Crush! Ayresome’s Near Miss

HILLSBOROUGH: I’m not going to add to the emotive welter of words today. Anyone who follows me on twitter will know I’ve been soap-boxing for days about the scandal of the failings on the day, the institutional hostility to fans from the police, the systematic cover-up that followed and the wilful ignorance who supporters who swallowed the black propaganda and used the bodies to score points against Liverpool fans and smear the Justice campaign.
But to illustrate just how routinely supporters were treated like cattle here’s another chance to read a flashback I did a few years back to (one of) Ayresome’s near misses.



FOR A few dark minutes in December 1989 Boro fans dreaded that they may be witnessing a football tragedy unfold at Ayresome Park.
Just six months after the 96 deaths at Hillsborough had left the game in a state of shock, they were confronted with the sight of ordinary supporters – not ‘yobs’ ‘ hooligans’ or even ‘the lads’ but mundane everyday fans including women and kids – being crushed right up against spiked fences while the gates remained locked. There was genuine icy fear that someone would get killed in the away pen.
Half an hour into the high-stakes Second Division showdown, Boro supporters stood transfixed in apprehensive silence as scores of terrified Leeds fans in the heaving Clive Road corner away enclosure were forced to risk the vicious rotating spikes and scramble over onto the pitch.
Screaming children were hoisted over the vicious spikes and stretcher bearers raced over to help the injured. Others climbed over the segregation fences into adjacent home areas to escape the growing crush at the front of the pen while stewards and police hesitated and stood looking at the unfolding crisis.
Boro fans, more atuned to crowd dynamics than the police after having often been in very similar circumstances – an occupational hazard for travelling supporters in those dark days of crumbling grounds dotted with lethal cages – started to chant an accusatory insistent chorus of: “you don’t know what you’re doing”.
Angry Leeds fans later claimed it was five minutes before gates in the fence were opened to relieve the pressure. It felt a lot longer. A long, powerless era of waiting and hoping.
Title-chasing Leeds had sold all their ticket allocation so the game kicked off with the 2,108 capacity away pen already a tight squeeze. But the problems were soon deepened as Carl Shutt took advantage of some sloppy defending in the Boro box to fire Leeds ahead after just 10 minutes and it quickly became obvious that there were scores, if not hundreds, of visiting fans mingling in the crowd on the Holgate.
It was easily done, pay on the gate, no tell-tale alien accents if you had only travelled from Thirsk or Whitby or Northallerton as many had. And there were plenty of ‘Teesside Whites’ dotted around, people who didn’t want to go in the ‘away’ end in case they were detained or marched off and put on a train to Leeds after the game.
Police were quickly into the Holgate end to take out the pockets of celebrating Leeds fans and to avoid potential flashpoints. They did that bit well. It was routine. Then with the game still in progress, they marched the problem down the touchline and past a baying Chicken Run paddock then – with the old unused Boys End empty and an obvious temporary overflow area – the Leeds fans were poured into the already heaving away pen.
Another good Leeds effort on the half-hour sparked a surge among the now sardined Leeds fans in the away end and led to dozens at the front being rammed up against the fence, crushed by the weight of their fellow supporters moving forward and struggling to escape as the pressure of the crowd built behind them.
With the problems quickly becoming obvious – after Hillsborough people seeped in football culture were more aware of the dangers in what was commonplace on the terrace – Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson was one of the first to react as he dashed over.
With the anxious Leeds bench, subs, the police and medical staff quickly congregating among the walking wounded, the referee called a halt to the game and players stood in huddles waiting for almost 15 minutes before the restart.
There were 19 Leeds fans who needed treatment, with five taken to hospital and one, a ten-year-old boy, detained overnight. It had been a lucky escape.


Then, again, as was the norm, the game went on. The incident barely made a paragraph in the match report in the Sports Gazette. On the pitch Boro were stung by a defeat that dropped them into the bottom three. After a bright start Leeds quickly took control and on six minutes a Sterland header was hooked off the line by Stuart Ripley before Shutt got the opener. Gordon Strachan – for yes, it was he – and Vinny Jones went close before Leeds got their second, unmarked Chris Fairclough heading in from a corner.
In the second half Leeds sat back and Boro beavered away to create some half-chances as Bernie Slaven headed just wide, then Trevor Putney broke into the box but fired straight at keeper Day – but there was no way back.
BORO: Poole, Parkinson, Mowbray, Simon Coleman, Cooper, Ripley, Proctor, Putney, Davenport, Kernaghan (Brennan 65), Slaven. Subs: McGee
LEEDS: Day, Sterland, Blake, Fairclough, Williams, Whitlow, Batty, Jones, Strachan, Pearson, Shutt. Subs: Haddock, Speed.
ATTENDANCE: 19,686.
*****
THANKS to the wonderful archive being slowly built up at miniboro.com, here’s how the crush was covered in Fly Me To The Moon back then. Scroll down to the FSA news article on Ayresome’s near miss. I have to declare an interest and say I probably wrote most of that article at the time.
It was a problem that fans were well aware of. Almost everyone who regularly travelled to games will have been in situations that were seen as completely normal but which looking back were in fact highly dangerous. The amazing thing is that more deaths did not occur.
I remember a night game at Sunderland when Boro fans were held back after the whistle because home fans were gathered outside preparing a reception. Fans who had already made their way down the steps from the Roker End were funnelled into a pitch black concourse under the stand, more and more forced in by police horses and jumpy baton wielding foot-soldiers, stumbling in the dark and jammed up against metal and concrete struts. If anyone had gone over it doesn’t bare thinking what may have happened.
I remember other crushes at Goodison. Elland Road. Derby. Norwich. And Ayresome, especially at night, in the small quadrangle outside the Holgate turnstiles as fans from the alley were piled in from behind. Incredible really. Incredible that police and clubs thought it was an appropriate form of crowd control and equally incredible we put up with it.

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42 thoughts on “Crush! Ayresome’s Near Miss

  1. I remember many many years ago (I was about 11) being almost crushed trying to leave the Holgate end through one of those tiny entries,I was pushed up against the wall by what seeme like hundreds of people leaving at the same time I could hardly breath and just managed scrolling along to the opening and got out.
    Although I still miss the old heaving and swaying,its much safer today

  2. I think you’ll find it was the glass-throwing middlesboro fans above us that caused this very near disaster,a point clearly overlooked by this reminisce. This had started outside the ground as glasses were thrown over the outer wall where the turnstiles were into the Leeds fans queuing for drinks, snacks or simply awaiting friends coming through the turnstiles after them.
    I have often told this largely unknown story over the years,especially as a warning of awareness to my own two lads who are now also massive mighty whites fans.
    **AV writes: I have never heard that factor raised before and as a news reporter covering the story at the time I spoke to many Leeds fans as well as the police, stewards, club officials and perfectly respectable Boro fans at that end whose opinions I trust. I am not dismissing the prospect of missiles being thrown because that end of Ayresome was notorious, or certainly had been in the late seventies.
    But even so, the problems of the crush started long after the game had started so even if there had been issues outside before kick off they could not have been a direct factor. The problems quite clearly stemmed from the police putting extra away fans into a pen that was already full.

  3. The local police provided buses for Leeds fans to get to the stadium from the station. I was on the top deck next to two local policeman when one of them was radioed with a message saying the Leeds end was already full. This was thirty mins before kick off.
    The policeman said to me don’t worry it’ll be fine. Once inside the police took LUFC fans that were in the home end and started putting them in the away end adding to the crush. I wrote to the FA and the local police and LUFC, yet only got a reply from Leeds. This was after Hillsborough.
    **AV writes: That doesn’t surprise me. That was part and parcel of the dismissive way fans – citizens – were treated then. With open contempt. The local police and club shrugged it off completely and did not see any need to investigate or amend the way games were policed.

  4. I was one of those at the front that day with my mother. I was only nine, and somehow they managed to get the kids and women out first. We ended up at the opposite side of the ground with others who had been pulled out.
    There was a picture of me in the arms of a copper on the back of the YEP the following monday. Will always remember being hit by coins and Vinnie Jones picking them up and giving them to me.
    **AV writes: Shocking. That routine brutal hostility from idiots played into the hands of the police and was the excuse for keeping the game in a state of seige.

  5. There is no doubt that the people in charge have been shown to be incompetent and had been for years. Before AV’s time, goodness knows how many were in Ayresome Park for the win against Oxford Utd.
    I have had numerous texts from football fans. All the ones from the East Midlands are highly critical of Liverpool fans. Many attended the previous semi final against Liverpool.
    The most interesting came from my scouser mate. Finally, when I posed the question requiring a yes no answer whether there were more Liverpool fans than tickets his answer was they should have been given more tickets.
    It was a truly tragic day, an employee of mine, a Liverpool fan, came back to work looking like he tried to get to the Navi bar wearing an away shirt.
    There is no surprise how badly the situation was handled at the time. The poor victims turned up on time with tickets. Lets hope the families can get some closure.
    I may seem harsh but dont read it that way.

  6. Im a Leeds fan and was at the game, it was horrific for a while but I don’t recall any major grief which caused it. It was simply we took a full crew & then another few hundred were chucked in by the FBI because they didn’t know what to do.

  7. What an interesting article!
    I am a Leeds fan but rarely go to away matches – only two in my life in fact, despite hundreds of visits to Elland Rd. One of my best friends is a Boro fan and one of the two games I went to was this one.
    I was in the Holgate End and kept silent when Leeds scored but when I saw the police taking Leeds fans to the away end I remember thinking that I would join them as I wanted to be with the celebrating Leeds fans. Fear of the journey across the ground stopped me as I didn’t want to ‘show my true colours’ and risk being attacked. I now, all these years later, realise what a lucky decision that was.
    Last night I was telling my wife while watching the Hillsborough documentary, that it nearly happened at Elland Rd when Leeds, coincidentally were playing Boro. My feet were often not touching the floor as I was crushed between other people and I was convinced that someone could die in such circumstances. Not long later at a different ground, 93 did.
    Thanks for your interesting article. It brought back dark memories but thank heavens so much progress has been made since then. Best wishes, Mike
    **AV writes: Thanks for the comments. Anyone who travelled away in those days will know exactly how common such dangerous situations were. It could have happened to any set of supporters. And if had been us the same despicable black propaganda would have been rolled out. That is why so many of us have been so angry for years at the smears and lies and insults by police and press and politicians. The scandal is that lives of football supporters – all of them – were regarded so cheaply.

  8. I too remember a lot of potential crush situations in those days, and had been caught up in many, even since the early days when I was around 10 and trying to leave the boys end after the Boro v Sunderland FA cup game. Also Wolves, and many more.
    At away games as I got older, there were many occasions (almost every game) when we were treated like something dirty and herded like cattle, and spoken to like we were all out for trouble. Herded into pens, facing foreboding fencing to keep us penned inside, it was indeed a bleak place to venture to a football game.
    When Hillsborough happened, I had experienced many times the scene displayed on TV outside the ground, crucially at 14.37hrs onwards. This was the time when many fans poured out of the pubs, and demanded entry to the ground. It happened across the country, and cannot be denied.
    Faced with a crowd building dramatically, and with fans screaming that people were being crushed, the fatal decision was made to open up the gates which led to thousands pouring through a tunnel that led to one pen, and disaster.
    Now, today it has been revealed that the Police covered up the truth by doctoring statements, and originally of course, the lie that Liverpool fans forced the gates open. No problem with that conclusion.
    But to get it all in context, whether you wish to absorb it or not, the decision to open the gate was made in the interests of safety and a response to what was happening in the heat of the moment. It was the wrong decision of course, and was certainly made by a man displaying poor leadership, but as I say, it was made in an attempt to stop a developing situation.
    I have to say again, that whatever you feel emotionally about this, as someone who attended many similar situations; fans DID spill out of pubs in the last crucial half hour before kick-off, and expect to be able to get in the ground in time for kickoff. You may say that in that case then, Police should have been well prepared, and I won’t disagree. But….in that case then, fans too carry a small part for the tragedy, albeit a very small one.
    It’s probably hard to believe for many fans today to even watch the newsreels and see how fans were treated, but the reality is, Police did treat fans like this, and of course I am not defending them.
    As for the aftermath as the tragedy unfolded, the failures simply mounted up. Maybe the only good point in all this was that things did eventually change, though it did take a few more years. But today’s Policing is almost unrecognisable from those bleak and worrying times.
    English clubs had been banned from European competition after the 1985 Heysel tragedy in which 39 supporters lost their lives. At the time, blame for Heysel was squarely placed on Liverpool-supporting hooligans and, to a lesser degree, the police and organisers, whose security measures on the day were wholly inadequate. This is also the historical background to the Hillsborough tragedy.
    Maybe the events of that night should also be reopened and examined. No one seems to mention that one.
    **AV writes: Heysel was fully examined. The verdict of the inquiry of the inquiry was that the fans behaviour on both sides led directly to the deaths but that the police operation was chaotic and negligent and the stadium was in a state of disrepair and should never have been hosting the game. In the aftermnath there were 14 Liverpool and a couple of Italian fans jailed but crucially also the matchday commander and the head of the Belgian FA were also found guilty of culpable homicide.
    But that is a completely seperate issue. You can’t suggest there was some karmic balance and that maybe some Liverpool fans “deserved it” because some others had behaved badly at some previous time.
    Leppings Lane was a death trap. There had been crushes in the Wolves v Spurs and Leeds v Coventry semi-finals in previous years. The stadium was badly designed and badly controlled by a police force that regarded all fans – regardless of club or demeanour – as little more than scum. That was the cause of the tragedy.
    And whatever colour of the supporters shirts or past incidents of disorder, there can be no excuse whatsoever in the way the police systematically lied and altered evidence to smear the victims and then colluded with the press, the coroner and successive governments for decades to cover up their own incompetence. That is the kind of behaviour that marks a tin pot dictatorship not a mature democracy.

  9. I remember it well. I was one of the Leeds fans, in the away end . I was near the front and I was getting crushed myself. The reason for it was they were putting more and more Leeds fans that were in other parts of the ground into our end.
    We were telling the police “no more.” I distinctly remember shouting to a copper “remember Hillsborough”. He didnt take too kindly to it but I think he realised it wasnt Leeds fans trying it on. The Leeds fans were genuinly getting crushed, and to be honest it was all the police fault , they were the ones who put the spill over Leeds fans in the pen. If this didnt happen the crush would never have happened.
    **AV writes: When the current emotional dust dies down I’ll write something about the aftermath of the Ayresome incident and how the police chief at the time and some people in the club tried to smear the Football Supporters Association and myself personally for daring to questions their actions and approach that day.

  10. Brucies Boro played at Derby and lost 1-0 at the Baseball Ground. The fans were allowed to leave but the local Boro fans like myself were held outside and not allowed to go to our cars for 30 minutes. We were all respectable, mostly 30+, lots with kids and grand kids and we were treated like hooligans.
    In the early seventies I went from Leeds over to Bolton. We won 3-0 in a canter and the Bolton fans were so impressed they arranged a collection to help cover our costs. Because they were some distance from us it was delivered aerially. It takes a lot of 2p’s to pay for the travel.
    When we won 2-0 at the Baseball Ground in the cup it was my lads first Boro match in his newly bought shirt. Curtis Fleming had their playmaker in his pocket. I cant remember his name but rather than dive in for him to collapse Curtis kept about two yards away. The player got that frustrated he was inciting the Derby fans in the stand next to us. A Boro fan complained to stewards and police with no success. We scored and a fan ran to the barriers and was instantly ejected.
    Went to an Everton cup game and asked a policeman where to go and he directed us in to a stand full of Everton fans. Luckily they were great.
    Times have changed, we wont go back to standing at major clubs. The policing and the stewarding are better. So are the fans but we all see those at away games who only go there to abuse like minded morons in the home fans. I was at a Brum match and a fan next to me watched the game out of his left ear whilst occasionally interspersing verbs amongst sundry foul mouthed abuse.

  11. Those days before and after Hillsborough were dark days for football supporters. The authorities, police and football were incompetent and contemptuous of us fans. I remember many times being herded into the underpass, at the railway station on the way to an away match, by the police. It was, it appears to me routine procedure for the police to herd/crush fans into a confined space so they couldn’t move. They probably called it crowd control.
    I watched a little bit of French football on tv during a recent holiday, the French fans still watch matches from behind large fences, I dont think I’d go to a football stadium now if I knew there was a fence between stand and pitch.

  12. Overall it was probably a combination of things that led to Hillsborough and near misses elsewhere.
    These stadiums used to hold far more people back in the days of black and white newsreel without the fear of death and destruction. Obviously a change in society from the protest days of the sixties through to the punk induced anarchy of the late seventies had eroded the respect and fear of authority amongst the masses.
    Crowds could no longer be expected to behave ‘responsibly’ especially if a large proportion were alcohol-fuelled young men – so increasing outbreaks of violence lead to heavy-handed policing methods and the creation of prison-style stadiums.
    Given the many near misses, Hillsborough was an accident waiting to happen – if anything it shook football off the road it was heading down and maybe preventing similar accidents
    The whole cover-up that has prevailed for over 20 years owes more to the general public’s perception, long stirred up by tabloid headlines, that football fans of the day were mainly unruly hooligans – The police got away with it for so long because many people deep down believed the Liverpool fans were to blame. Will anybody be now held to account? I would think there are still many years left to run before that will happen.

  13. I don’t think the implementation of “pens” onto what were once open terraces should be left out of this debate. Had the Leppings Lane end been left as originally construed, ie an full and open terracing, the natural fluidity of a large standing mass of people would have absorbed the crush. Same for the Ayresome crush you described AV.
    Its easy to be wise with hind-sight, but the manner and methods used/introduced to try to prevent football violence were often very badly thought out and crudely implemented.
    I couldn’t agree more with yours (and many others’) observations that simply to be a football supporter in the 70s and 80s labelled you as the lowest of the low, without rights to basic human courtesy. A labelling that was repeatedly reinforced by the authorities. Even today my wife is extremely suspicious of any football crowd, no matter how small or how friendly.
    It will take another generation from now before the lessons of Hillsborough might have been finally accepted without reservation.

  14. What strikes me is all the institutions coming out and apologising now. They all knew at the time what had been done and covered it up. South Yorkshire Police are reporting themselves to the complaints body!
    We all knew that there had been great incompetence on behalf of the authorities in handling the events before, during and after the disaster. That is no surprise to many of us.
    What we cant do is forget why the fences were put there, why the pens were built. It was in response to fans actions that those measures were taken.
    I started going to matches in the early 60’s with no hint of trouble. By the time I went to uni in Leeds, ManU fans were feared but that was too easy a target for the press. Leeds fans would stone buses carrying away fans from bridges. Acid was thrown at fans at SheffU.
    However we dress it up there was trouble at grounds. Italian grounds had moats and fences, still do. AV’s description of Roma from a few years ago was frightening.
    We cannot go back to that situation again.
    Despite the fact it was a disaster waiting to happen, fans didnt didnt have tickets. There were far more there than the stand could hold. The situation was mismanaged. Just like it was in the case highlighted about the Leeds fans.
    I listened to a Liverpool fan whilst driving today saying he asked a Policeman if he could get in to the Lepping Lane End like last year to be told his ticket was for the other end and that is where he should go. He said the policeman may well have saved his life because he was at the ground at 1.30pm and would have been in the section where the worst crush happened.
    We fans cannot be absolved of all responsibility for our actions. Vic mentions Heysel and the fact not only the fans were punished but the authorities were as well.
    But we must not forget fans played their part in these incidents to a greater or lesser degree. It was called the English disease but that is grossly unfair because some of the things that happened in europe were horrific. Didnt we copy the idea of fences from abroad?
    I remember us winning promotion in the play offs at Chelsea and the astonished BBC radio reporter talking about a steward attacking the Boro fans!
    Have things improved? Greatly but it isnt so long ago we were in a European cup final in a ground not suitable for the occasion. Only 9,000 Boro fans were there. Little trouble I seem to recall.
    Liverpool played AC Milan in Athens and the ground was not big enough was the complaint. One team had fans climbing over turnstiles and one team didnt. Not enough tickets was the shout.
    You can say what you like about my posts but I most certainly agree with the views about democracy. Part of the duty of the individual in a democracy is to take responsibility for their own actions. It is very rare to be totally blameless.

  15. PS
    Last sentance didnt come out right, really it should have been that we fans are rarely blameless in crowd situations. Something like that anyway.
    It cannot all be everyone elses fault all the time, the majority are affected by the minority.

  16. AV: first of all thanks for the additional info re the Heysel tragedy. However, I think you need to reread my last paragraph. I was trying to point out that I thought the Heysel tragedy was also blamed on Liverpool fans, but your additional comments seem to imply that I somehow think Liverpool fans deserved it (Hillsborough).
    That is totally misrepresenting my comments, and I do hope you withdraw your comment because I do think you are a decent journalist! Neither did I ever suggest that the cover up was in any way justified. I did put forward the argument that fans when arriving at the ground with 15 minutes to KO have to take a long hard look at themselves. Whether Liverpool or not.
    **AV writes: Yes, sorry I did read it that way. I apologise unreservedly for snarling.
    One of the most frequent and disingenuous ways of smearing the innocent dead at Hillsborough over the years has been to point to Heysel – sparked by criminality (but exacerbated by a woefully inadequate policing operation and crumbling stadium) – and imply the two were somehow connected, that it was an inherent part of the behaviour of the fans of just this one club and that the culpibility of some idiot individuals in the former has undermined the case and the cause of completely unrelated individuals and circumstances in the latter.
    Some wilfully ignorant people, including a good number of fans of other clubs, have used this to score points off Liverpool, denigrate the dead and in some cases justify their refusal to support the Justice campaign. Over the years I have got used to going through the gears quickly to argue against that. Sorry if I misread your point.

  17. FA Cup quarter final Birmingham 197(4?) I think. I would have been a 12 yr old lad then, but I still cringe with the thought of the pain I endured when being pinned against the concrete crush barriers when the crowd surged forward.
    Funnily enough, I had wriggled myself there on advice of an older gadgy who pulled me back from the front when the whole crowd were surging forward. The only thing I could do was get out and push my way to the back. I had absolutely no view but at least I was safe.
    I endured similar crushes and near misses too numerous to mention but that one sticks out as I was genuinely frightened.
    Leaving the Holgate was always hair raising….not only for that murderous tunnel but also for the risk of losing your footing at the top of the steps. Funny enough…no one ever seemed in a rush to get in !
    The most annoying thing for me…being a small kid, was securing your place in the Holgate at around 2.30, thinking you had a great view…and then at 3pm on the dot, the tallest man in the world….stinking of beer ,pushing past and standing directly in front of you. Not only did you have to endure no view…but invariably the by product of his pre match drinking. Anyone standing in the holgate in those days knows what I mean. There was never a through breeze to take the smell away….it just hung around.
    Bring back standing? No thanks.

  18. I was at Hillsborough behind the goal with the Forest fans.
    We got into the ground just after 2-00. The centre section was packed. The first mistake was someone should have stopped more supporters entering this section. Because of the Leppings Lane End being split into 3 sections by fences, the pressure just increased right up to kick off and beyond.
    Those who died were innocent, good, decent supporters who got into the ground early to get the best view. Why this has ever been in doubt is beyond me.
    I know numerous fans in attendance at Hillsborough who have no doubt who is to blame for the disaster. I feel sick to the stomach when I hear unconditional apologies from the Prime Minister and others. Some have got away with this scot free and are now seemingly blameless.
    My heart goes out to Trevor Hicks and the other families who lost their loved ones that day. Innocent victims who seemed to do everything right as football fans yet lost their lives.
    It is also incomprehensible how the families must feel finding out that so many reports have been doctored, not to mention the coroner allegedly being in cahoots with the police. This alone opens a massive can of worms and is a conspiracy theorists dream. Remember the questions being asked about the accuracy of the coroners report after the death of the Pricess of Wales?
    The disaster was caused by a combination of factors including stadium design, lack of duty of care by the police and poor response by the emergency services. But semis had been held at this ground for decades without major incident. Had another club been playing Forest that day would there have been a disaster?

  19. Very interesting discussion.
    As a Boro fan I visited many grounds all over the country but there was a big black market ticket problem those days which would have added to the problem.
    The fences at the front were put up to keep the fans off the pitch firstly. After doing that there was no thought given to to the rear escape routes being made bigger.
    Also any fan who stood in the stands even the Holgate when full and a goal was scored you were off your feet and moved forward ten or twenty steps until your ribs made a connection with one of the mini goalpost rails staggered around the stand.
    But we all came back for more.
    With regards the the Hillsbrough tragedy it was a number of things that caused it. No blame should have been pointed to anyone fans police etc. The fact is that many people left home that morning either to go and have a great day out or to work and none of them had any intention of hurting anybody.
    Lessons have been learnt this dosnt bring back the tragic loss to families but as with many other un football related tragedies things get done to stop it happening again.

  20. About the Liverpool fans, there had been umpteen reports before Hillsborough of Liverpool ‘fans’ going to away games without tickets then causing a commotion outside the ground, because they believed that the police would let them in rather than have have trouble outside, and let in they were, unfortunately.
    These Liverpool fans, and there were many, deserve the contempt they are held in. The problem with Hillsborough is that it seems that the innocent fans that died were branded as rabble, not the trouble making rabble at the back who crushed them.
    Once again, it boils down to individuals taking responsibility for their own actions , instead of always having the scapegoat of blaming authority. And the innocent majority suffer because of the actions of the ignorant minority.
    **AV writes: Haven’t you been watching the news? They weren’t crushed by ‘trouble making rabble.’ They were crushed by the weight of other ordinary people funnelled through a tunnel and piled into an already full pen from behind. They were directed there by poorly led police in a woefully controlled crowd control procedure in a disastrously engineered stand that didn’t have a valid safety certificate.

  21. I think our beloved FA have a lot to answer for, a similar situation happened at Hillsboro apparently when Wolves and Everton clashed (i think) in a semi final a year or two earlier.
    I don’t think many people know this but Peter Robinson of Liverpool did state to the FA that he thought that Hillsboro was not fit for purpose when the venue was announced but was ignored.
    Just a shame but thankfully the truth has finally come out, no thanks to Thatcher.
    **AV writes: There was a very similar crush two years previously for the Leeds v Coventry semi-final in which – thankfully – worst problems were avoided because traffic problems meant thousands of Leeds fans arrived late and in dribs and drabs and the kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes, giving time for police to open gates and shift people between pens… so they knew the potential.
    There was also a very similar incident in 1981 in the Spurs v Wolves semi in which Spurs fans had to scramble over the fence onto the pitch immediately after kick-off.
    The ground was an accident waiting to happen.

  22. I used to think the Liverpool fans had some share of the blame, but last year I spent a few hours reading the Taylor report and it changed my view completely – and that seems to have been a report based on information that was censored.
    Taylor exonerates the fans and lays the blame completely on the police and football authorities. Most of the fans who died got in there late, the crush started early, so it wasn’t drunken latecomers who caused it and the police were aware of a problem very early, but could not take decisive action.
    As much as the police, the football authorities have always had my complete contempt for this – the fences that went up in the 70s and 80 – effectively recreating the conditions of Burnden Park were an outrage and someone should have been taken to task for these.
    The spikes at Ayresome were beyond belief – if there had been a serious crush on the holgate it would have been carnage if people tried to get over the fences. All to stop a few school kids running on the pitch generally and even if it was really hooligans, hardly the end of the world is it?
    The alley up to the Holgate was a real time bomb – I remember a few people getting a bit panicky in the cup tie agains Everton in 88. I hope we see some cops in the dock over this, perhaps some of those who ran football as well.

  23. Percy –
    The police got a good kicking following the Taylor report. By what we have seen in the last few days there seems to have been even more covered up than most of us believed.
    I suspect that the government of the time was lied to as were the rest of us. At least the government of the day did something in setting up the Taylor inquiry and probably thought the had got to the bottom of the situation.
    There have been changes at number 10 since then and no one did anything until the present findings. I doubt whether Blair and co thought this much had been covered up and they will have had access to much information. Somehow I couldnt see Mr Campbell and co missing up such an opportunity to kick the departed Tory government.

  24. Much of the prejudicial and ill-informed comment on this blog about the behaviour of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough flies in the face of the evidence and contradicts the conclusions reached by both Lord Justice Taylor’s report and this week’s report of the Hillsborough panel.
    The evidence available to the panel is reproduced on-line so that anyone interested in the facts can consult it. The panel looked at all of the available CCTV footage, including pre-match footage at the turnstiles and could find nothing to substantiate the evidence given by police. There was no evidence that alcohol had an undue influence on fans’ behaviour or that ticketless fans rushed the turnstiles.
    I was present at the game – as a Boro supporter and Cloughie fan working in Nottingham at the time I happened to be a Forest season ticket holder- and the official reports confirm my own vivid and traumatic impressions of the event.
    The Liverpool fans were heroes that day. Indeed for long periods they were the only people taking any initiative as they tended to their mates. attempted to resuscitate the injured and the dying,and used the advertising boards as stretchers, whilst the police, under orders, did precious little.
    Inside the ground I saw not loutish or drunken behaviour, but a remarkable degree of restraint and heroic initiative. Police reports of fighting, brutality and riotous behaviour, and attacks upon the police whilst they were attempting to save the lives of Liverpool fans fly in the face of all of the visual footage which has been the common currency of media reports all week and which anyone can see for themselves. Neither Taylor nor the Panel found any evidence to support the police’s version of events.
    What can be factually verified are all of the points raised by AV (excellent journalist that he is). There was no attempt at crowd management in the approach to the ground. There was no crowd management at the bottleneck of the turnstiles. Once the catastrophic decision to open Gate C was taken (the lie originally perpetrated by Duckenfield, the senior officer present, was that Liverpool fans had broken through it) there was a failure to direct the incoming crowd inside the stadium.
    And most catastrophic of all there was a failure to close off the tunnel once it became evident that that section of Leppings Lane was filled to capacity, a failure which Taylor called ‘ a blunder of the first magnitude’.
    I am surprised that contributors to this generally excellent blog have been concerned to dig up again what are now completely discredited ideas and arguments, whilst having little or nothing to say about the magnitude of what the ordinary working class people of Liverpool have achieved in taking on and defeating an unholy establishment alliance of the police, the media, and senior politicians who have been concerned to hide the truth about Hillsborough.
    For my own part I hope that Kelvin MacKenzie, who only last week was given air time to smear the reputation of Justice Leveson, is never allowed to darken our TV screens ever again. And that if he is, that the protests will be long and loud. Mine certainly will be.
    I also hope that the role of Mrs Thatcher in the aftermath of these events will also be carefully considered. Her involvement (she visited with police on the day after Hillsborough) left little in the way of any documentary trail. But South Yorkshire police was, of course, a force to which she was considerably indebted. They were the force at the forefront of putting down the miner’s strike often with considerable brutality, as at Orgreave, only five years previously.
    It is inconceivable to me, given that recent history and her own strong ideological convictions, that she would not have offered her fullest support to the police, and by extension to their version of events.
    My own view is that the distortions, lies and downright conspiracies cooked up by both the police and the Sun display a degree of arrogance in power that can only have come about because of the privileged relationship they enjoyed with the Thatcher government of the day. What can be said with some degree of certainty is that were Thatcher (heaven forbid) still to be in power then neither the Taylor Report nor the Report of the Hillsborough Panel would ever have seen the light of day.
    **AV writes: Over the years football fans from all clubs have played the role of “useful idiots” in the police cover-up and media lies by perpetuating the smears as some kind of tribal point-scoring against Liverpool supporters. Time and again – with every anniversary, every Liverpool visit to Hillsborough, every minute’s silence boorishly ruined by disrespectful cretins – we have had to argue and debate and soapbox to dispell myths that were pretty much nailed by Taylor 22 years ago.
    Hopefully after the vivid and powerful report this week and the quite spectacular collapse of the establishment in the face of the moral weight brought to bear by the relentless campaigning of the Hillsborough coalition we won’t have to again.
    That football fans should have needed to be persuaded of the truth of Hillsborough is sad. Anyone who travelled to football matches before the advent of the Premier League must surely know that the policing was primitive and aggressive and rested on the basic principle that all supporters were not law abiding citizens indulging in their hobby but a public order problem to be solved by all means neccessary. Fans had ex officio surrendered all civic and legal rights. It was medieval. It was a police state. It could easily have happened to any one of us, from any club at any ground and exactly the same black propaganda process would have kicked into gear.
    What the campaign and the vindication of the heroic and persistant families illustrates more than anything is the time honoured cycle played out repeatedly from Bloody Sunday to the Menezes shooting and beyond: tragic (but obvious) failure by the state – transparent, immediate amateur smear to blame the victims aided and abetted by a plaint press – clumsy kneejerk cover-up – botched ‘safe hands’ token public report – 10, 20, 30 years of legal and political campaigning while the real culprits continue their progress up the greasy pole – final expensive embarrassing vindication in real inquiry. It’s the British way.

  25. Amen to that, AV. Can I encourage anyone who wishes to consider the available evidence as opposed to repeating 20 year old pub gossip to have a look at the Report of the Hillsborough Panel. It’s all there.

  26. Re my earlier comment and your response, I do read and remember the news, especially comments prior to Hillsborough from, for example, Norwich police after a Liverpool match there.
    I accept that there were serious errors of judgement on that day ( I was at QPR watching the Boro when news began breaking at half time) but the combined actions of ALL the people involved, including overanxious fans, caused that disaster. It is common to blame police and authority when they don”t act on intelligence led information, so the reputation of Liverpool fans went before them, innocent (as the victims were) or otherwise.
    I also remember the news film before the Hillsborough disaster, which clearly showed the behaviour of (some) of the Liverpool fans before the game, and reported their actions.
    I also read news about the ‘great’ Portsmouth fans, the worst I have seen; after Boro beat them there, when a few hundred Boro fans were terrorised at the end by several thousand Pompey ‘fans’ – a handful of brave policemen and a couple of dogs kept them at bay, one Pompey fan being beaten senseless when he wouldn’t do as he was told. Proper policing in my opinion, and there should be a lot more of it.
    On a positive note, I was at Reading when the police allowed Boro and Reading to stand together, and this in the really bad days of football hooliganism; of course, there were no problems.
    And the wonderful day at Bournemouth on a cold February day, I think, when Bournemouth police allowed the great Boro fans into the seats under cover when the heavens opened and these lads were getting soaked in the away enclosure, most without jackets.

  27. Re Hillsborough disaster, can anybody tell me if there were problems similar to those at the Liverpool end at the three other sides of the ground ? If not, why not ?
    This was a human tragedy, such as Bloody Sunday, the menezes shooting, the Irish famines, but the people later blamed for these and other were humans too, probably overwhelmed by circumstances, and emotions.
    Conspiratorial coverups after the event ? Maybe, the ultimate responsibility lies with the FA, but they (and the whole country) are,or should be, wiser, now.
    But to brand all Liverpool fans as angelic, now, is to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. They boo the National Anthem, don’t they ?
    **AV writes: I don’t think anyone has suggested LIverpool fans were angelic, just that they were no different from any other set of fans on a big matchday, behaving perfectly normally as they, and others, did (and still do). The problems that day did NOT stem from the fans behaviour but from poor policing and a poor ground.

  28. Dear lenmasterman, it is contributions like yours that make me proud to be from the Boro, reader and tiny contributor to this blog. Thank you.

  29. When exactly did they put those fences up in the Holgate? When I first saw it I hadn’t been for a while and it was new to me. Everybody else was used to it. I was shocked. I honestly said there’s a disaster waiting to happen if a crush starts in here.
    Then, sadly, as the teams came out and their goalie took up his position in front of us I heard a strange ringing noise. What’s that? I asked naively. It was “fans ” throwing coins at the keeper and the sound of them rebounding off the fence. Was it actually higher in the middle to stop people throwing things at the keeper or is my memory playing tricks on me?

  30. Freddie Milburn:
    If you seriously believe that proper policing consists of beating people senseless when they do not do what they are told then any attempt at rational discussion with you is impossible, and any other ideas you may wish to express are difficult to take seriously.
    You contradict the findings of two enquiries which looked at all of the available evidence on the basis of a bit of news film that you remember. And in what way were the police acting on intelligence? If this is a reference to the supposedly large number of ticketless fans who were responsible for the crush outside of the ground, then this has been exposed as something used by the police after the event as they sought ways of deflecting blame on to the fans.
    If Duckenfield had thought that ticketless fans were a problem on the day then the last thing he would have done would have been to open the gate, let them all in and deliberately cause the disaster which occurred.
    Halifaxp and David of Redcar: Many thanks. To have the appreciation of two such fine bloggers means a lot.

  31. Hi Lenmasterman –
    Re your response to my comments, I’m a perfectly rational and reasonable person. If you had read my comments carefully, you might appreciate that fact. Re the policing, if you had been at Fratton Park on the occasion I mentioned, and witnessed the frightening scenes there, and the fact that it took FOUR policeman to wrestle the ‘fan’ to the ground, and still he was lashing out with feet and fists, then appropriate policing was called for. It is sadly lacking in society today. What would have happened if he had reached the Boro lads? What would Cloughie do?
    You might also have observed that I have utmost sympathy for the victims, who were almost certainly innocent victims. Anyone with common sense would see that there were vastly more ‘fans’ trying to get into those pens than there was space for. They too, in my opinion, had individual responsibilities to back off when they must have sensed a problem, it wasn’t solely a police problem.
    As for the report and the ‘possible’ 41 victims who might have lived, how many of the other hundreds might have died but for the efforts of the overwhelmed services, even if there were shortcomings. I think the report will enter choppy waters if/ when legal proceedings arise.
    Regarding prior intelligence, there were numerous reports of the habit of Liverpool ‘fans’ employing the tactic of going to all ticket matches without tickets in the belief that police would eventually let them in to avoid ‘public order problems’ outside the ground. I mentioned the earlier match at Norwich, when I believe that happened.
    And my point about the crowd situation at the other three sides of Hillsborough. Any problem there ?
    I believe many factors have now been taken out of context, regarding that disaster. I believe that Vickers’ comments about ‘the British Way’ is unjustified hence my examples of wonderful actions of the police at other grounds, and I’m sure there will have been many other such examples around the country. Since when did journalists generalise on such an epic scale ?
    Most fans are treated in an appropriate manner. One of the saddest outcomes of the Heysel and Hillsborough episodes is that the wonderful Dalglish and his great team (one of the very best in recent times) were denied from pitting their talents against the best in Europe. Were all those judgements wrong as well ?
    Hope you read the comment by ‘peterboroangel’ above – to be highly recommended in my opinion. Maybe fans were taken to the cleaners by clubs in the past. They are taken to the cleaners by a good many (though not all) players now.
    Perhaps all grounds should be closed to the public, and all fans obliged to pay Sky for their enjoyment so they can live in a perfect world ? Long live the Football League and the FA Cup, before the big clubs get in.
    Thank goodness for freedom of speech and expression, we can go on learning for ever.

  32. Len Masterman –
    As usual an interesting post.
    I saw the Hillsborough disaster live on TV shortly after I moved to Derby. As I have said I had an employee who went.
    I lived in a football blackspot – Circenester – where there was limited informatuion and even less interest. Anything I got about Boro was limited.
    I had no preconceptions about the cause of the problem. As far as I was concerned it was a fan management problem and I have never changed my view. A huge cock up by the authorities. Nothing has changed in that respect.
    From my earlier posts it must be clear that my view was the environment was created by fan activities. The earlier problems passed me by because the focus was on the events of the day and I had little experience of the problems prevalent in football. It may seem snobbish but I didnt read the Sun – I wouldnt even trust the date on such papers.
    The first time I heard the ticket allegations was in 1992 from a social worker who was also a Forest fan. I have heard the comments from many East Midlands fans who support Forest and surprisingly Derby fans. Oddly it is supported by the odd Liverpool fan, one I know very well who, has when pushed has always said the problem would have not have happened if they were given the bigger end or more tickets. That has been a common refrain amongst fans and even the other day from someone who is one of the support groups for the poor families who have suffered. Why do they need more tickets or a bigger end?
    Ok that is my view but it doesnt look sensible in my eyes.
    This doesnt mean the fans were fundamentally responsible for what happened – I am only an on looker like anyone else.
    I totally agree with AV that the previous Heysel tragedy didnt help with painting a poor picture of Liverpool fans. Nor did the subsequent problems at Athens with Liverpool fans.
    I took on board your criticisms of fans who posted personally but not personally if you know what I mean so I went and read huge tracts of the last Hillsborough report.
    The history of fan problems had clearly tainted the approach of the authorities. As I have posted, the problems with fans came before Hillsborough. No matter the slant of anyone that is beyond question.
    You cannot pick and choose what you believe from the report but luckily I have always had the view that it was the authorities who were to blame. From my information from fans there was a history of fans without tickets who attended matches but that doesnt deflect from the authorites failings. It would affect their attitudes.
    Where I differ is the view of the government of the day. Forgetting the in built prejudice that can be aimed at me about Liverpool fans it is clear that the intial view was that it was a police cock up not fans hooliganism – as briefed by Bernard Ingham to the press on the 16th April.
    Subsequently the police briefed the government that it was the fans who were responsible. As the information came in and Taylor report came out the government were scathing about South Yorkshire Police and the deceitful nature of their conduct and evidence.
    But that is the report, I have taken on board its comments in absolute faith. Will the rest of us?

  33. Excellent post above by lenmasterman, who said pretty much to a word what I would have said.
    Interesting to read on here that I was by no means the only Boro fan who, due to Nottingham connections, was in the opposite end of Hillsborough that day. Like anyone in the Forest end that day, the thought has often gone through my mind of how that could have been us had the allocation been reversed.
    My Nottingham friends, who I’d gone with, and I actually had a vaguely spooky experience when we arrived at the ground. We had all travelled to Sheffield by public transport and then taken a regular bus up to the ground.
    The bus we got went up Middlewood Road rather than Penistone Road and as a result we ended up at the Leppings Lane end. This was really early (about 1.15) and there wasn’t a massive amount of people about so we just assumed we could walk past the Leppings Lane turnstiles, and go along the road behind the south stand to get to the Spion Kop end. But the police had fenced off that road, obviously because the south stand was for Forest fans.
    We all had tickets, there were three females amongst out group of six and we surely didn’t look very threatening so we approached a WPC at the police fence and showed our tickets explaining they were for the other Spion Kop end, so could they just let us through?
    The police refused, in spite of us having tickets that we showed and all of our group, except me, having Forest shirts or scarves on. The WPC simply said ‘no, you can’t’ and a heftier male colleague then grabbed my friend by his collar and shoved him in the opposite direction saying, “you’re not coming through here, you’re going up that way, the long way round.” We were forced to go up to north end of Leppings Lane to the roundabout and then back down Penistone Road.
    The irony was that the police fence we were not allowed through was there for segregation reasons and yet what they’d told us to do kept us much longer among the Liverpool fans we were supposed to be segregated from.
    As we walked away, my friend who been shoved by the police officer shouted back at them (fortunately he was probably out of earshot) “your ***ing stupidity is going to kill someone someday”. Obviously none of realised how soon how scarily prophetic his words would be.
    I’ve also often wondered what would have happened had we arrived at that part of the ground an hour or so later.

  34. Remember the Leeds game well. Wrote a letter to Keith Lamb after he’d commented it couldn’t happen at Middlesbrough. He phoned me at home for 3/4 of an hour and we agreed to disagree on the subject.
    Also remember going to Newcastle (Night match, Mirandena) Wife couldnt breath, legs off ground before game. Police and stewards blamed each other said gap in Leazes end was for segragation but it was Boro fans on either side! Eventually got led round pitch into “segregated area” Real quick thinkers in those days.

  35. There was a near tragedy v Oxford in 1967, hundreds of us crushed in the alley outside the turnstiles to the holgate end. It wasn’t all ticket so many arrived hours earlier than normal but the turnstiles didn’t open til an hour before the game. I still shudder about it now. I also get apprehension walking to the Riverside from the town centre. The narrow tunnels you have to go through are just an accident waiting to happen after a match.

  36. Decent article I’m a Tottenham fan living in Teesside (hope you get promoted btw good away trip for me…) I have spoken to a few Tottenham fans about what happened against Wolves and its sounds like a miracle that no one was killed.

    The subsequent events that followed Hillsborough through the media etc Liverpool Supporters took a large part of the blame, I’m sure that Heysel didn’t help as it reinforced the ‘animal reputation’ along with years of cover up by the Police.

    What you are able to do now is blame people with a bit more ‘fact’ Were the Police incompetent on the day…yes, criminal? we will see certainly those in Public office should be held to a higher standard and subsequently the lies that were told is almost as big a crime in my eyes calling into integrity the whole of South Yorkshire Police and the Police Force in general..These days if a business did something negligible they could be eligible for criminal prosecution so it could happen.

    The ‘Football authorities’ Shef Wednesday, Stadium management, The FA probably the biggest failing in my eyes year of turning a blind eye to what was going on all over the country and something like Hillsborough was always a possibility and its unfortunate that it took an event like what happened to revolutionise English Football we are streaks ahead of most of europe now and this is a large part of it.

    The Fans on the day… Largely exonerated by the reports since, reading what was said both in the press and in reports and then hearing the reality is shocking. The smear was real and those who campaigned against it are a credit to their families. That said were there Liverpool Fans at the game without tickets? quite possibly…Did that help matters probably not?
    I was at a Tottenham game last season Semi Final Second Leg were demand for away tickets was high, many fans had tried to get tickets within the home stand, however the Police, Spurs and Sheffield worked together to get these fans moved to the away stands before tickets were even produced and increased tottenham’s ticket allocation accordingly…however there was still spurs fans without tickets on the day I witnessed Spurs fans going into the stadium and opening fire exits to let mates in etc who didn’t have tickets causing a rush, crushing etc no one thinks about the consequences of such actions they just think about going to watch their team in a game.

    Thus to say I hope those who campaigned find peace. Ultimately Football is now 100% more safer as a result of what happened on that day, the Policing of events is much better and such events are risk assessed much better now as a result.

    **AV writes: Even if police on the day weren’t guilty of ‘criminal’ acts (criminal negligence is hard to pin down) very many senior figures were subsequently guilty of systematic perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. For me, the likes of Duckenfield and Betteson should be in jail for consciously orchestrating a grand conspiracy.

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