Hillsborough: The Toppling Gate
April 6, 2013
by Martin Odoni
It’s a conversation every student of the Hillsborough Disaster has with a South Yorkshire Police apologist sooner or later. Yes, you’ll debunk the ‘ticketless masses’ crock, the ‘drunken mob’ myth, the ‘pushing and shoving’ fallacy (which invariably boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding of how crowd movements work in a confined space), and the ‘lateness’ lie. But your job will not be done until you have also addressed another claim they will resort to, one that displays a breath-taking ignorance of physical facts. Even when you’ve convinced the apologist that all evidence points to there being hardly any ticketless fans, minimal drunken behaviour, no pushing and shoving outwith the normal involuntary reflex to being in the middle of an overcrowded space, and that the Disaster’s genesis began nearly half an hour before kick-off, the apologist will still have to try and force mob behaviour into the equation somehow. At this stage, the retreat point will almost certainly be, “Well, the fans still shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get in, should they? They shouldn’t have tried to force the gate! They were charging it so much it was about to fall over!” etc.
Now, leaving aside the fact that suddenly accusing the fans of “being in too much of a hurry to get in” rather contradicts the lateness accusation of “arriving at the last minute”, let us analyse the question of whether fans really did try to force the gate, and more importantly, whether the gate really was wobbling under the weight of a ‘mob’ and about to topple to the ground.
Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, even as the Disaster was unfolding, infamously lied to the Chief Secretary of the FA, Graham Kelly, that fans had “forced an exit gate”. In the hours that followed, it was discovered that none of the exit gates showed any signs whatsoever of having been forced – that they were in fact completely undamaged. Duckenfield later admitted that he had made it up in order to avoid an awkward argument in the middle of a major emergency.
However, in the weeks that followed, the South Yorkshire Police did start to put about the idea that the gate was opened because they were afraid that the fans outside the stadium were so out of control that they were about to charge the gate down, that it hadn’t been forced yet, but that it was weakening under the weight of fans charging it. This idea does appear to have taken a very firm root in the public consciousness.
Here’s the problem that a lot of people seem to be unaware of. When they hear the word ‘gate’, they seem to imagine a garden gate or a country fence – a rickety wooden door on rusty hinges, say. The difficulty with this notion can be seen in this picture; –
Now this is actually Gate B rather than Gate C – I couldn’t find a clear image of Gate C from front-on – but all the exit gates at Hillsborough at the time followed the same basic design, and Gate B was the one that took the ‘brunt’ of the crowd pressure anyway. As you can see, the exit gates were made of far, far sterner stuff than rotting wood. They conformed to a heavy iron concertina design, protected by metallic frontal slats. Furthermore, if you look at the top of the gate, you can see that it was firmly railed-in by a solid steel frame connected into the wall itself.
The only way that this gate could be on the brink of ‘toppling over’ is if the wall as a whole was on the brink of collapsing too. But there was no trace of damage to that part of the wall at all. (Sheffield Wednesday later tried to claim compensation from the Football Association for some brick damage, but it was to a different part of the wall.) Even if the fans were charging the gate – which no witness who was actually in Leppings Lane at the time ever claimed to see – it would have been an utterly futile gesture. They would have done themselves far more damage than would be done to the gate. It would have needed a direct head-on collision by a speeding lorry to be sure of bringing down any of the Hillsborough exit gates.
There is not the slightest possibility that any exit gate at the Hillsborough stadium was on the brink of toppling over.
So this part of the Hillsborough myth is a complete non-starter, conclusively disproven by even the briefest perusal of the facts.
More about the Hillsborough Disaster; –