Can you imagine entering a football stadium and being caught in the entrance tunnel pushed along by an unpredictable moving mass. And then face absolute fear as it squeezes the life from you, or someone next to you, when the unrelenting crowd surges forward.
That was the case in 1989 at Hillsborough in Sheffield UK as Liverpool scored 4 minutes into an FA cup finals match.
April 15 is the anniversary of the human tragedy at the 1989 FA Cup Semi-Final played at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, where 96 died and 766 injured. It is also home of the local team “Sheffield Wednesday”. Being neutral, Hillsborough hosted that match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
That tragic scene unravelled in 2016 at the 2nd inquest. It was very clear then that in the few minutes before the game got under way, that opening the gates to more admissions caused people to be crushed to death and seriously injured.
Nick Wetzel, who many who visit and live in Bangkok know well, owns and runs the famous Pickled Liver Pub there. He is a loyal fan of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Rain, shine or both, when they play it always on his big screens in his ever popular English Pub in downtown Bangkok.
This morning on his Facebook, Nick asked me along with his friends to sign a petition to change the Hillsborough restrictive approach that still treats fans as the problem and instead treat fans with respect so going to Hillsborough, an always a good experience.
I am a paranoid claustrophobic, who has panic attacks at the thought of being a victim. That day saw people made powerless by a culpable act. People turning blue gasping for a last breath of air, while being crushed to death was the horror scene. Surging crowds pushing into the already overcrowded entrance tunnels also saw people at standing room only steel fenced pens crushed against them too, in the waves as the match went on. It was a catastrophe that should never have happened.
It seems history shows the deaths started at the kick off and continued on as Liverpool side kicked that first goal and then for more than 20 minutes. The absolute panic had already made the football match irrelevant, but authorities, who failed to stop it and instead called for dogs to quell the “unruly” crowd, were not only incompetent, but also criminally negligent.
I can also imagine many more who have nightmares including those who has no choice to stop crushing the life from another human being, while they also scrambled to save their own.
For the angry families who lost their loved ones and those unfortunate survivors who carry injuries that crushed away any option to live a normal life, the human community everywhere supports you. Applauded too is the cover-up history being corrected, 27 years on.
The shear stupidity to open a gate to pack even more into standing room only, in an already overcrowded steel fenced spectator pen is unforgivable.
It seems minutes before the match start was the high risk time, when incompetence took over. With 5000 fans still queuing and in danger of being crushed, a gate was opened to let 2,000 of them pile into the already overcrowded tunnels.
That moved the outside congestion problem to a much higher stakes one inside that had people dead in minutes. It also went directly against advice of stewards and police inside the ground who saw what was happening and wanted to delay the match.
They say it was due to the poor design and overcrowding of the stadium that segregated supported in steel fence pens. The standing room only areas have since been replaced by seats and fencing changed.
It is easy to find the history of Hillsborough Stadium which had several years before in 1981 seem a similar crushes, but no loss of life. The chairman of the Sheffield stadium, a regular FA cup host, at that time remarked: “Bollocks – no one would have been killed”. He was still in the chair in 1989 so I guess he believed his own rhetoric and said “No problem to packed them in again”. Finding he was wrong he resign as Chairman soon after but curiously it seems he was exonerated by the OBE he got in 1991.
Police on the day quickly blamed the hooligans, which turned out to be bollocks too. As was the 1992 Coronial Inquiry verdict of it being just and accidental caused by the fans themselves. It seems little comfort that many more inquiries lead by the police said the same until the second coroner’s inquest in April 2016, 27 years on, delivered a verdict that supporters were unlawfully killed due to grossly negligence by the then authorities.
Many may ask why did they need to segregated fans into by fences in the first place. Hooliganism was rife then and often a cause for chaos and injury between rival team gangs.
But even though at a time it was proven that the Hillsborough disaster was not of their doing, The worry is football hoods still walk among us like terrorist groups.These low life diehard minorities of organised thuggery give genuine British Football followers a bad name. The fact is these gangs like any other aggressively intent gang are not about football. The get created from a sick mahen they cause with criminal intent.
The pity too is it still took a large force of shield protected baton welding tactical response police in France last year, to keep English football hooligans out of the international football playoff matches.
So it seems there is always the possibility for them to return, But no-more in Sheffield after 1989 or since. If you even look like a hooligan there you immediately are off-limits.
Football matches are a great family and friends spectator sport that builds communities. It is a social event where we like to win. In most arenas worldwide the Hillsborough lessons learned mean fan controls are no longer built around a cloistered fear we will all turn into hooligan terrorists Instead we see it replaced by facilities that encourage open partisan support where be-it winning or losing is always a healthy outcome. Congratulating your opponent is now a good thing to show how to be magnanimous when we lose and be humbly respectful to our opponents when we win. Many of us living in these communities elsewhere enjoy that so much. Hooligans now have no place in our sporting events and are not welcome. Causing chaos is not easy, when the real fans are treated with respect so no-one tolerates any nonsense.
But we must never forget what those wasted lives nor the lessons it gave the world to change. Sadly Sheffield Wednesday are still focussed on restricting Fans and need to change too.