Wednesday, April 15, 2009

There was nearly a Hillsborough disaster in 1981

Early this evening Channel 4 mentioned in passing that there had been a previous serous incident at the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough in 1981.

This was the first I had heard of it, but Pseuds' Corner and Home of the Frustrated Hack has an account of it. The incident took place before the FA Cup semi final between Spurs and Wolves:

in 1981 Spurs played Wolves in an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough, and Spurs fans, like Liverpool fans eight years later, were allocated the now notorious Leppings Lane end.

Spurs fans, like Liverpool fans that went after them, felt that the ends were badly allocated. Leppings Lane was perceived to be the smaller end and should thus have been given to the team with the smaller travelling support. But this was probably just perception, and switching ends would sadly just have switched the suffering from one bunch of fans to another.

Spurs fans were sent through the concourses that led to the various pens behind the goal. And those directly behind the goal were the most popular. So just as pens 3 and 4 filled to dangerous levels in 1989, the same part of the ground filled dangerously quickly in 1981.

People were crushed not because of surging support or bad behaviour, but simply because the spaces between the large metal fences were too small. Indeed there was a feeling even before then, without benefit of hindsight, that the supposed capacity of Leppings Lane was overstated and unsafe.

Tragedy did not follow that day because, unlike in 1989, the police reacted in time.


rob a said...

Just stumbled across this blog.

I was there in 1981 and remember women and kids being passed over head in the Leppings Lane stand. I was a teenager at the time and thought nothing of it. Something to tell your mates in the pub when you got home. Watching football back then, you sort of got used to being crushed, squashed and pushed around. Part of being a fan. Little did we know what would happen eight years later.

These days football has reinvented itself with a different public and a new image. Don't get me wrong, I still love it, God's game and all that, but it's not quite the same. It seems a life time ago to travel home and away, fish a chips on the way back and getting up early to play on a Sunday morning.

However, today for a few minutes I will think of the 96 who do not have the chance to think back to how it used to be. Football was never the same after that and thank God sometimes we learn from our mistakes.

RIP and we will never forget.

Rob A
(Spurs forever)

dreamingspire said...

In around 1990 I had a much more minor encounter with police chaos in the Sheffield area. One evening, ferrying an elderly relative from south to north, we got stuck on the M1. Local radio didn't know what was going on, and we were diverted off the motorway and got stuck again. Although police were on duty and I also found a phone number for their control room, their attitude was unhelpful and somewhat hostile - they seemed disorganised. It turned out that an HGV had gone down a bank off the motorway. Instead of leaving it there until the following day, it had been decided to recover it immediately and close the entire northbound carriageway for the duration. Seemed like a local police culture problem.