With the growth in popularity of the game in this country comes the higher knowledge of history, both good and bad, that surrounds the game we love.
Twenty-five years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, England, claiming the lives of 96 Liverpool FC supporters who attended the ground to see their club’s FA Cup semifinal clash with Nottingham Forest.
As has become standard worldwide, supporters of the two clubs were separated to prevent any incident, with Liverpool supporters being given the Leppings Lane Stand at the west side of the ground.
Access to the stand was only possible through a few ill-repaired turnstiles and led to serious overcrowding outside of the stadium prior to kickoff of the match. Looking to ease pressure on the entry way, officials ordered an exit gate to be opened, the path through which led to a standing section that was already overcrowded.
Crushing ensued as too many fans were located in the terraces and were pinned up against a barrier meant to keep fans off the pitch. The game actually didn’t even halt until the sixth minute when fans trying to escape the crush walked on to the field along with police who ordered the match to be postponed.
About an hour north of Sheffield, a 25-year-old Frank Yallop came on as a substitute in Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Bradford City. Having led 2-1 at halftime, the result was a disappointing one for the Tractor Boys who dropped points to a Bradford City club below them in the Second Division table.
With the game kicking off at the same time as the cup semifinal though, Yallop and his teammates didn’t find out about the tragedy until after they’d come off the field at Valley Parade.
“It was terrible,” Yallop recalled to Chicago-Fire.com. “I just remember the images and panic on everyone’s faces. Seeing it on the news, it was really devastating to watch -- all they showed on TV was carrying people on the advertising boards to get care from the paramedics.”
Perhaps the news hit a bit closer to home for those that had just completed the match at Bradford City’s ground as four years earlier, it was the site of a fire that engulfed one entire stand during the final match of the 1984/85 season. That tragedy took the lives of 56, saw over 200 injured and was started by one lit cigarette discarded underneath the all-wooden stand.
The Bradford City fired occurred just weeks before another stadium crush in a match involving Liverpool occurred at the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. On that day, 39 people, most of which were supporters of Italian side Juventus, lost their lives and resulted in English clubs being banned from European competition indefinitely.
Perhaps in part because of the Heysel incident, many pointed the blame for the crush at Hillsborough on Liverpool supporters. Claims of drunkenness and fans without tickets trying to gain entry into the ground were bothgiven as contributing factors for the incident. In the end, the Taylor Report (published in 1990) found the main factor to Hillsborough to be failure of police control.
More recent inquiries from the Hillsborough Independent Panel exonerated Liverpool supporters of wrong doing in the incident, placing the blame squarely on public safety officials.
“It was sad because people had gotten to the game early to see a semifinal,” Yallop said. “From mistakes made by the police, 96 people lose their lives. It’s a tragic accident.”
The Taylor Report’s main recommendation saw stadiums in the UK made to be all-seater in order to make crowd control easier and safer, which greatly reduced the capacity of many stadiums in the country.
Twenty-five years on from Hillsborough, tributes from clubs and supporters around the world have poured in and tonight ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series tackles the events at Hillsborough (7pm CT on ESPN). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann spoke to Director Daniel Gordon about the film on Monday: