Crowd safety at sports venues - a history of tragedy
1.20 The FA Cup was founded in the 1871/72 season and by the late 1980s over 650 professional, semi-professional and amateur clubs competed in the competition, including all clubs in the four main professional divisions. From 1923 to the present, with the exception of the 2000-2007 seasons, the FA Cup Final has been held at Wembley Stadium.
1.21 The 1923 Final, the first at Wembley, gained notoriety because the estimated 200,000 crowd well exceeded the stadium's capacity and spilled onto the pitch. Although people were injured in the crush there were no fatalities and the Government commissioned an Inquiry chaired by former Home Secretary Edward Shortt.
1.22 Mr Shortt made numerous recommendations, including improved stadium access and egress, and smaller self-contained terrace enclosures. The FA did not attend the Shortt Inquiry and there is no evidence that it acknowledged or acted on the Inquiry's recommendations.
1.23 At that time, the majority of spectators at a match stood on terraced steps (terraces) while others were seated in grandstands (stands). Most stadia dated back to the late 19th century, their stands, terraces, turnstiles and access areas upgraded occasionally to comply with minimum safety standards.
1.24 While safety was the responsibility of stadium owners, they were required to comply with national guidelines and to obtain safety certificates based on regular inspections from local authorities. All modifications were subject to agreement between owners, structural engineers and local authorities in consultation with other agencies, including the police, fire and ambulance services.
Burnden Park 1946 and the Moelwyn Hughes Report
1.25 In March 1946, 33 spectators died in a severe crush on the terraces at Burnden Park, Bolton Wanderers' stadium. Over 500 were injured. Many more people arrived at the stadium than had been anticipated and gained entry through an opened exit gate.
1.26 A subsequent Home Office Inquiry, chaired by Moelwyn Hughes, made a range of crowd safety recommendations, including the review of safety barriers, the prevention of uninterrupted movement on terraces and appropriate means of entrance and exit. A key recommendation was the introduction of 'mechanical means' to establish when an enclosure had reached maximum capacity to prevent further access.
1.27 Moelwyn Hughes quoted an FA official who 'feared that the disaster at Bolton might easily be repeated at 20 or 30 other grounds'. 'How simple', the Report concluded, 'and how easy it is for a dangerous situation to arise in a crowded enclosure. It happens again and again without fatal or even injurious consequences'. All that was needed was one or two additional influences and 'danger' could be translated into 'death and injuries'.
Ibrox Park, 1971 and the Wheatley Report
1.28 In January 1971 66 spectators died after a crush at Ibrox stadium, Glasgow, as the Rangers-Celtic match was drawing to a close. As many were leaving, the roar of the crowd drew them back up the stairwell they were descending from the terraces to the exit gates. People lost their footing and fell, crushed by the compression of bodies at the foot of the stairwell.
1.29 The Ibrox tragedy, the second in its history, led to the 1972 Wheatley Report on crowd safety at sports grounds, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, a centralised licensing system for designated grounds and supporting guidelines, the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (known as the 'Green Guide').
1.30 Lord Wheatley warned club owners that crowd safety should be a 'primary consideration' and that stadia should be modified and conditions implemented even if clubs were forced 'out of business' as a consequence.
1.31 The Green Guide, first issued by the Home Office in 1976, noted that 'voids' beneath the floor were a 'common feature' in stands vulnerable to fire. They became a 'resting place for paper, cartons and other combustible materials which can be ignited, unnoticed by a carelessly discarded cigarette end'. The Guide recommended inspections before and after every event to clear rubbish.
Bradford 1985 and the Popplewell Report
1.32 On 11 May 1985 the fear voiced in the Green Guide was realised. Bradford City played Lincoln City in an end-of-season match celebrating Bradford's promotion from the Third Division. Close to half time the main stand, a timber construction with a pitch roof, caught fire when a discarded cigarette ignited rubbish beneath the stands.
1.33 The rubbish had accumulated over three decades. While many fans fled onto the pitch, others attempted to escape a fireball by heading for the exit gates, which were locked. Fifty-six spectators died and many more were seriously injured.
1.34 A Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds was commissioned on 15 May 1985, chaired by Mr Justice Popplewell. It concluded, 'the available exits were insufficient to enable spectators safely to escape the devastating effects of the rapidly spreading fire'. Had there been perimeter fences to the front of the stand, 'casualties would have been on a substantially higher scale'. It noted that 'emergency evacuation' could be anticipated in a range of circumstances and could be achieved only if 'sufficient and adequate means of exit, including exits through the perimeter fence itself', was provided.
1.35 The Popplewell Report also considered the relationship between football clubs and the police, focusing on responsibility for crowd safety within the stadium. It concluded that clubs were responsible for physical safety and maintenance of the stadium, but the police had a 'de facto responsibility for organising the crowd, with all that entails, during the game'.
1.36 The Report expressed concern that police forces provided no training or briefing 'in the question of evacuation'. While praising the police on duty at Bradford, it recommended that 'evacuation procedure should be a matter of police training and form part of the briefing by police officers before a football match'.
1.37 Given the clear safety guidelines established by the Green Guide, the Bradford fire raised serious doubts about the effectiveness of implementation and the complacency regarding risks to safety prevalent among those owning, licensing and regulating established sports grounds and other leisure venues.