Skip to content

How Hillsborough disaster altered English soccer

Apr 11, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

Since April 15, 1989, English soccer has never been the same.

On that day at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, 96 Liverpool fans died, crushed by a mass of people. This weekend marks the 25 anniversary of the worst sporting disaster the British Isles has seen, as every professional and semi-professional game in England will kick off at seven minutes past the allotted start time, as the game at Hillsborough was stopped after six minutes on that fateful day. Teams will then remember those who perished with a minute’s silence.

(MORE: English soccer to mark 25th anniversary of Hillsborough disaster, all games to kick off seven minutes late)

Many questions still surround what happened at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium. But in 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Report revealed a cover-up by the British government and South Yorkshire police. Outrage, anger and pain has been with the families ever since that FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The Hillsborough disaster also substantially changed the experience of watching soccer in England.

When one attends a Premier League match, you have an allocated seat. Every stadium, by law, must have a seat for everyone in attendance. This came into effect after the Taylor Report was published in 1990 and standing areas in England’s top-flight were abolished. It’s a significant change that has shaped the modern era of English soccer.

BEFORE HILLSBOROUGH

In the years leading up to the Hillsborough disaster, the terraces of English soccer were rough areas. Huge metal  fences were installed at the front of stands to stop pitch invasions and fans fighting with each other. Cages known as ‘pens’ were placed on the main terraces to split up sections and serve as crowd control. The razzmatazz of the Premier League was still a few decades away.

source: AP

Fans were crushed against metal fences, as police allowed 2,000 supporters to fill into metal ‘pens’ that were already filled to the brim.

Stadiums often filled beyond capacity. Tales of your feet never touching the floor during a game are copious from fans of a certain generation, who remember back to when attending a top-flight game in England carried a significant risk.

(WATCH: The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy)

Before Hillsborough, other incidents involving crushes at soccer stadiums occurred at Bolton in 1946, where 33 fans perished after a crush at Burnden Park after overcrowding. In 1964 a crush at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru, killed over 300 people after rioting broke out, then in 1971, 66 Glasgow Rangers fans were killed at Ibrox towards the end of an Old Firm derby after fans were once again crushed to death. Standing at soccer games certainly hadn’t been safe for quite some time before Hillsborough.

Old wooden stands, with steep banks and metal crush barriers dotted throughout them made attending big games troublesome. Women and children were often discouraged from attending matches, as it was often quite the ordeal just to get inside the grounds.

source:

The Hillsborough Independent Panel analyzed the tragedy during their report released in 2012.

With the violent undertones of watching soccer throughout the ’70s and ’80s in England, due to hooliganism and fighting often breaking out on the terraces, the implementation of metal fences was needed at the front of stands to stop fans running onto the pitch and disrupting the matches. Those attempts by the authorities to help curb violence played a significant part in killing 96 innocent victims at Hillsborough.

The pre-Hillsborough era in English soccer could not be repeated, as elementary errors converged. Police were given the all clear by their chief to let over 2,000 Liverpool fans pour into the Leppings Lane End of Hillsborough stadium just before kick off, but instead of funneling the fans towards the two less-crowded pens, they were allowed to push into the already overcrowded central area behind the goal. Coupled with the fences at the front preventing fans from being able to jump on the pitch to safety, including other factors noted in the report, many of the 96 died from compressive asphyxia whilst standing.

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Liverpool defender Steve Staunton, the youngest player in the Reds’ team that day at the age of 20, recalls the moment he realized something was horribly wrong while he was playing at Hillsborough on that fateful day.

Staunton is still reluctant to talk about what he saw, 25 years on from the tragedy.

“I don’t want to be too graphic but I could see youngsters, children, being pressed against the barriers so hard they were changing color,” Staunton said. “There was blood on the pitch and people screaming. There were  supporters trying to throw other supporters over the fence to save them but some were being caught on the spikes. It was all happening just a few yards away but I felt so helpless, there was nothing I could do. I just stared — like a rabbit trapped in headlights. I was in shock but I remember Bruce Grobbelaar [Liverpool’s goalkeeper] and the linesman shouting at me, ‘You’ve got to get off the pitch’. I was still staring into space, not believing what I’d witnessed.”

AFTER HILLSBOROUGH

In the aftermath, Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the Hillsborough disaster was thought to be thorough and all-encompassing. However, it has since been picked apart on several occasions, and none more so than the findings revealed in the 2012 report. Still, one of the positives to come from Taylor’s findings, in his initial report, was the implementation of all-seater stadia across the top divisions of English soccer.

source: AP

Remembered the world over, 96 Liverpool fans who never returned 25-years ago.

The Taylor Report specifically stated that all teams in the top two divisions of the English game had to play in all-seater stadiums by 1994, which saw the end of some of the largest and most famous terraces in the global game.

Over 30,000 fans used to stand in single terraces behind the goal at Manchester United’s Stretford End, the Holte End at Aston Villa’s home ground and, of course, the famous Kop end at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. Those vast steps of concrete were replaced by plastic seating, while many other famous old stadiums were leveled. The new laws meant a safety-first approach had to be adopted to stop any similar tragedy from occurring in England again. The Taylor Report also brought with it many other suggestions to increase safety inside the stadiums, as banning alcohol on the terraces and getting rid of fences and crash barriers also came to fruition.

In the modern era, consuming alcohol in the main stadium bowl is prohibited in Premier League venues, as you must consume drinks in the concession stands below. Suggestions to bring back safe-standing errors to the English game have so far not taken off, but several PL teams have shown interest in trialing methods used throughout the Bundesliga and other stadiums in Europe.

As things stand UEFA Champions League and Europa League games must be played in all-seater stadia, but German club Borussia Dortmund have come up with a clever way of allowing their fans to sit and stand. For Bundelsiga matches — the German top-flight has no bans on standing on the terraces — Dortmund can fit in an extra 15,000 fans to their Westfalenstadion by folding their seats up and using the safety bars present on each row for fans to lean on. Then for UCL games, they simply fold the seats back down to comply with UEFA’s rules.

source: Reuters

The victims families have fought effortlessly to overturn a verdict of accidental death, as they finally got justice for the loved ones they lost in 2012.

Whether that system arrives in England’s top-flight remains to be seen. The Football League have asked for feedback from teams in the Championship, League One and League Two, and a handful of Premier League teams have shown an interest. But the haunting images of that fateful day back in Sheffield in 1989 still hangs over English soccer 25 years later.

Back in February, Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey spoke to the BBC about hearing clubs opinion’s on safe standing, but doesn’t expect standing to be brought back to the top level of the English game anytime soon.

“The consultation has given us a better understanding of the wide range of views held by clubs on this issue and we will take our cue from the prevailing opinion,” Harvey said. “We recognize this is both a complicated and sensitive matter that will need significant debate. Therefore, no-one should assume that it will lead to overnight change.”

As of right now, nobody in England wants to risk a repeat of the severe pain and loss that came in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. The Hillsborough families do not want standing to return, after voting unanimously against it, and describe the ideas as “going backwards after so many steps forward” in fan safety.

A quarter of a century on, the ramifications of 96 innocent people losing their lives at a soccer match is still at the forefront of the minds of most English fans each and every time they attend a game. Those feelings will never vanish, and they will only intensify over this weekend as English soccer remembers the 96 who died at Hillsborough, after working tirelessly to make sure it never happens again.

Latest Posts
  1. Steve McClaren fired by Derby County — Is Newcastle United his next stop?

    May 25, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    Steve McClaren, Derby County FC Steve McClaren, Derby County FC

    McClaren was Mike Ashley’s first managerial target earlier this month. Now unemployed, will McClaren end up at Newcastle United?

  2. VIDEO: Behind the scenes with Xavi Hernandez before his final game at the Camp Nou

    May 25, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT

    Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona

    Go behind the scenes, all-access style, with Xavi on the day of his final Camp Nou appearance.

  3. Dani Alves: If Barcelona don’t start showing me respect, I’ll leave this summer

    May 25, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT

    Dani Alves, FC Barcelona Dani Alves, FC Barcelona

    With his contract expiring this summer, Dani Alves is posturing — and doing it well — for upcoming negotiations.

  4. MLS Player of the Week — Week 12: Columbus Crew SC’s Kei Kamara

    May 25, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT

    Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC — Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC — Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC

    We’re only through 12 weeks of the 2015 season, but one man is threatening to run away with the Golden Boot race already.

  5. MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 12

    May 25, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT

    Benoit Cheyrou, Toronto FC Benoit Cheyrou, Toronto FC

    Four of the league’s bottom-five teams won over the weekend, making this week’s TOTW a bit of a “who’s that?” instead of a “who’s who.”

  6. In a career full of blunders, firing Carlo Ancelotti is Florentino Perez’s worst mistake yet

    May 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Perez Getty Images

    The problem at Real Madrid isn’t the manager year after year, it’s a problem of accountability, and it comes from the top.

  7. Roma top Lazio in Rome derby, guarantee 2nd-place finish, Champions League spot

    May 25, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT

    Francesco Totti, AS Roma Francesco Totti, AS Roma

    Few games can make an entire season the way one victory in the Rome derby can do. Only this time, there was CL football on the line.

  8. 2014-15 Premier League season review: The managers

    May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC

    It’s time to look back at the men who shaped the Premier League’s teams this season: the managers victorious, and gone.

  9. Report: Russia wants to use prison labor to prep for 2018 World Cup

    May 25, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT

    FIFA FIFA

    The workers would make close to $300 a month for the full-time work.

  10. Check out the L.A. Galaxy’s classy full-page Gerrard ad in Liverpool Echo

    May 25, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    The American club wisely made its role in the advertisement understated, as it salutes its new midfielder.

  11. Florentino Perez announces firing of Carlo Ancelotti by Real Madrid

    May 25, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT

    AncelottiCup AP

    The Italian manager had more or less conceded his job status earlier Monday due to a bout with cervical stenosis.

  12. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Americans Abroad

    May 25, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT

    during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England. Getty Images

    It’s time to take a look back at the seasons of four American players in the Premier League, and one who is no longer.

  13. Middlesbrough 0-2 Norwich City: Comfortable Canaries back in Premier League

    May 25, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT

    during the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2015 in London, England. Getty Images

    It’s called the richest game in the world, with an estimated $180 million on the line, though it didn’t provide a wealth of scoring chances.

  14. Ten biggest storylines of the Premier League season that was

    May 25, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpta2ytvim2vjnzvmnmixmde1nmzmmji2ngzkmwu4ytq4 AP

    Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.

  15. FOLLOW LIVE — Lineups as Middlesbrough and Norwich duel for final Premier League slot

    May 25, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Fans walk to the stadium prior to the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Norwich is hoping for a quick fire return to the PL after being relegated last season, while Middlesbrough was sent packing to the second flight in 2009.

  16. VIDEO: Premier League’s Top 10 goals of the season, from A(dam) to Z(amora)

    May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Crystal Palace v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    See what Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino tabbed as top of the pops in a surprisingly QPR-heavy Top Ten list.

  17. West Ham lays out coach criteria, as top candidate Bilic says he’ll leave Besiktas

    May 25, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT

    Arsene Wenger, Slaven Bilic AP

    The Hammers have specific characteristics in mind for the next Premier League boss at the Boleyn Ground.

  18. USMNT’s Morales signs new deal with Ingolstadt after Bundesliga promotion

    May 25, 2015, 7:54 AM EDT

    INGOLSTADT, GERMANY - MAY 17:  Alfredo Morales of FC Ingolstadt and team mates celebrate the winning the shield after the 2. Bundesliga match between FC Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig at Audi Sportpark on May 17, 2015 in Ingolstadt, Germany.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Morales played sparingly for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga from 2011-12.

  19. MLS transfers: Didier Drogba mulling move, Andrea Pirlo “received offer”

    May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT

    article-1202950-05D61EA7000005DC-689_468x357 Reuters

    MLS is reportedly pursing the signatures of Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.

  20. Serie A roundup: Fiorentina qualify for Europa League, Sampdoria fall short

    May 24, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C3-FIORENTINA-TRAINING Getty Images

    Roundup of Serie A’s final Sunday of the 2014-15 campaign.

Featured video

Chelsea lift the 2014-15 PL trophy