Hillsborough: Ticketlessness Was Not A Factor, And This Is How We Know.

October 14, 2012

by Martin Odoni

One of the common myths of the cause of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 is that the stadium was overcrowded, ergo there must have been large numbers of supporters who got in without tickets. This notion is understandable, but a misapprehension; the Disaster was not caused by too many people getting into the stadium, but by too many people going into one small part of it.

In the 1980’s, it was standard practise for the stands and terraces of football stadia to be divided up by large steel fences into enclosures called ‘pens’, to keep rival groups of fans from attacking each other, such was the hooligan problem of the era. In the case of the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough, it was divided by radial fences into five separate pens.

The layout of the Leppings Lane and West Stand of Hillsborough

The layout of the West Stand and Leppings Lane Terrace of Hillsborough, as it was in the late 1980’s. The terrace itself is divided by radial fences into five pens.

The two pens immediately behind the goal (pens 3 & 4 as they were known, or the ‘central pens’) had a combined official capacity of about two thousand. Later investigation by the Health & Safety Executive discovered that the ingress/egress routes, as well as the crush barriers, within the central pens were insufficient to meet official regulations for that high a capacity, and so their combined effective capacity should therefore have been reduced to around seventeen-hundred.

Given that Liverpool supporters had a ticket allocation of ten thousand one hundred for the Leppings Lane terrace, and that individual enclosures on that terrace had capacities very, very much lower than that, you don’t actually need to bring ticketless ‘gatecrashers’ into the scenario to cause a crush. You just need poor distribution of the ticketed attendance. And this is indeed what happened.

Photographs and video footage taken at the time of the crush show very clearly that, while the central pens were indeed very, very tightly packed with people, the ‘side-pens’ (or ‘wing-pens’) to be found immediately adjacent to either side were not only not overcrowded, they were in fact only about half-full. There was a lot of bare concrete very visible in them even as the game was kicking off.

Overview of the Leppings Lane terrace shortly before kick-off.

Overview of the Leppings Lane terrace shortly before kick-off, showing the stark contrast in crowd densities between the central pens and the side-pens.

In the investigations that followed the Disaster, detailed in Report IR/L/ME/89/34, the HSE spent weeks making a very thorough, exhaustive, and I daresay fairly tedious study of data from the stadium’s admissions system and from closed circuit television recordings from the security system to establish approximately how many people had entered the Leppings Lane terrace on the day. There were two main points-of-entry; the turnstiles, obviously enough, accounted for most of the admissions, but due to growing pressure on the turnstiles by crowd build-up, approximately eight minutes prior to kick-off, a concertina exit gate (‘Gate C’) was opened by the police in the hopes of preventing a major accident, allowing the remaining fans still queuing up to enter.

The conclusion of the investigation was that 7,494 fans entered through the turnstiles with an outside possibility that 7,644 might have entered that way, allowing for malfunctions in the admissions counting system. How many entered after the gate was opened could only be established by studying the CCTV footage. This was of course far more difficult to calculate, due to the images on the footage sometimes being too unclear in such a large crowd to make out for certain how many people were passing through the exit gate at any one instant; sometimes it looked like there might have been someone entering, but with so many others around, it was difficult to tell. The HSE therefore offered three figures at its investigation’s conclusion. One made the assumption in all of the uncertain situations above that there was no one there. The second made the assumption in those situations that there was always someone there. And the third, considered the likeliest, or at least closest, total, gave the median figure of the first two i.e. it assumed that in half of the uncertain situations there was someone there, and in half that there was not.

The three estimates thus reached were as follows;-

Lowest possible number… 2020

‘Best’ possible number… 2240

Maximum possible number… 2480

This led to three possible attendance totals for the Leppings Lane terrace as a whole; –

Lowest possible number… 9,267

‘Best’ possible number… 9,734

Maximum possible number… 10,124

And it needs to be re-iterated that the total ticket allocation for the terrace was ten thousand one hundred.

The wing-pens 6 & 7, about fourteen minutes before kick-off. Nowhere near full.

The wing-pens 6 & 7, about fourteen minutes before kick-off. Probably less than half-full.

Now the three attendance totals need to be revised upwards slightly, as there were two other routes of entry that this count did not assess. For one, some fans might have gained entry through turnstiles for the seated areas of the North or West Stands, and once inside they would have had to find their way to the entrances to the terrace. The numbers who did so are probably negligible though, as they were likely to have been re-directed to the turnstiles for the terraces before they gained entry. Let us assume that about fifty entered through the wrong turnstiles (although that is likely to be an over-estimate). For a second option, with the crush outside the ground getting quite serious, many fans found themselves pinned against the outer walls of the turnstiles, and to escape, some of them climbed over the wall to get in. (Before anyone says, “HAH! Gotcha!” it must be stressed that the majority of fans who got in over the wall were challenged and checked for tickets by policemen once they were inside. Only one of them was turned away for having no ticket.) Again, it is unlikely that more than a few dozen entered in this fashion, so again let us add another (generous) fifty to the totals. They now stand as; –

Lowest possible number… 9,367

‘Best’ possible number… 9,834

Maximum possible number… 10,224

It will be seen that the approximate likeliest number not only does not exceed the ticket allocation for the terrace, it is in fact over two hundred and fifty below it. The maximum goes a little over a hundred above the allocation, but for reasons already outlined above, this is an unlikely figure, and in any event, it is not enough to account for what caused the crush in the central pens.

Hillsborough was *not* full.

These are pens 1 & 2 on the Leppings Lane terrace, about four minutes before Gate C was opened. See how sparse they still are.

The central pens, to re-iterate, had an official capacity of around two thousand. HSE analysis of images from around the time the game kicked off concluded that there were over three thousand people in the central pens, and still increasing – please see HSE Report IR/L/ME/89/32. An overflow of one hundred and twenty four ticketless fans simply cannot account for this.

Online, I have encountered some people who defiantly cling to the idea of ticketlessness by coming up with odd scenarios e.g. large numbers of fans with tickets simply decided not to attend. No particular reason why they would choose to do this after paying good money to get a rare-as-gold-dust ticket is ever offered. Did they have some kind of spooky premonition about the horrors that were set to unfold? In any event, this would still prove that the Disaster was not caused by ticketlessness, as the scenario accepts that ticketlessness did not cause the terrace to go over capacity.

My favourite one of these odd scenarios, really quite funny in a sad way, is that when Gate C was opened, the ticketless fans just didn’t go into the stadium. There are so many problems with this idea, it’s hard to know where to begin; –

Firstly, I will point out the very obvious problem, which is that the accusation undermines its own attempts to apportion blame; if ticketless fans did not actually enter the stadium, that means they weren’t trespassing or freeloading, and therefore hadn’t done anything wrong. It also means that they can’t have been on the terraces, therefore they can’t have been in the central pens, so they can’t have had anything to do with the overcrowding that caused the deaths. There are also plausibility questions; if they didn’t go in when the opportunity was presented to them, why not? And given the turnstile area was more or less empty by the time Gate C was closed again, where exactly did they go? Did four hundred ticketless people have a sudden conscience-attack, and, heads bowed in shame, just turn away and walk up Leppings Lane before the match had even started… and yet not one of the residents living on the street saw them do so? Four hundred?

None of this is meant to imply that nobody got in without a ticket – it’s clear that some did – but merely that this played no causative role in the Disaster, and that the numbers involved were trifling, nowhere near the four hundred-plus that the South Yorkshire Police were apt to claim, or the ‘tanked-up mob of five hundred’ that Bernard Ingham will never stop carping about. (To say nothing of the two thousand that many in the wider public seem certain of, or the truly preposterous six-to-eight thousand that the glaringly Scouser-phobic Steve Cohen likes to invoke on US radio.) No matter how stubbornly such people keep asserting these ‘possibilities’, the bottom line they will always be dragged back to is that the evidence just does not leave room for them.

When trying to assess the validity of the long-running accusation of ticketlessness, it is a good idea to try and source exactly where the accusation started. At every turn, we find that this one leads back to the South Yorkshire Police (SYP), including to the notorious lie uttered by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield even as the Disaster was unfolding that ticketless fans ‘forced the exit gate’ – an exit gate that he himself had ordered should be opened.

Now, it is strange enough how people ignore the obvious motive the police had to find scapegoats for the crush, but what always strikes me as even stranger is that no one ever seems curious as to where the SYP got the information from. I mean, think about it; if fans were ticketless in large numbers, how exactly could the police have known?

The standard SYP account of the Disaster was that hundreds of drunk, ticketless fans showed up in the last five minutes, and caused such a huge, chaotic, high-pressure crush at the turnstiles that the police were forced to open the exit gate to prevent serious injuries or deaths. Now, this version of events is defeated by an analysis of the evidence anyway (for instance, all records and footage show that Gate C was opened eight minutes before the game kicked off at 3pm, not in the last five minutes, while CCTV pictures show clearly that the crush at the turnstiles was already turning serious as early as 2:35pm), but the flaw in the police’s story is self-evident even without checking the facts. If there was such a chaotic, big-pressure, life-threatening crush of hundreds of people in a confined space, how exactly were the police able to check all of them and determine in less than five minutes whether they had tickets? And having achieved this apparently super-human feat of detective-work, instead of just turning the freeloaders away, they then decided simply to throw open the exit gate and herd them all into the ground? What, they had time and space to check every single fan for a ticket, but not enough to tell them to leave?

To put it another way, how can the police be Batman one minute, and then Inspector Clouseau the next?

This version is the root of the ticketlessness myth, and it is so obviously implausible that it should not be entertained. To cling to it requires either stubborn ignorance, wilful stupidity, or just lamentably weak skeptical reasoning skills.

Sadly though, these three commodities are in long supply among many football fans, especially when club rivalries are involved, and the pseudo-religious bigotry that these can lead to means that some of them will never let go of the idea, no matter how stupid it makes them look.

Stupidity is to believe lies when the truth is in front of you.

Stupidity is to believe lies when the truth is in front of you.


Other articles about the Hillsborough Disaster.
















25 Responses to “Hillsborough: Ticketlessness Was Not A Factor, And This Is How We Know.”

  1. Thank you. I was there, one of those with tickets, in the crush outside at 2.35. We always knew the ticketless fans accusation was false but so many continue to believe it (even look now at the comments after newspaper articles, in October 2012).

    Thank you so much for debunking this myth so clearly.

    • hstorm Says:

      You are most welcome, Brian. So long as we just keep telling the real story of the day, and also make the effort to substantiate it with citations of evidence, the mythical version will continue to be eroded. No one wants to appear stupid – and to believe the mythical version *is* to appear stupid – so sooner or later the SYP apologists will give way. (Feel free to link such people to this page should you get caught up in an online argument with them.)

      And remember: You can’t appeal to the morals of people who don’t have any, but you can always appeal to their sense of embarrassment.

  2. thanks for article. i was in the north stand that day and like most in there sat there transfixed at the impending disaster that was heading our way. we need to go after Chelsea fan – Steve Cohen. this prick has cart blanche to peddle his poison in the States, free in the knowledge we can hardly get to him. i have challenged him many a time to meet me face to face in Vegas, where i now work. i have even offered to fly out to Cali to meet him. this guy is poison and needs to be muzzled once and for all.

    • hstorm Says:

      You’re welcome, Joey, thanks for commenting. Yes, Cohen is a bigot, and very cowardly that he refuses to discuss the subject with anyone in-the-know. But if it’s any reassurance to you, I’ve seen on forums like EPLTalk that there are plenty of fans stateside who know what really happened at Hillsborough and attempt to fight the falsehoods. In fact, I usually find greater ignorance and prejudice coming from fans back in ol’ Blighty than from America.

      Feel free to link people to this essay if you find them peddling the old myth about fans without tickets. Even if they don’t explicitly back down, I’m confident that they’ll experience a little ‘cognitive dissonance’, if not outright embarrassment, when they realise they’ve been suckered by the police.

    • hstorm Says:

      As an afterthought, on the subject of Steve Cohen, it occurs to me that you might be interested in this essay…


  3. yes i will do, thanks. i have already saved it to My Favourites. and as for Steve Cohen, at least i can boast that i have helped in him closing down his previous twitter accounts before today! and when he talks about the death threats he has received, he is probably referring to me and my mate! lol. but all i did was offer was to meet him face to face to discuss Hillsborough. but the shithouse wouldn’t. as you know he used to have a show with his Rangers mate Kenny Hessen. and his Scottish mate was now better in his hatred of Liverpool. and i fail to see this connection that Rangers seem to have with Chelsea these days. if anything, they should favour Liverpool, seeing as they provided us with so many of our early players from Glasgow, back in the early days of our club.

    yeah you’re right in a way. most people i talk to over here don’t have a clue about the disaster, but those who have heard of it, usually think lots of typical English ticketless fans who tried to get in. so all you can do is try to educate them and talk them through some YouTube videos. and as you know our fan base is growing all the time. and there are plenty of scousers who work right here in Vegas. it’s a bit like Perth, Australia in that respect.

    as for myself, i went with my Dad that day. i was only 16 at the time. we were positioned just to right of the Leppings (as you view it on the footage), quite high up. but even as early as 2.20, it was obvious that the central pens, were way over capacity. we just couldn’t understand why more fans weren’t climbing over the fence, to the half empty adjacent pens next to them. i guess they were already packed in too tight to even move. truly sad. but my one over-riding memory of that day was that of the useless Police just standing there on the half way line chatting amongst themselves, whilst the fans who had only just escaped death themselves, tried to save others lives. i think only our fans could have sprung into action that day in the way we did. here’s hoping that at least some of the Senior S.Y. Police e.g. Duckinfield are given some chokey. i doubt it, but we can but hope. but i think i would even settle for Bettison

  4. Mark Cripps Says:

    Fascinating article. I spoke to someone yesterday who was quoting a figure of 15,000 Liverpool fans congregating outside the Leppings Lane end. My contact used the phrase, ‘It wouldn’t have happened had 15,000 people not turned up where only 11,000 should have done’. Your piece has covered the issue of the estimated number of people who went into the stand, not necessarily the numbers of people outside. Have any estimates of this figure been made? Also, a question which has come to mind as I was reading your article is how/why the build up took place at the turnstiles? Were there too few open? Were people going through them slower than usual? In other words, if the build up of people outside the gates was not bigger than usual, what caused the operational side of things to be unable to cope, leading Duckinfield to open Gate C? Did Gate C actually need to be opened? What would have happened had he not opened Gate C. Thanks in advance for any insights on these issues.

    • hstorm Says:

      Hmm, 15,000 is a strange accusation, so does your contact have a source for the figure?

      The reason I say it’s strange is that, if it were true, the Leppings Lane end/North Stand would not have been overcrowded. It would in fact have ben *under*-occupied to the tune of over 9,000 – the full ticket allocation for the Liverpool fans was 24,256, and *all* of them had to enter the stadium through Leppings Lane. Any Liverpool supporter who tried to enter through the South or East Stands was re-directed by the police. (The figure of 10,100 was only the ticket allocation for the terrace below the West Stand, not for the entire Liverpool contingent.)

      All your questions are answered by other essays about Hillsborough on this blog – please visit https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/hillsborough-disaster-index/ for a full listing of what’s available – but here are fairly brief summaries;-

      “Your piece has covered the issue of the estimated number of people who went into the stand, not necessarily the numbers of people outside. Have any estimates of this figure been made?”

      Well, there have been a lot of wild ‘guesstimates’ on that, but none from an official researcher, because pictures available from outside aren’t clear or steady enough to do a solid count. But as I point out in the essay above, the number of people who had no ticket in the crowd outside does not appear to have been significant, unless we can come up with a sensible explanation for where they got to when the Gate was opened.

      I also have to reiterate that any fans without tickets who did not try to enter the stadium did *not* do anything wrong, and those who try to force the blame onto such hypothetical people are treading down a path they might want to treat with caution. Saying football fans should not be allowed to travel to the venue of a game without a ticket is to argue against freedom-of-movement and the main principle of public property. So long as fans do not attempt to gain entry to private property i.e. the stadium itself without paying, they have no case to answer.

      “how/why [did] the build up [take] place at the turnstiles?”

      The reason the crowd built up in Leppings Lane was there was a known ‘bottleneck’ at that end of the stadium. The entire Liverpool following of 24,256 had to enter through a narrow concourse about 30 metres across (I’ve visited it, and I can tell you, it really is a cramped space, even though it has been widened in the years since), with just 23 turnstiles. The Nottingham Forest contingent, 29,000-strong had some 60 turnstiles spread out thinly around the lengths of the South and East Stands. Further, the 10,100 Liverpool fans with tickets for the terrace below the West Stand had just 7 of the turnstiles to enter through.

      It meant that turnstiles for the West terrace had to admit three times the number of spectators as some other turnstiles. The imbalance was plainly ridiculous.

      It was in fact a very common occurrence for there to be delays getting fans into the away end at Hillsborough in the 1980’s, and exit gates had had to be opened on a variety of occasions to get the crowd in on time. There was congestion at the turnstiles at a league fixture between Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle in 1983, and between Sheffield Wednesday and York City just a few months before the Disaster. There were also major difficulties at the FA Cup Semi-Finals in 1987 and 1988 due to the bottleneck.

      More can be read at https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/hillsborough-pushing-shoving-what-pushing-shoving/

      “What caused the operational side of things to be unable to cope, leading Duckinfield to open Gate C?”

      It’s fair to say that Duckenfield himself was part of the problem, as he was only promoted to Chief Superintendent, and thus appointed the match commander, a few weeks before the match, and had no experience policing *any* football game – let alone one as major as a Cup semi – in over ten years. He had only been a match commander at one previous fixture, a league match between and Wednesday and Millwall about a week before the semi-final, with a visiting attendance of about 5,000. He was entirely ill-prepared.

      But in fairness to him, there was a history, as I say, of problems at that end of the stadium, and even much more experienced match commanders such as his predecessor, Brian Mole, had failed to resolve them. Mole had come up with some useful techniques to lessen the bottleneck in 1988, but never came close actually to putting an end to them. And Duckenfield was apparently unaware even of what half-worked, so didn’t put any of those techniques into operation.

      In short, the operational side of things frequently went wrong there, but it turned disastrous on this occasion due to incompetent leadership.

      Please read ‘Category 9′ at https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-discursive-types/ for more on this.

      “Did Gate C actually need to be opened? What would have happened had he not opened Gate C?”

      It is beyond any doubt in my mind that Duckenfield was *correct* to open the Exit Gate when he did. Some Hillsborough commentators think that it was the blunder he commited, but having studied the Disaster for many years, I am convinced that he got that bit right. Given the enormous pressure of fans against the outer walls and the turnstiles, it’s almost certain that someone was going to get seriously injured, and possibly even someone might have been killed. (There was a pregnant woman close to the turnstiles shortly before the Exit Gate was opened, and she was in such terrible distress in the tightness of the crowd that she could easily have miscarried.) But we also need to recognise that, had Duckenfield organised the police presence in Leppings Lane correctly, he would probably never have gotten into a position where he needed to open the Gate in the first place.

      What Duckenfield got so catastrophically wrong *inside* the stadium was that he was not monitoring the build-up of spectators in the individual enclosures that the terrace was divided into, and so he never thought to close access to the central pens when they were full. This was in fact a blunder he had committed over a prolonged period after about 2:30, some 22 minutes before the Gate was opened. Once the pens were full, he needed to order that the tunnel leading into them be sealed off, because it was the only obvious way onto the terraces for any spectators who had just entered.

      As I argue in https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/hillsborough-did-gate-c-even-matter/ the opening of the Exit Gate is not as central to events as most people imagine.

      • Mark Cripps Says:

        Thanks for your speedy and comprehensive reply. I understand that there was pressure and that this lead to Duckinfield opening Gate C but I’m still not clear as to why. That might sound strange but put the 1989 crush in the context of 1988. So what were the differences with what was happening outside the end in relation to the previous year’s semi-final, also against Forest. Wasn’t the bottleneck leading to the turnstiles there in 1988? How come a crush did not occur then? You mention above how Duckinfield did not deploy his officers correctly. But what exactly was wrong with this deployment? How was it different to the previous year? It seems to me that it is this area of activity which is as critical as any. If the crowd had been managed effectively, the issue of Gate C would not have come up. That there was pressure is not at issue. What I’m asking is why was this different to 1988 (and any other time) sufficient to open Gate C? Am I correct in my understanding of what you are saying in that if (as my contact stated) there were 15,000 fans outside, that this is a misleading number anyway, as ALL the fans for the LL end had to approach the turnstiles there, so that including all the fans from the top tier, there may well have been MORE than 15,000 fans approaching because this number would have included fans from upper and lower tiers? And also, that based on the detailed analysis of the film / tape, it has been concluded that even after Gate C had been opened, at no point were there more than 11,000 fans in the pens below, so if my contact is claiming that his number of 15,000 was the number of fans who piled into the lower pens, that this is a false and unsubstantiated claim?

      • hstorm Says:

        “I understand that there was pressure and that this led to Duckinfield opening Gate C but I’m still not clear as to why.”

        Well, as I say, people were getting pinned against the outer walls and the turnstiles in the confined space, and it was a danger to life and limb. So Duckenfield ordered an Exit Gate be opened to let people in more quickly, to relieve the pressure. It hadn’t proven possible to relieve the pressure any other way – the police had tried asking spectators at the back of the crowd to retreat a little, but most of them couldn’t hear the requests over the general noise of having so many people around them, and the awkward shape of the entry concourse made it very difficult to retreat in any event.

        “So what were the differences with what was happening outside the end in relation to the previous year’s semi-final, also against Forest. Wasn’t the bottleneck leading to the turnstiles there in 1988?”

        Yes it was – I did mention that in my previous answer. Have you checked the essays I have linked to? The details are all in them, and with respect, I really don’t wish to have to type it all out yet again.

        What I will say for now is, the Match Commander in 1988, Brian Mole, implemented a ‘filtering’ system in Leppings Lane. This involved deploying extra officers to the Lane in a cordon further up the road from the stadium. When fans approached the stadium, anyone who didn’t have a ticket could be turned away by the filter officers, but much more importantly, the ticket-holders could be organised into queues, and directed towards the correct turnstiles for their tickets. This substantially reduced the pressure, confusion and chaos that had been there in the 1981 and 1987 semi-finals.

        “How come a crush did not occur then?”

        Ah, but who says it didn’t? There were still significant problems with the crowd build-up in Leppings Lane in 1988, it’s just the filtering alleviated it just enough that the kick-off didn’t need to be delayed. In 1987, by contrast, there were so many problems for the Leeds United fans trying to get in that the kick-off had to be delayed by 15 minutes.

        Here’s another essay I recommend you analyse; –


        In particular, note the uncomfortably similar misfortunes to afflict Tottenham fans in 1981.

        “You mention above how Duckinfield did not deploy his officers correctly. But what exactly was wrong with this deployment?”

        There were two major failures in terms of his organisation outside the stadium.

        Firstly, he only allocated a skeleton deployment of officers to Leppings Lane. At various points during the final couple of hours before the kick-off, there were fewer than ten officers directing the crowd there. Once the crowd had built up to about five thousand (around 2:35pm), ten officers were powerless to give adequate guidance.

        But more important, Duckenfield does not appear to have been aware of the filtering technique his predecessor used the previous year, and made no attempt to implement it. This meant that new arrivals would be inside the entry concourse before they even had a first clue which turnstile they should be heading for. (This problem was exacerbated by the very illogical way the turnstiles were named. Turnstile bank A was next to turnstile bank C, with turnstile bank B beyond that.) With hundreds of others also in that cramped space and *also* trying to find the correct turnstiles for their particular tickets, the result was chaos.

        Duckenfield furthermore refused even to consider delaying the kick-off, even when it was becoming clear that the admission rate was too slow to get the crowd in in time. After about 2:45, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if he had, as the crowd pressure in a confined space was already very high and delaying the kick-off was not going to reduce the numbers already there. But up until that point, a delay to the kick-off might have cooled the rising urgency.

        “What I’m asking is why was this different to 1988 (and any other time) sufficient to open Gate C?”

        Your use of the term “any other time” is based on a false assumption. The 1989 semi-final was categorically *not* the only time Exit Gates had been opened at Hillsborough to relieve turnstile pressure. There are dozens of incidents on record, especially in the 1980’s, of the technique being employed in an emergency. It had almost become semi-routine.

        “Am I correct in my understanding of what you are saying in that if (as my contact stated) there were 15,000 fans outside, that this is a misleading number anyway, as ALL the fans for the LL end had to approach the turnstiles there, so that including all the fans from the top tier, there may well have been MORE than 15,000 fans approaching because this number would have included fans from upper and lower tiers?”

        You are largely correct, but also, the Liverpool fans had been allocated all the seats in the North Stand, as well as the terrace and upper tier of the West Stand. The North Stand backs onto a terraced street, so it has no entrances or turnstiles anywhere along its length. Therefore all the Liverpool fans with tickets for the Stand *also* had to use the Leppings Lane turnstiles. They *all* had to pass through the same 30-metre bottleneck, and with only 23 turnstiles available.

        “it has been concluded that even after Gate C had been opened, at no point were there more than 11,000 fans in the pens below [The West Stand]”

        Significantly fewer in fact. At the absolute, wildest, most outside reaches of possibility, there was a maximum number of 10,224 – slightly over the allocation for the terrace, but not enough to have caused a crush of the type that happened. In any event, in real terms, it is far likelier to have been around 9,850, and that is comfortably inside the ticket allocation for the terrace.

        By the way, the approximate capacity of the West Stand and Leppings Lane terrace combined, but ignoring the North Stand, was about 14,500. That’s somewhat close to 15,000, so I don’t know whether your contact is confusing that detail with the numbers outside the ground. But if he is, he has committed a very big blunder, because it would mean that the 15,000 he is talking about would in fact be close to the right number of people.

        “so if my contact is claiming that his number of 15,000 was the number of fans who piled into the lower pens, that this is a false and unsubstantiated claim?”

        Well basically, Mark, that is what I am asking *you*. I have never heard that figure before, and it doesn’t tally with anything any other Hillsborough researchers I consult with have ever heard either – I checked with several people last night, and they both have no idea where it comes from. I strongly recommend you challenge your contact on what his source is for that figure.

  5. Mark Cripps Says:

    Thanks very much for the answers – much appreciated. I’ll refer to the other posts for more information as you recommend.

  6. This is plainly wrong. The guys on the turnstiles testified that huge numbers of ticketless fans, turned up very late, and tried to get in.

    Fans “rushing” the gates, or orchestrating a situation where the police were forced to open them, was quite a common tactic back then.

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Dear oh dear, some people just don’t know how to add 2 and 2 do they?


      They clearly weren’t in the stadium, as it was not over its capacity.


    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Oh, on the topic of ‘rushing the gates’, please read this, and look at the pictures.


      As I said before, and I do not mean any disrespect, but you have no idea how far behind your knowledge of this subject is. I don’t even consider myself an expert on Hillsborough, but these are absolute bare-bones basic details about the Disaster that I learned in the early-1990’s, and that you are still getting wrong in 2016.

  7. so you’re implying thousands of fans, simply turned up at the wrong stand? That’s a pretty unlikely scenario isn’t it……

  8. I know fans don’t like to hear this stuff, but when turnstile operators are testifying in court that thousands of ticketless fans, did actually turn up after the game had started, and attempted to engineer a situation where they were forced to let them in – I for one believe them.

    For one, it was a pretty common thing in the 1980s. Fans were always trying to gain entry without tickets, using similar tactics.

    And secondly, what’s the alternative explanation – thousands of fans mistakenly going to the wrong stand? That’s not likely is it……….

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Look. I’m sorry if this sounds patronising, but you have no IDEA how far behind the argument you are. You are asking very basic questions that were answered conclusively over a quarter of a century ago, and you don’t even appear to have read the article, as it answers some of your ‘points’.

      “I know fans don’t like to hear this stuff, but when turnstile operators are testifying in court that thousands of ticketless fans”

      Really? How did the turnstile operators know that there were ‘thousands without tickets’? When did they find out, and how? Do you have any idea how long it would take to check thousands of people for tickets? Especially in a developing crush? Did the ticketless fans just announce all together that they hadn’t paid? Wouldn’t that rather undermine their chances of sneaking in? And why would the police decide to respond to ticketlessness by opening the exit gate and wheeling everyone in, instead of simply turning away the gatecrashers?

      Again, these points are all addressed in the text of the article.

      “did actually turn up after the game had started”

      The disaster was already in progress at around 2:58pm – indeed we know of one victim called Adam Spearritt who passed out through crushing as early as 2:54pm – and the game started at 3pm. Therefore, if these ‘ticketless fans’ turned up after the game started, then the disaster has nothing to do with them, because by the time they got there, it had already happened. QED.

      Yet again, this point is actually answered in the text of the article. You just haven’t paid any attention to it.

      I would also politely recommend you read this other article; –


      “and attempted to engineer a situation where they were forced to let them in – I for one believe them.”

      I repeat, the attendance roughly matched the ticket allocation. There is a very outside chance that about fifty got in without tickets, but are you saying that thousands conspired together to ‘engineer’ this situation – a carefully co-ordinated mass crowd-crush in an era before mobile phones – just to help let a few dozen extra fans in without paying? Is that even remotely plausible?

      “For one, it was a pretty common thing in the 1980s. Fans were always trying to gain entry without tickets, using similar tactics.”

      Indeed it was. But it didn’t happen in this case. We don’t need to check – indeed we SHOULDN’T check – evidence of other matches to establish what happened at this one, when we have all the evidence we need from this match itself. Anything else is just prejudicial.

      Also consider, if this sort of thing was happening all the time, surely that means it can’t have caused the disaster; if it did, these disasters would have happened every week.

      “And secondly, what’s the alternative explanation – thousands of fans mistakenly going to the wrong stand? That’s not likely is it……….”

      Again, where are you getting this nonsense inference from? I never suggested anything of the sort.

      Let me say it again; the attendance at Hillsborough on the day of the Disaster was roughly equal to the ticket allocation. Most estimates actually find that it was slightly BELOW its allocation, one suggests it was very, very slightly above, a matter of a few score. So no, fans didn’t ‘go to a wrong stand’. I have never implied any such thing. I said that some fans were directed into ENCLOSURES that were already full, but those enclosures (the central pens) were part of the same terrace (not a stand) as the enclosures they should have been directed to (the side pens). If thousands showed up without tickets, then Hillsborough would have been well over its ticketed capacity, and it WASN’T.

      The reason ‘fans don’t like to hear this stuff’ from uninformed novices like yourself isn’t because it casts them in a bad light. It’s because your stuff just is NOT TRUE. It simply isn’t what happened, and the evidence does not leave room for it to have happened. You say the crush was caused by thousands of fans arriving after the game kicked off? Really? Well, why was the exit gate opened by the police eight minutes BEFORE the game kicked off then? Were the police having a clairvoyant episode and were attempting to relieve a crush that hadn’t even started yet? And somehow still allowed it to form anyway? Where did these extra thousands of ticketless fans go, if the evidence shows that they were not in the stadium? Why didn’t they take their opportunity when the exit gate was opened? Did they turn and walk away from the ground in their thousands, somehow without any of the locals even noticing them?

      See? What you are arguing is preposterous. And as it is based entirely on the testimony of a couple of turnstile operators, who from their peripheral position would hardly have had a very ‘all-seeing’ perspective on the crowd anyway, you have no reason to believe it.

  9. John Rhodes Says:

    Hi Martin,

    LJ Taylor’s interim report mentions (on page 11) that at 2:45pm the crowd outside had “swelled to over 5000”. The report by the HSE stated that the number of fans entering through turnstiles and gate C was put at 10124 ( though it stated that 10224 may be a more realistic figure) i.e. just over the capacity of 10100. The report stated that the estimated number of fans who entered through gate C was around 2000. Given that the number of fans entering through the turnstiles would be negligible for the purposes of a rough calculation such as this, this would mean there was 3000 surplus fans outside the ground. The West Stand holds about 4000 and it looked fairly full from the TV pictures. The surplus, therefore, wouldn’t have included a significant number of fans with tickets for the West Stand. Likewise, the North Stand looked fairly full as well. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that there were 3000 surplus (i.e. ticketless) fans – not an insignificant number, and definitely a contributory factor to the situation outside the ground that led to the opening of the exit gate. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this as I may well be missing an important detail or my maths may be dodgy :-).

    Clearly you have done quite a bit of research on the disaster, and I’ve enjoyed reading your articles and find them both eloquent and informative in terms of offering a subjective opinion but not driven by agenda ( which I feel, sadly, has become the dominant feature on both sides). I’m trying to reaffirm or reasses my thoughts on Hillsborough ( some of which have been challenged by the HIP report and the subsequent inquest), so blogs like this I find immensely helpful. Thanks for posting them.


    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Thank you, John.

      This 3,000 argument does surface from time-to-time on the internet, and in fairness to the people who use it, at least for once they base it on some kind of evidence and calculation, instead of on temperamental wish-thinking, which is refreshing. However, there is a flaw with it, which is what I call ‘snap-shot logic’, which is the assumption that you take information at one instant in a dynamic process and assume it applies all the way through it.

      First thing to keep in mind about the 5,000 figure is that it was a very, very rough estimate, as it was immensely difficult to make a count with the CCTV and photographic images taken. The number is plausible, but it is entirely possible that it was over-estimated. I also need to point out that LJ Taylor’s interim report, although broadly correct and well reasoned, did have its flaws, and one of them is a timing contradiction. While he did indeed say on page 11 that the crowd swelled to over 5,000 between 2:40 and 2:45, he later wrote that it was over a period between 2:30 and 2:40 (page 33, section 191). So Taylor was actually not very clear on that at all. Other eye-witness reports all seem to agree that the build-up began around 2:30pm, so the later reference seems to have more to support it.

      Second thing to consider is that, despite the build-up, people were still entering through the turnstiles between 2:30 and 2:52. Slowly and gradually, at a trickle, but still hundreds and hundreds would have entered during that time. Of course, more people were arriving outside the turnstiles at the same time, so it possibly works both ways, but it only emphasises how rough the figures out in Leppings Lane really are. There was no avoiding it.

      Third, and most important, thing to consider is where did these ticketless fans go? There is no chance whatever that there was a 3,000 overflow in any part of the ground, so they obviously didn’t go into the stadium. And while it would be an overstatement to say that the outer concourse was *completely* empty by the time the exit gates were closed for the final time at 3:01pm, there really were very few people left. (There was even a strange anecdote told around the time of the HIP Report in the local media in Cumbria – afraid I can no longer find the URL for it – in which a group of six from Carlisle had travelled to the semi-final without tickets. They’d hoped to buy tickets at or near the ground, but hadn’t been able to. So they were sat on a wall by the river out in Leppings Lane when the exit gate was opened, but as they were ticketless, they made no move to go in. But then, by the time the concourse was more or less clear, police officers came up to them and actually *ordered* them to go in through the gate, and brushed aside all objections that none of them had tickets. They ended up getting caught in the crush on the terrace. (This story is basically one of the main reasons we know that any ticketless fans got in at all, but it only accounts for six.) Now if the police were going to the extent of chasing people into the stadium when they were out in Leppings Lane itself – and when they were quite openly protesting that they didn’t even have tickets – then we can be sure that pretty much anyone in the entry concourse was sent in as well.)

      As stated in the text of the essay, it seems completely implausible that 3,000 people would just turn and walk away up Leppings Lane, especially without anyone noticing them – LL is a residential street after all – but there has never been an eye-witness report by anyone describing a mass-exodus like that around kick-off time, nor does CCTV footage from that point really support the idea.

      “The West Stand holds about 4000 and it looked fairly full from the TV pictures.”
      Ah, but as LJ Taylor pointed out, it wasn’t just a matter of the west stand. Section 201 on page 35 of the interim report noted, “a wide range of witnesses… observed inside the ground that the Liverpool end was at a late stage well below capacity save for pens 3 and 4. ***The north stand still had many empty seats***”. You have to remember, *every* Liverpool fan had to enter through the Leppings Lane concourse, including those with tickets for the north stand. They entered through a different bank of turnstiles, but even so, they were still caught up in the same mass of people

      A couple of other points bear mentioning.

      One, LJ Taylor never mentioned the 10,224 figure in his report. It was actually a figure I arrived at myself chiefly by studying CCTV images of people climbing over the wall. I could only make out about thirty or so doing it the entire way through.

      Two, the opening of the exit gate is not necessarily a disaster in itself. It was more the failure to limit the influx into the central pens when they were full that did it.

      Three, if we assume that 3,000 ticketless fans really were there, but they didn’t go into the stadium, it’s still rather difficult to argue that they did anything particularly wrong. They would have added to the overcrowding in the entry concourse, yes, but the police had a standard tactic of ‘filtering’ up-street from the stadium to keep ticketless fans at a distance, but they didn’t think to employ it in 1989. So it would still fall more under the category of ‘police blunder’ than ‘fan mischief’. (Most visiting fans wouldn’t have known when setting off of the bottleneck at that end of the stadium, and it was quite standard behaviour back then for fans to travel to most stadiums without a ticket and attempt to buy one at or near the ground. At most stadiums it wasn’t a problem because they didn’t all have bottlenecks.)

      • John Rhodes Says:

        Martin, thanks for your prompt and detailed response. Apologies for not being so prompt with my reply. I re-read the HSE report and it does say that the number of fans that had entered through turnstiles A-G at 2:50 was about 6000 (can’t recall the exact figure), leaving 4000 still to enter. That roughly correlates the Taylor figure, given that the 5000 would include those people entering into the West & North stands as well ( the report didn’t give the entry figures for turnstiles 1-16).

        The key thing is the number of fans still outside the gound – when Gate C was opened the second time at 2:52 there was still a significant stream of people heading down Leppings Lane towards the stadium. However, the figures from the HSE report of entries through the turnstiles after 3:00 show a sharp drop to almost nothing. Similarly, when Gate C was opened the third time from 2:58,only 90 people entered in the 8 minutes that the gate was open. Clearly, there were very few fans still left outside. That was the important detail I missed! The sheer amount of documentation to read through to get the full picture is overwhelming, which I guess is why there is so much misinformed opinion – people just don’t have the time or inclination to read up on it.

        Given that ‘bunking in’ was a well-known tactic employed by an element of Liverpool fans – the ticketless argument was a predictable one. I read one account from a Liverpool fan that recalled a man stood in one of the turnstiles having a discussion with the turnstile operator, after a short while a Policeman intervened and led him away from the turnstile. It wasn’t said what the discussion was about, but it would probably be a safe assumption that he tried to persuade the operator in some way to let him in. I’ve not got round to reading the statements from the turnstile operators so am not sure how widespread this was. The HSE report did state that the throughput of some turnstiles was markedly less than others, though not significantly so it would seem that this wasn’t a factor.

        The culpability of the fans and the notion of individual responsibility is a theme that still lives on despite Taylor(though he did hint at it) and the HIP reports, most famously http://wosland.podgamer.com/no-justice-for-the-96/ and http://annaraccoon.com/2012/09/12/liverpool-expects-this-day-sick-justice/ which I’m sure you’re aware of. The logic of the ‘but who did the pushing?’ argument seems irresistable on the face of it, but is too simplistic I feel and doesn’t address the finer aspects of crowd dynamics.

        I’m happy to dispel the ticketless argument based on the evidence from the HSE report, but I can’t quite dismiss the individual responsibility argument yet – I’m still in the process of informing myself. Though I’m wary of the impartiality of the HIP, it has done an immensely impressive job of making as much information as possible available and discoverable, making it a lot easier for people like me to arrive at an informed opinion.

      • Mark Cripps Says:

        The idea of individual responsibility persists but all of this discussion about whether or not some fans deliberately pushed those in front and therefore made a contribution to the crush and (ergo) the deaths reminds me of a match down at Chelsea way back in the late 1960’s which my mum took me to. We were entering the ground into the paddock seats at the front of the recently built West Stand and although there was not a large number of people, a crush built up as people moved very slowly but almost automatically towards the front. It was one of those situations, where even sub consciously, you feel someone touching or almost touching you from the people behind and your reaction is to create some space which you do by shuffling forwards, just a bit. Of course, what this does is to create inadvertent pressure of the same kind on the person in front of you and they, therefore, do the same shuffling action towards the person in front of them. Unless the people getting into the ground through the turnstiles ahead isn’t fast enough (or controlled by someone – stewards / police), a crush begins to happen right at the front. But the people behind and especially at the back just joining the crowd have no idea what is happening at the front. Thankfully, in the case of my mum and me, we got in, although my mum’s coat had lost 2 buttons ripped off in the crush. It was one of those situations which you quickly forgot about but in hindsight and with the knowledge we now have about situations like the one that occurred at the Leppings Lane end, was one which could easily have had more dire consequences. For me, it has always been a reminder of how group dynamics of crowds can evolve / work and how with no-one in charge (as at Chelsea and also, it appears at Hillsborough), the crowd creates an end result which no one individual has either planned nor caused. There is some involvement through the shuffling process I have described above but can we really call that a component of responsibility? It’s involvement, no doubt but when you get into responsibility and accountability, I think that some awareness of the impacts of your actions need to be involved. At Hillsborough, were some or any fans deliberately pushing those in front and in the knowledge of the possible implications of that action? I doubt it and if so, where is any proof of that? Those who insist on stating that Liverpool fans MUST accept some of the responsibility for the deaths of their own fans are, I think, trapped themselves, in some form of line of argument based on either a view that some of the behaviours of fans in prior games (Heysel?) can be or must be transferred forward and superimposed upon the situation at Hillsborough or believe that in any set of circumstances, because a group of people are involved, that therefore, they are responsible by dint of that involvement. If this is to be the case, are we really expecting Trevor Hicks to state and accept a line of argument that might say that one of his daughters (say Victoria) was in part responsible for the death of his other daughter, Sarah, because they were both there? For me, it’s a preposterous argument. I believe we have to look at the big picture and define the significant responsibilities and accountabilities and the various recent inquiries reporting n 2012 and now 2016 have done that. PS Martin, this is an excellent blog and an important one too. Keep up the great work.

  10. Lee Taylor Says:

    I have a question about Hillsborough that I cannot find the answer to in any of the reports. I am sure there is a simple answer however, and I missing it. We know that the Leppings Lane terrace had a capacity of 10100. And 2900 of this was the North West quadrant. We have also seen stated that 7 turnstiles served these areas, and the turnstiles are clearly pictured on the right of the turnstiles that served the North and West stands. What confuses me, is if as we are told that fans entered through the turnstiles and logically headed for the tunnel, why did so many find their way to the North West quadrant, but few found their way to pen5? In theory pen5 was nearer to the turnstiles than the north west quadrant? From the videos of the day, the north west quadrant seems relatively full, easily more full then pen5, and seemingly more full then pens 1/2. Can anybody help me here?

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      My understanding is that there was a staircase leading up to the top of the corner pen, and people tended to have a better view of the pitch from there, so where possible, they avoided filtering down to the side-pens.

      Steve Wilson of BBC Sport, who was a Liverpool fan in the corner pen on the day of the disaster, re-traced his steps for an installment of Football Focus for the 20th anniversary in 2009.

      You can study what he remembers at the above link (although it is divided up among other bits of footage and interviews, and across the first two parts). I’m not sure it exactly answers your question, but it should give a few hints.

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