillsborough one area of major concern would certainly have been the East Bank behind the other goal, wholly standing, very large and steep as was the Burnden Park in Bolton.

The Sheffield soccer fans were no less attached to avoiding thirst as any others and no less lively in their conduct.  The old Sheffield County Borough Police would have been familiar with this and were known to have a let us say rigorous approach to crowd control.  Part of the game, it might be said.

But this police force in 1974 was merged into the new South Yorkshire Police Force on local government reorganisation.  At that time a good many senior police officers took early retirement to make way for younger men; some who as well as wearing uniform could talk the management speak then coming into fashion.

You had a new organisation with a new philosophy with a much wider area in which Sheffield was only a part.  The basics of traffic and crowd control were of lesser standing.  By 1989 the managers were the top men.

My personal view, purely as an outsider with no interest beyond my own experience of crowds and stadia, was that when the Disaster occurred something had gone very badly wrong.

And it had gone wrong in the policing and crowd management, crucially in first managing the flows into the streets around Leppings Lane and then in the relatively small shared area behind the West Stand and the Leppings Lane Terrace.

It may have been that the police in that area were too few or did not have relevant experience.  It might have been a sudden communications and chain of command breakdown at the time when inflows were at their greatest.

But it might have been a failure of command and planning, in which case  senior management and their political affiliates would have been those responsible.

Given that only a year before there had been problems and by the late 1980's it must have been apparent from a great deal of crowd history what might happen it was a major failure and at a senior level.

Now we know and what I would like to know is who exactly was instrumental in the way the investigations and enquiries were handled to tell the lies and to defame the dead.

1 comment:

  1. A month or so back I was walking through Dovedale with an ex-colleague and we were trying to pinpoint when things began to go wrong in our field - environmental science.

    We both came to the conclusion that it was 1974. Until then experienced people ran their local patch and simply did what needed doing. On the whole they enjoyed it too.

    After 1974 the managers and the bureaucracy came in and things were never the same again.