HILLSBOROUGH REVISITED

The Hillsborough stadium is home to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club in the South Yorkshire County of northern England.

The football club itself is nicknamed The Owls derived from the district of Owlerton in which the stadium is geographically situated.

It was built in 1899 on a ten acre site of rural land acquired from a prosperous Silversmiths family about three miles north west of the centre of the city of Sheffield.

The Dixon family lived at Hillsborough House which would then give its name to the stadium.

There are, in fact, two teams from Sheffield who play in the English football league.  The other is Sheffield United who are nickamed ‘the Blades’ to represent the steel industry of the city.

Hillsborough is one of the finest football stadiums in England.

When it has not hosted home games of the Owls, it has hosted matches of the 1966 World Cup, 1996 Euro Championships and domestic FA Cup semi finals since 1912 when West Bromwich Albion played there against Blackburn Rovers.

The capacity of the stadium has increased and decreased over the years as a result of gradual expansion and legislative measures intended to address public safety.

There was a plan to substantially increase the capacity of the stadium to support a bid by England to host the 2018 World Cup.

England were not successful in that bid and the plans to expand the stadium have consequently been shelved.

Sheffield Wednesday currently play in the Championship, the second tier of the English football league, and are challenging for promotion to the prestigious Premier League.

As a Coventry City supporter, I myself stood on the terraces of the Leppings Lane End in March 1987 to cheer the Sly Blues onto a momentous 3-1 victory over the home team in a FA Cup quarter final.

On the 12th April, I returned again to the Hillsborough stadium and this time stood with Coventry City supporters on the terraces of the Spion Kop to cheer the Sky Blues onto an even more momentous 3-2 victory in the FA Cup Semi Final against Leeds United.

Incidentally,the first semi final ever been played on a Sunday.

As I recall, the scheduled kick off time was twelve o’clock but it was delayed by thirty minutes for safety reasons to allow late arriving and delayed supporters to pack into the stadium and not miss the spectacle.

There was not the advantage then of a footbridge across the river Don to enable easier access to the stadium.  That was only erected for the Euros in 1996.

Two years later, on 15th April 1989, Hillsborough hosted the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The twenty five thousand Liverpool supporters were at the Leppings Lane end of the ground while it was the red of Nottingham Forest who held their own at the opposite end in the Spion Kop.

Hooliganism, fighting between rival supporters, and pitch invasions had become a distinct problem during the 1970s and 1980s and key stadiums such as Hillsborough were forced by law to introduce perimeter fencing.

It was not hooliganism or a pitch invasion which would kill ninety six good people on that tragic Saturday afternoon but a gross mismanagement of crowd control by the very people – police, stewards and medical care workers – who were supposed to control and manage it.

The Coventry City v Leeds United semi final was the first one to be played at the Hillsborough stadium since 1981 when only by the grace of God were there no fatalities in the semi final between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur.

The very fact that there were injuries, some of them serious, would have put the ‘writing on the wall’ to the football authorities and to the sponsors of Sheffield Wednesday football club.

But the legal safety certificate and ground capacity were not reviewed and a man was appointed to supervise overall charge of the policing of the semi final on 22nd March with no previous experience for such an all ticket sold-out event.

It may be unfair to say that the events leading to the tragedy were unforseeable but it is not unfair to say that those events were avoidable.

There is no need to name and shame the man who was the Police Commander in Chief that day because he must live each day and address his conscience for grave professional misgivings until the day he dies.

In an uncanny way, there is a parallel with the ninety six people who were unlawfully killed (officially it was no accident) at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium at around three o’clock on Saturday 15th April.

And with the three hundred soldiers of the Lancashire Fusiliers who were senselessly led to their deaths by a tactically inept Commander on the 1400 foot mountain known as Spion Kop in January 1900 in Natal South Africa.

If there is an irony, then it is, for me anyway, that the three teams in the English football league who have a part of their stadium as Spion Kop, are Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City.

Alas, to the present day, there are only two Spion Kop remaining because Coventry City moved from their former home the Highfield Road stadium, to the Ricoh Arena in 2001.

Hillsborough is the greatest sporting tragedy in British history.

All seater stadiums became the norm over nearly all the tiers of the English football team as a difrect result.

Terracing was a condemned to yesteryear.

Football had learnt a lesson.

It took twenty seven years but the families of the ninety six people who died have successfully got justice for their loved ones.

Be home by Christmas Boys was the royalist battlecry of the Lancashire Fusilier before they then faced their Boer enemy in South Africa

Be home by Tea Time Boys could well have been the maternal battlecry on that particular April day.

But ninety six boys, girls, adults did not come home.

Hillsborough remembers.  Hillsborough does remember.  It does not forget.

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