The 'lens of hooliganism' and the introduction of 'pens'
1.38 Complacency regarding crowd safety was compounded by the emergence and consolidation of a growing emphasis on crowd control. During the late 1960s what became known as 'football hooliganism' was established as the key priority for the organisation, management and reconstruction of stadia.
1.39 Virtually every Parliamentary exchange or media feature on soccer was dominated by 'hooliganism' and its policing. Yet the 1968 Harrington Report into 'hooliganism' noted the 'ease with which a dangerous situation' could 'occur in crowded enclosures'. It continued, 'some club managements do not feel obliged to put their grounds into a state ... necessary for (safe) crowd control'.
1.40 Noting the tragedy at Burnden Park, the Report instructed 'appropriate authorities' to respond 'before another disaster occurs'. John Harrington warned that perimeter fences 'could be dangerous in the event of massive crowd disturbances as safety exits to the field would be blocked'. Gangways and tunnels servicing terraces created bottlenecks, rendering them 'useless' for evacuation in an emergency.
1.41 Despite Mr Harrington's warnings, in 1977 the McElhone Report into football crowd behaviour recommended lateral fences within terraces to restrict sideways movement. Terraces were constructed as relatively shallow concrete steps interspersed with safety barriers to ease downward compression as a packed crowd moved forward during access or in the course of a match.
1.42 The McElhone Report stated that 'improvements designed to prevent crowd movement should include the provision of suitable access points'. Perimeter fencing should be 'not less than 1.8 metres in height' but 'access points' or gates were essential 'to allow the pitch to be used if necessary for the evacuation of spectators in an emergency'.
1.43 By the late 1980s many terraces were equipped with high, overhanging perimeter fences to prevent pitch access and lateral fences to prevent sideways movement along the terraces. It was difficult to reconcile perimeter fencing, constructed to prevent pitch invasions, with the availability of the pitch for immediate emergency evacuation.
1.44 Yet some terraces were divided into a series of pens. Access was usually from the rear with small lockable gates in the lateral and perimeter fences. As with all areas of the stadium, gates were managed by a combination of stewards employed by the football club whose ground it was, and the local police at the invitation of and paid for by the club. Their responsibilities combined stadium security, crowd management and crowd safety.
1.45 Approaches and access points to the stadium, often along narrow roads and walkways, were controlled exclusively by the police. Entry to the stadium was via turnstiles, while egress was generally through large exit gates opened at the end of the match.
1.46 Following Moelwyn Hughes' Report, turnstiles at most stadia were fitted with automatic counters to record the number of spectators entering a terrace or stand, if necessary allowing access to be closed when capacity was reached. The introduction of pens within some terraces, however, undermined the process as some pens could be overpopulated while others were underpopulated.
1.47 It was well established that spectators gravitated to the central pens behind each goal. These pens became tightly packed while adjacent pens were often half-empty. Yet the only reliable record of crowd distribution was the count of the number of fans entering the turnstiles and accessing the terrace overall. There was no record of the distribution between pens. Thus with the advent of pens within terraces, the very risk that Moelwyn Hughes sought to eliminate was compounded.
1.48 An added complication for semi-final matches was that the FA hired the stadium, as a neutral venue, from the host football club. The participating clubs had no influence over ticket allocation to the stands and terraces or to segregation arrangements within the stadium.
1.49 Spectators were visiting unfamiliar locations, travelling by trains, coaches, minibuses or private cars. They were met by the police at railway stations and coach parks and escorted, a tactic known as corralling. Spectators' arrival at stadia was determined primarily by transport management, escorting and filtering the crowd through the streets surrounding the stadium.
1.50 As major events in the sporting calendar, FA Cup semi-finals were all-ticket games. Demand well exceeded supply. Consequently, ticketless spectators regularly travelled in the hope that they might make a purchase at a considerably inflated price from a ticket tout outside the stadium. Buying tickets from touts was an unregulated but well-known practice.