Chapter 1: 1981-1989: unheeded warnings, the seeds of disaster

The 1981 FA Cup Semi-Final

2.1.4 The 1981 FA Cup Semi-Final, between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, took place at Hillsborough on Sunday 11 April. The kick-off was scheduled for 3pm but was delayed until 3.15pm. The fans of both clubs travelling to Sheffield approached the stadium from the city's south. Several traffic incidents on the M1, including an accident involving 13 cars, the breakdown of a public service vehicle and road works, caused considerable travel delays, culminating in the late arrival of many fans close to kick-off.

Crushing at the turnstiles and opening Gate C

2.1.5 Fans described considerable congestion at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.[1] By 2.10pm congestion on the outer concourse was severe.[2] Stuart Thorpe, the chief steward for the West Stand, organised three stewards to open exit Gate C as an additional point of monitored entry. Approximately 50 people were admitted and their tickets were checked.[3] While the use of the exit gates for entry established a precedent for relieving the crush at the turnstiles, in 1981 the police and stewards combined to manage the situation effectively. Mr Thorpe described how fans were lined up outside the gate while stewards and police inside the stadium prepared to receive them.[4]

Crushing on the terraces and opening of the perimeter gate

2.1.6 In 1981 the Leppings Lane terrace, although accessed from various points including the central tunnel, was not divided into pens by lateral fences. It was an open terrace. As fans arrived onto the already packed steps there was crushing resulting in serious injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises.[5] Thirty-eight people received treatment from St John Ambulance volunteers and some were taken to hospital.[6] The crushing was most severe when Tottenham Hotspur scored a goal three to four minutes into the game and fans entering pushed forward. One supporter described how 'people were passing out and having difficulty breathing, people were getting hysterical, shouting and screaming'.[7] 

2.1.7 As the game continued a senior police officer, Assistant Chief Constable Robert Goslin, stated it was decided to remove fans from the Leppings Lane terrace 'to ease a dangerous situation where serious injuries or even fatalities were a real possibility'.[8] He gave the order to open the gates in the perimeter fence, thereby releasing approximately 150 spectators onto the perimeter track and relieving the crush. The evidence suggests that the perimeter gates were opened after the crushing was recognised. Yet one eye witness suggests that fans had been allowed onto the perimeter track as early as 2.30pm.[9] Certainly, the opening of the gates at the time of the crush averted further, possibly fatal, injuries. Inspector Roger Greenwood (Superintendent and Ground Commander in 1989) stated that he was stationed at one of the perimeter gates and radioed the Police Control Box for authority to open the gates. He received no response and together with another officer he opened the gates.[10] The fans sat on the track, their backs against the perimeter fence wall.

Managing the crowd in the stadium

2.1.8 In addition to opening the perimeter gates to ease the crush on the terrace, the police also managed fans entering the terrace. According to a turnstile operator, before the start of the match stewards had been instructed by police on duty in the inner concourse area behind the West Stand to close the gates to the tunnel and to divert fans to the access points at either end of the terrace.[11] This alleviated the concentration of fans behind the goal.

2.1.9 At half-time ACC Goslin attempted to move fans from the perimeter track to the Spion Kop end. Because this mixed rival fans, it was a decision unpopular with some, resulting in 'a minor break-out' or pitch invasion as they refused to be relocated.[12] In fact approximately 50 to 100 fans were successfully transferred to the Spion Kop. ACC Goslin subsequently admitted that his decision might have been ill-conceived, especially as the fans on the perimeter track had caused no problems for policing. The half-time interval was restricted to five minutes rather than ten minutes, giving insufficient time to move people. The second half was delayed, to the annoyance of the match referee, Clive Thomas.  Further, the Club criticised the police strategy for seemingly 'helping fans to climb over the railings'. SYP replied that they had helped fans who had tried to climb the perimeter fence to escape the crush. Their officers' intention was to prevent further injury.

2.1.10 A letter of complaint from a member of the public alleged the police had 'herded more and more people into the Leppings Lane enclosure when it was obvious that it was full'. SYP Superintendent David Chapman refuted this, explaining that the entrances to the Leppings Lane end were controlled to ensure an even distribution across the terrace but as the terrace filled, 'the usual packing problems occurred'. He insisted that there was space for even distribution within the terrace but that fans had refused to move. Police officers entered the terrace to ensure better distribution. According to the stadium's safety certificate, the capacity for the Leppings Lane terrace was 10,100. The turnstiles' tally recorded 10,435. Also, a significant number of Tottenham Hotspur supporters had obtained tickets allocated to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Police officers moved them from the Spion Kop to Leppings Lane for their own safety. Thus the authorised limit for the terrace was exceeded by just over 400.

2.1.11 There was also controversy regarding the quality of the communications systems. Supt Chapman noted that the extensive media coverage at the ground resulted in high levels of interference, yet Acting Superintendent PJ Ruddy insisted that the communications systems were successful. Further, the number of senior officers present in the control room had caused confusion.

Post-match meeting

2.1.12 Eric England was SWFC Secretary and after the match an acrimonious meeting took place in his office. It was attended by Chief Constable JH Brownlow, ACC Goslin and SWFC Chairman, Bert McGee. The 30-minute meeting focused on the crushing outside the stadium and on the terrace. The SWFC representatives were extremely critical of the police action, for allowing the situation to develop and for how it was resolved. ACC Goslin insisted that 'circumstances beyond our control had brought about the crushing situation and conventional methods of control had failed'.[13] 

2.1.13 He stated that he had been on the perimeter track and had instructed that the perimeter fence gate be opened and spectators assisted in evacuating the terrace to prevent serious injury. Fans were then allowed to sit on the track against the perimeter fence wall. Mr McGee argued that the police action was 'completely unnecessary and made the ground look "untidy"'. He considered that it might prevent Hillsborough hosting future semi-finals. ACC Goslin insisted that due to crushing on the terraces there had been a 'real chance of fatalities' to which Mr McGee replied 'Bollocks - no one would have been killed!' Following this disagreement, the relationship between SYP and SWFC became strained.

[1] Statement of football supporter Gary Vaux, 14 May 1989, SYP000038700001, p75. These recollections are reiterated in Vaux's evidence to Lord Justice Taylor: see HOM000026190001, pp3-4.
[2] Letter from a Tottenham Hotspur supporter to the Secretary of Liverpool FC, 20 April 1989, SYP000028950001, pp2-3.
[3] Evidence of chief steward for the West Stand, Stuart Thorpe, to Lord Justice Taylor, 14 June 1989, HOM000026170001, p36.
[4] Evidence of chief steward for the West Stand, Stuart Thorpe, to Lord Justice Taylor, 14 June 1989, HOM000026180001, p18.
[5] Statement of ACC Robert Goslin, 14 August 1990, SYP000096840001, p286.
[6] Letter from SYP to FA, 3 June 1981, SCC000001730001, p239.
[7] Statement of football supporter Gary Vaux, 14 May 1989, SYP000038700001, p76.These recollections are reiterated in Vaux's evidence to Lord Justice Taylor, HOM000026190001, p5.
[8] Minutes of the 1981 SYP debriefing, undated, SYP000096520001, p1.
[9] Letter from a Tottenham Hotspur supporter to the Secretary of Liverpool FC, 20 April 1989, SYP000028950001, p2.
[10] Transcript of interview and written submission of Superintendent Roger Greenwood to West Midlands Police, 29 June 1990, SYP000038920001, pp18-20.
[11] Statement of turnstile operator, 13 May 1989, SYP000038700001, pp78-82.
[12] Minutes of the 1981 SYP debriefing, undated, SYP000096520001.
[13] Statement of ACC Goslin, 14 August 1990, SYP000096840001, pp285-287.