Hillsborough: The Institutional Guilt Lies Not Only With The Police.

October 29, 2013

by Martin Odoni

As I write, the weekend just past saw the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Football Association in England, the first ever formal body for the sport in the world. The FA was the original creator of the rules of the game itself, and this is why soccer’s official name is Association Football. For all its right to claim to be The Original though, the FA, in its long history, has developed something of a reputation for being a little too bureaucratic, for being complacent, for being ineffectual, and for making the worst decisions possible in any given situation. This reputation is frankly deserved, what with the Association’s noticeable tendency, no matter who is running it, to ignore problems and to try and brush issues under the carpet. Fans of football in England are generally aware of this, and usually treat the sport’s national governing body with eye-rolling skepticism. Individual examples of FA lethargy, feeble-gesturism, procedural paralysis, and bone-headedness are usually forgotten soon enough, but the pattern never quite seems to go away.

One particular instance of lethargy and complacency remains furiously unforgotten however, and supporters of Liverpool Football Club made sure over the weekend that the FA will not be allowed to forget it either. Home fans at Anfield Road, during the game against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, held up a banner that read, very coldly, “F.A. – GUILTY AS CHARGED 15.4.1989”.

Now in dozens of other places on this blog, I have explained in some detail the story of the Hillsborough Disaster and subsequent cover-up of its real causes by the British legal establishment, and my overwhelming conclusion that the blame lies chiefly, and comprehensively, with the police force whose responsibility it was to manage the crowd that day – the ignobly corrupt and incompetent South Yorkshire Police. But ‘chiefly’ does not mean ‘exclusively’, in fact it in a sense means the opposite. And sure enough, the responsibility for what happened at Hillsborough does not lie just with the South Yorkshire Police.

The police handling of the crowd, as I say, was excruciatingly poor, right from the vacuous selection of the match commander for the operation – Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield had almost no experience policing any football matches in over ten years, let alone of policing occasions as major as an FA Cup semi-final – to the inadequate allocation of police officers outside the stadium, to the failure to regulate the inflow of spectators into the ground, or to monitor the build-up of numbers in enclosures.

But, while history showed that the stadium could be policed effectively enough to prevent outright calamity, there was nonetheless plenty of indication from that same history that it was an unsafe venue, and ill-suited to stage one of the sporting calendar’s annual showpiece occasions. And yet, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, the owners of the stadium, always maintained with great pride that it was one of the finest stadia in the country, even while fully aware of its inadequacies, while the FA, it seems, just started taking their word for it when it really mattered.

The real history of Hillsborough as a semi-final venue through the 1980’s was littered with worrisome incidents, and despite what some geo-loyal Sheffield Wednesday fans may tell you to the contrary*,  the truth is that not one of the four semi-finals held there during that decade after 1980 passed off without major – and I mean major – safety issues coming to light, especially at the west end of the stadium. And in each case, either Sheffield Wednesday or the Football Association – sometimes both – responded in completely the wrong way. If they responded at all.

The first major problem to occur was at the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur (‘Spurs’) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (‘Wolves’). Poor organisation outside the ground before the kick-off caused a backlog of Spurs fans who were trying to get in at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. Part of the problem with the organisation was that a substantial number of Tottenham fans had purchased tickets for the Spion Kop end – the east end of the stadium – which had been allocated to the Wolves fans. The police redirected these fans with the ‘wrong tickets’ to the west end of the stadium, the Leppings Lane end. Unfortunately, the ticket allocation for the Leppings Lane end had sold out, and so these extras from the Kop end created a substantial overflow of numbers. Also, poor general guidance of the crowd led to a severe slowdown of people passing through the turnstiles. The turnstiles were very few in number at that end, exacerbating the bottleneck, and it meant that by the time the match kicked off, there were still hundreds waiting to get in. (Please note, if you find this description unsettlingly similar to aspects of the Disaster eight years later, well, that is because there were a lot of parallels. That is kind of the point.)

The problem would not have been a major issue were it not for the fact that Tottenham scored a goal just three minutes after kick off. The deafening roar of the crowd around the west half of the stadium was impossible for those outside not to hear, and perfectly understandably, many of the Spurs fans still entering picked up their pace in their excited desire to find out what was going on in the game. Many of them rushed down the central tunnel under the West Stand, which offered the main entrance to the standing area, and poured onto a terrace that was already full of excited movement from celebrating fans. In the confusion and the tightly-packed space, fans started colliding with each other, and a column of people lurched forward down the concrete steps of the terrace, involuntarily barging those right at the front into the perimeter fence that prevented the crowd from invading the field of play. With so little room, those who were getting pinned to the fence were finding it impossible to retreat from it, and any attempt to do so simply caused those behind them involuntarily to spring back into them, increasing the pressure.

Police officers on the greyhound track between the perimeter fence and the pitch noticed the growing distress that many of the Spurs fans were in, and moved to assist. The fence had several narrow gates in it at intervals along its length. They were in fact meant principally to allow police officers to enter the terrace and remove any troublemakers they observed in the crowd, more than as an exit route onto the pitch for fans in difficulties, but for want of a better option, the police quickly opened the gates and dozens of bedraggled spectators fell out onto the edge of the pitch.

With the Leppings Lane terrace clearly overcrowded, and without sufficient space anywhere else on the terraces or in the stands, the police instructed the fans to sit on the greyhound track and watch the rest of the game from there. So severe had the crush been however, that some thirty-eight Spurs fans were taken to hospital with crush injuries, including a number of broken bones.

At least in hindsight, and probably in general, it is clear to us that, on that occasion, the South Yorkshire Police performed commendably, and undoubtedly saved lives. But what happened subsequently in response to the incident from the three organisations under examination here tells a tale of a poor sense of priority, stubbornness, and back-to-front miscalculations.

Firstly, let us get the good news out of the way – this is perhaps the one thing that the FA got right on the subject of the Hillsborough Stadium throughout the 1980’s. They immediately ruled that the Leppings Lane terrace was not adequately safe, and that the stadium would not be used as a semi-final venue again until Sheffield Wednesday Football Club had modified it to prevent any repetition. In the event, the ban would last six years – we know now that it should have been a lot longer, but best not to get ahead of ourselves.

Far less commendable were the confused, quarrelsome and defensive responses of the club itself, and of the South Yorkshire Police, especially when discussing the matter with each other. The police, reasonably enough, asserted that they had done the right thing in allowing fans out of the terrace, and that they had probably saved lives in doing so. Documents published last year by the Hillsborough Independent Panel reveal the stunningly blasé attitude that Bert McGee, the Sheffield Wednesday chairman, had to this. “Bollocks!” he sneered. “No one would have been killed!” The only concern he expressed was that the action of opening the gate in the perimeter fence had been “unnecessary” and that allowing the Spurs fans to sit on the perimeter of the pitch had “made the ground look untidy”. (See section 2.1.13 of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.)

Officials at Sheffield Wednesday, in short, were not prepared to accept any suggestion that the emergency had constituted a serious issue, nor that it was anything to do with them or the condition of their stadium. In keeping with the general mentality of football clubs across the UK at the time**, they were perfectly willing to try and deal with the problems the incident had exposed by simply ignoring them. And had the FA not banned the stadium from hosting more semi-finals until further notice, they might well have done just that. But FA Cup semi-finals had been a valuable source of income to Sheffield Wednesday on and off going back many years, and so, knowing that changes would have to be made if the club were to resume tapping that source, they at least started listening.

For their own part, the South Yorkshire Police pressed for changes to be made to the Leppings Lane end, and here is where their own position becomes somewhat confused. Having established that they had saved the lives of people who were being pinned against the perimeter fence, one of the ideas the police mooted was to install… more fences. More specifically, they wanted Sheffield Wednesday to install two radial fences, running at ninety degree angles from the perimeter fence to the back wall of the terrace. This would divide the terrace up into three enclosures (‘pens’), which, the police hoped, would make it easier to control the crowd and regulate fan behaviour.

It is not easy to work out exactly where this idea came from, or how it was supposed to help matters, because fan-behaviour had not been an issue as such during the emergency. The Spurs fans getting hold of tickets for the wrong end may potentially raise questions about how honestly they were conducting themselves beforehand, and running onto the terrace in response to an early goal was somewhat reckless, but the real issue had been that spectators had been crushed against fences, and there had been no immediate escape route from the overcrowding without the police taking unusual measures. Adding fences to the terrace therefore sounds like a bizarre method of preventing a repetition.

Even more bizarre was that Sheffield Wednesday seemed no more to notice the very obvious paradox in the idea than the police did. They agreed with the suggestion and installed the two radial fences as requested, work that would be completed early in the following football season. Doing this would of course require other changes as a consequence. In fact, one such change had been specifically recommended by the police, one they felt needed doing irrespective of whether the new fences were included. And yet, incredibly, the club did not carry it out. This task was to re-assess the capacity of the Leppings Lane terrace, which had been set officially at ten thousand one hundred. On reviewing the emergency, the police had concluded that, even without the transfer of fans who had obtained tickets for the wrong end of the stadium, the terrace capacity had clearly been overestimated, and that overcrowding would still have ensued. The club officials made no attempt to re-assess the terrace’s capacity before the new fences were installed – which was fair enough given that once the fences were in place whatever figure was arrived at would become obsolete straight away – but disturbingly, they also made no attempt to re-assess it after the fences were fitted either. So, when the installation work was completed in the November of the 1981-82 football season, Hillsborough’s substantially-modified Leppings Lane terrace was opened to the public with its capacity still officially set at ten thousand one hundred. If that was too high a capacity when it was a continuous terrace, what would that mean for a terrace that had more space used up and more pressure points applied by extra fencing? Furthermore, the terrace had three entrances; the central tunnel going under the West Stand, and two wing entrances going around the sides of the Stand, allowing spectators options for evacuating in the event of an emergency. Now that the new fences divided the terrace up, the only way out of the pen a spectator was standing in would be the entrance he/she had entered through. This could present a problem if fans were attempting to evacuate through an exit where other fans were arriving the other way.

More worrying still was the matter of the ground’s safety certificate. Safety certificates were introduced for all British stadia with a capacity above ten thousand as part of the Safety Of Sports Grounds Act of 1975, which had in turn been introduced in somewhat leaden-footed response to the Ibrox Disaster of 1971. The certificate was supposed to be issued by local Government authorities on inspection of a stadium that was deemed to meet adequate safety standards. The certificate would include, among others, full details of the stadium’s overall capacity, the capacity of individual stands, terraces and enclosures, emergency exit routes and evacuation procedures, approximate evacuation times from each area of the stadium when full, and the positions of fences and crush barriers. Now it is alarming enough to realise that Hillsborough was not issued a safety certificate for fully four years after the Act was passed – in two of those years, the stadium was actually used for FA Cup semi-finals – which means that the safety standards were not properly assessed until long after-the-fact.  But even more disturbingly, with the changes made to the Leppings Lane end in 1981, the certificate issued in 1979 no longer reflected the physical reality of what it was there to certify. For instance, it stated that the terrace had a capacity of ten thousand one hundred, but could offer no insights into how many should be allocated to each of the three pens, because at the time of issue, those pens did not exist.

The certificate was, in short, out-of-date, and the safety standards needed re-assessing to reflect the changes that had been made, with the certificate being amended accordingly. But after three years and more, no formal re-assessment had been made by any relevant authority, and so no amendment to the certificate had been made. So the certificate was still articulating safety procedures and information for a ground lay-out that was no longer there.

By 1985, Sheffield Wednesday, almost a perennial second-tier side, had been promoted to the then-First Division of the Football League and was drawing bigger crowds on a more frequent basis, especially larger numbers of visiting fans, and this was deemed likely to lead to disorder between rival supporters. Therefore, to increase the strength of segregation, over the next several years more changes were made to the west end of the stadium, which was traditionally used as the ‘visiting fans end’ of the ground during Sheffield Wednesday’s home games. Firstly, between the turnstiles and the stands, extra walls were put up to divide off the access routes, and help keep rival supporters apart. This had the unfortunate effect, not recognised at the time, of increasing confusion and obstacles for fans trying to find their honest way around the stadium. Most tellingly, the entrances to the side-pens of the Leppings Lane terrace were increasingly obscured from view. No corresponding improvements were implemented to the way the outer confines of the stadium were signposted. Secondly, on the terrace itself, the club installed two more radial fences at the request of the police. One was installed right in the middle of the central pen, just a few yards from the mouth of the tunnel, dividing the enclosure into two. The second was installed on the edge of the leftmost central pen (facing the field-of-play), and was just a couple of yards from the fence that had been installed in 1981. This created what was referred to as ‘Pen 5’, although in reality it was just a narrow ‘buffer-zone’ designed to remain empty at all times; this was to allow Sheffield Wednesday to use parts of the Leppings Lane terrace for home spectators to stand on during league matches with a small visiting attendance, while maintaining a wider barrier to keep rival fans apart. The two side-pens were left more or less unchanged, although they were now designated double-numbers, suggesting there may have been plans for the near future to partition them as well; the rightmost side-pen was now tagged as ‘Pens 1 & 2’, even though it was only one enclosure, and similarly, the leftmost side-pen was now tagged as ‘Pens 6 & 7’. The freshly-divided central pens were known as ‘Pens 3 & 4’.

During this time, crush barriers, designed to prevent fans at the front of the standing area from having to absorb the full weight of all the people behind them during crowd-surges, were often being added to and removed from different parts of the terrace, sometimes because they were deemed to be an obstacle to people trying to enter or leave an enclosure, at other times because the police were worried that hooligans might get up onto barriers and use them to climb over the fences. (No firm reason was ever given, as far as the documentation goes, as to why this was considered a particularly likely danger.)

So the Leppings Lane terrace was changing constantly through the 1980’s, and while it would be an exaggeration to say it had changed out of all recognition, it was nevertheless substantially different from what it had been in 1979. And yet, shockingly, the documentation for administering and maintaining the terrace, even now, remained unchanged. By 1987, the safety certificate had still not been renewed, and even more outrageously, the capacity of the terrace had still not been recalculated. Ten thousand one hundred had been an overestimate at the outset in 1981, and yet now, even with the terrace divided up into four pens, and an empty buffer-zone wide enough to accommodate probably over a hundred spectators, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club had still not bothered to revise the capacity downwards.

Sheffield Wednesday nevertheless appealed to the Football Association that with all the amendments made to the stadium – the Kop end had also been enlarged and a roof had been added to it – all that could be done to prevent another crisis had been done, and that Hillsborough should therefore be reinstated as an FA Cup semi-final venue. The FA looked, and seemed to agree that the stadium was indeed much changed and that that must mean that it was now safe. There appears to have been no particular attempt on the part of the FA to assess any of the implications of the changes made, or to establish whether they genuinely did make the stadium safer than it had been in 1981. Nor was there any check made to make sure that the stadium now conformed adequately to safety standards set out in the 1976 Green Guide, or even whether the stadium had been properly inspected or certified by the appropriate authorities subsequent to the changes made. It is a matter of serious doubt as to whether anybody at the FA was even aware that the ground’s safety certificate was now eight years, and over a dozen piecemeal changes, out-of-date. And the reason nobody was aware was that nobody at the FA had thought to check, which seems scandalously complacent, given the reasons why the stadium had been banned from hosting semi-finals in the first place.

It was in this spirit of casual ignorance therefore that the Football Association restored Hillsborough as a venue for the FA Cup semi-final, and awarded it the 1987 fixture between Leeds United and Coventry City. What happened that day, 12th April 1987, should have been all the warning the FA needed that this decision was a big mistake.

One of the problems in the 1981 semi-final had been that a bottleneck had formed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles as Spurs fans had tried to enter, causing them to get in only after the game had kicked off. There had been only twenty-three turnstiles at that end of the ground, and for all the other changes made during the intervening years, nothing whatever had been done about that shortage. Indeed, the turnstiles at the west end of the stadium were not even being properly maintained, and were by 1987 becoming rusty and dilapidated. Leeds United fans were now allocated that end of the ground, and during the final half-hour before the game kicked off, there was abject chaos as they tried to get in. The turnstiles were moving much more slowly than the rate at which the Leeds fans were arriving, and there was so little guidance given to them by stewards or the police that there was great confusion and hysteria as people tried in vain to find the correct banks of turnstiles to try and enter through.

The kick-off of the match had to be delayed by fifteen minutes to give the Leeds United fans sufficient time to get in. In other words, it had only been by taking exceptional measures – once again – that there had been no carbon-copy repetition of what had happened to the Spurs fans in 1981. The fundamental problem that had caused fans to be delayed getting into the stadium had not been addressed at all, let alone gone away, and this was made abundantly obvious by the simple fact of the kick-off having to be delayed. For that reason alone, the FA should immediately have re-imposed the ban on Hillsborough hosting the FA Cup semi-final. Worse though, many of the Leeds fans found once they were on the terrace that they were repeatedly getting crushed, that they sporadically lost all control over the movements of their own limbs in the density of the crowd, and that they were frequently unable to breathe, so tightly were they packed into the enclosures. Several fans even had to be hoisted up into the upper tier of the West Stand by their fellow supporters above in order to escape injury – all phenomena that of course would be seen again on a bigger scale two years later.

The problems of 1981 had not been solved one jot. If anything, they had become even worse, for the modifications to the Leppings Lane terrace had reduced the real amount of space there, and without any attempt to revise the capacity downwards, the pressure of numbers was immense, even when there were no ticketless fans. But the FA paid these warning signs no heed at all, and a year later, Hillsborough was chosen again for the 1988 semi-final. This one was between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Sheffield was more or less between the two cities (sort of) – although rather nearer to Nottingham – and so it was seen as an ideal location to use as a neutral venue. Many Liverpool fans were annoyed about it, feeling that Manchester United’s home stadium of Old Trafford would be a better choice. It was also roughly between the two cities, but it also had more major roads connecting to both of them directly, and a larger capacity. Getting to Hillsborough, by contrast, was far easier for Forest fans than people from Liverpool, as the big city of Manchester was almost directly between Merseyside and Sheffield, creating quite a serious obstacle.

The South Yorkshire Police had learned a few lessons from the previous year’s near-debacle, and had introduced a new system of filtering fans into queues a long way up the road on the approach to the stadium. Without completely alleviating the problems presented by the shortage of turnstiles, the chaos of the previous year was avoided and this time the semi-final kicked off on schedule and passed without major incident, to the pleasure of the FA who felt that this time the semi-final had been such a success that it confirmed the decision to restore Hillsborough’s status. Sheffield Wednesday sat pretty in self-congratulation at its ‘splendid’ work over the previous seven years. (In reality, the ‘success’ of the semi-final was more to do with it proving to be one of the most exciting games of the season, between two of the most entertaining sides in the country, than with it being stage-managed particularly well.)

Yes, it passed without major incident, but “without major incident” is not meant to imply that it passed without any incident at all. On the contrary, in the days after the game, the Football Association received over a hundred letters, not of congratulation for how well it had all gone, but of complaint from Liverpool supporters who had stood on the Leppings Lane terrace. The letters had almost identical echoes of the previous year’s misadventures of the Leeds United supporters. Liverpool fans warned the FA that standing on the Leppings Lane terrace was the most dangerous and uncomfortable experience they had ever had watching a game. Many of them had experienced all the familiar symptoms of overcrowding and minor crushing, and in the central pens it had been particularly bad. The message was plain for anyone to see – the terrace was unsafe. Its capacity was clearly smaller than its ticket allocation, and its layout and facilities were inadequate to support a crowd for one of the country’s showpiece sporting occasions. The gradient of the tunnel leading into the central pens was too steep, the gradient of the terrace itself was too flat, the crush barriers were set too low into the concrete, and both ingress and egress were too slow and complicated.

Not one of the letters was replied to, or even acknowledged. The FA, apparently still unaware even that the safety certificate of the stadium was by now nine years out-of-date, simply ignored all negative correspondence. It was perhaps inevitable therefore that, when Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were drawn together again for the semi-final of 1989, the FA complacently decided to try for an exact rerun, allocating the fixture to Hillsborough once again.

And yet, on the 15th of April 1989, there was no rerun. For this time, all the warning signs from previous years finally delivered on their lingering threat. Just six minutes after kick-off, the referee had to withdraw the two teams from the field of play as large numbers of desperate supporters spilled out of the brutally overcrowded central pens, and a frenzied, chaotic rescue attempt followed as police and supporters alike struggled to free and save helpless spectators who had been unable to escape the immense crush of bodies behind the perimeter fence.

Nearly a hundred people died on the Leppings Lane terrace.

Some were crushed against the perimeter fence. Others were crushed by the sheer enormous numbers packed in around them. Some died when a crush barrier collapsed under the weight of excess numbers – that crush barrier had become vulnerable due to the prior removal of other barriers from the same pen that had formerly taken some of the weight now imposed on it.

Now to be accurate, this overcrowding was not really a result of the overestimation of the terrace capacity***, but through poor guidance of the crowd by the police, who ended up shepherding far too many supporters into the central pens, and too few into the side-pens. This is why prime culpability lies with the South Yorkshire Police. But even so, it is clear that the stadium was still inherently dangerous, even when the spectators had been distributed evenly across the different enclosures. People were still suffering crush-injuries at every semi-final held there, and the changes that were made to the stadium by the club were amplifying the dangers instead of easing them. There was real danger of people experiencing serious, even life-threatening injuries on that terrace, even when policing and stewarding were of a good standard. The confusing lay-out of the outer confines of the ground, the insufficient number and quality of the turnstiles, the inadequate crush barriers and evacuation routes that failed to meet the standards recommended in the Green Guide, were all brought to public attention in the investigations that followed. But in truth, all the warning signs had been there at every one of the three previous semi-finals that Hillsborough was not a safe venue, that the FA had no business using it, and that Sheffield Wednesday had no business playing major fixtures there until it had correctly addressed all these inadequacies. Sure, they had made changes to the danger area, but these changes were never properly calculated with the dangers in mind. They were instead the result of the fallacious old equation of “Something must be done; this is something, therefore we must do it.” As a result, they were implemented without properly identifying whether they would resolve what was going wrong, whether they would be ineffective, or whether they might even make things worse. It is of course quite obvious, and not just in hindsight, that they would make things worse – if the problem in question is innocent spectators getting badly crushed against fences, how exactly is installing numerous extra fences supposed to stop it happening again?

But as much as the club is to blame for the facilities, the FA must take a large chunk of the blame too for using those facilities without really checking whether they were appropriate for the job. Given how close the Spurs fans came to catastrophe in 1981, and the very correct decision the FA made to ban Hillsborough from hosting semi-finals until the failings in the stadium were rectified, it seems astounding that the Association could then lift the ban so casually, and not make sure that what had gone wrong six years earlier had been corrected by the changes first.

There has been a long-standing sentiment among Hillsborough campaigners that, of all the agencies involved in the Hillsborough Disaster, the FA got off particularly lightly. Other agencies such as the police and the club have evaded actual repercussions for their failures – so far – but at least there was substantial condemnation  of them. The FA, it is often felt, have avoided even that.

As the Liverpool fans made clear at the weekend though, there is still time to remedy that, and they are rightly determined to see it happen.


* Many Sheffield Wednesday fans seem oddly convinced that their club was poorly-treated in the aftermath of the Disaster, in that the stadium was not used again for an FA Cup semi-final for a grand total of… er, three years – this ‘cruel punishment’ might be considered small potatoes when set against the fact that the club has still not been prosecuted in a court of law after nearly a quarter-of-a-century, but hey, why bring logic into the discussion when people have a persecution-complex to spur them on?

** The only major exception to this culture was Glasgow Rangers, who ten years earlier had lost sixty-six supporters in the second Ibrox Disaster. The Disaster was caused when, after the end of the annual ‘Old Firm Match’ against arch-rivals Celtic in the New Year of 1971, hundreds of fans fell down an unsafe staircase – known as ‘Stairway 13’ – as they were leaving the stadium. While Rangers Football Club should be applauded for its urgency on safety matters subsequent to the Disaster, beforehand it had exactly the same casual attitude to spectator safety as the rest of the UK; this tragedy had itself had many warning signs in the ten years previously, with numerous incidents of people falling down the stairs. Two people were killed and seventy were injured on Stairway 13 in September 1961. Eleven more were taken to hospital after another mishap on the staircase in September 1967, and there were nearly thirty more injuries there in January 1969. But Rangers Football Club, in each case, did little or nothing to modify or improve the staircase, and seemed to rely expressly on hope that it just would not happen again. The Disaster itself was required, it seemed, to jolt the club out of its denial. Even though the rest of the country continued just to ignore safety concerns, the club’s new Managing Director, Willie Waddell, on taking over in 1972, embarked on a very lengthy project to rebuild the Ibrox Stadium from the ground up. The fully-modernised all-seater stadium that Ibrox was converted to through the 1970’s and 1980’s became the template for modern British stadia as required by Lord Justice Taylor’s Final Report into the Hillsborough Disaster, published in 1990.

*** On the other hand, aspects such as the confusing layout of the Leppings Lane end, the abysmal signposting, the insufficient turnstiles and crush barriers, and the undersized gates in the perimeter fence undoubtedly were serious factors in the Disaster.


More on Hillsborough:-

The Myths

The Air Of Shock Should Itself Be Shocking

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

Is Thatcher Guilty? If So, What Of?

Digging The Dirt

The Toppling Gate

Discursive Types

In Its Correct Historical Context

Pushing & Shoving? What Pushing & Shoving?

After A Year The Sun’s Apology Is Still Not Accepted – And Nor Should It Be

The Crush Barrier – A Smoking Gun?

The Name That Became A Moment

Hillsborough, Heysel, Valley Parade and Ibrox: Why Are Stadium Disasters Always Prone To Urban Mythology?

7 Responses to “Hillsborough: The Institutional Guilt Lies Not Only With The Police.”

  1. Bridget Says:

    What a brilliant and concise post. I have long had an interest in this disaster, partly because a friend of mine was amongst the Liverpool supporters in the stadium. I wrote about it last December on my blog and will now add a link to this piece of yours. Thankyou so much.

    • hstorm Says:

      Thank you too, Bridget. I’ve written several dozen other essays about the Disaster on this blog, in case you’re interested, including one I’ve written this very day. Just search the appropriate index at the top of the page.

  2. […] Follow this link to an excellent new article on The Critique Archives http://wp.me/p1mmS-mf […]

  3. Lee Hicklin Says:

    Why should Sheffield Wednesday FC be punished?

    It is an organisation, not a person – it has no will.

    Sure, go after the individuals at fault that day, but what does prosecuting SWFC, the FA and SYP achieve?

    All it does is punish people who had nothing to do with what happened that day.

    • hstorm Says:

      If you study the article closely, you may notice I didn’t assert as such that SWFC should be prosecuted as an organisation. Where possible, the culpable individuals who are still alive must be brought to account, first and foremost.

      Having said that, you have to understand that a change of management/ownership of any organisation has a carry-over of responsibilities. The people running the club today have inherited the benefits, wealth and powers of the club hierarchy, but they also have to accept institutional responsibility for the past failures of the club too. That is implicit in any transfer of authority.

      Wednesday’s failures in the running of the stadium were extreme, and the complacency within the club was at a structural level. (Read some of the minutes of club meetings during the period, released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.) The club has to give some kind of account as an organisation, so as to make sure that none of the organisational deficiencies that allowed the Disaster are still there.

      Look at it this way; –

      Imagine you have £5,000 in your bank account. Then, say your bank commits a clerical error and incorrectly cancels down all your savings, reducing your account zero. The next day, the manager retires on a healthy pension. You raise the issue with his successor, and he refuses to give you your money back, saying, “It’s nothing to do with me, the bank was run by someone else when it happened. I’m not going to take the blame for his mistakes!”

      You wouldn’t be satisfied with that, would you?

  4. Hi, I find your blog very interesting. I am currently writing a dissertation on Hillsborough, my findings suggest people from outside of Sheffield associate the word ‘Hillsborough’ with ‘tragedy’ and ‘sadness’ however, Sheffield residents think of ‘Football stadium’, and Sheffield Wednesday.

    I just wondered if you have any thoughts on this finding?
    Do you think Sheffield Wednesday have managed to change the reputation in Sheffield but it has not reached the rest of the UK.

    Many thanks in advance!

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      That’s a tricky one.

      On how the name is perceived within Sheffield today, I’d have to spend more time there to get a solid view on it. What I can say is that a study performed by Rogan Taylor with the University of Liverpool in the late-1990’s found that the closer people lived to Sheffield, the likelier it was that they blamed Liverpool fans for the Disaster. Whether that is because of geographical loyalty or being misled by local media reports of the Disaster (which were extremely biased in favour of the South Yorkshire Police), I can’t say for sure. But it would seem in that light that it would be easier to ‘rehabilitate’ the name of Hillsborough within Sheffield than elsewhere.

      As for the impressions I have from being in other places, well, I live in Greater Manchester, so inevitably there are very unpleasant and foolish tribal issues with some locals who don’t see what happened as a tragedy at all. I’m not sure what word they would associate with Hillsborough though. I do spend a fair bit of time in Liverpool too, and the impression I get is that the name will always bring out an adverse reaction among people there. I mean, literally it could go on for generations.

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