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

1981 debrief

2.1.14 A debrief of the 1981 Semi-Final was attended by ACC Goslin, Chief Superintendent R Herold, Acting Chief Superintendent Thompson, Superintendent Chapman, A/Supt Ruddy, Chief Inspector Smith, Inspectors Greenwood, Clive Calvert and Gordon Sykes and Sergeant Purdy (date unrecorded: several of these officers were on duty at Hillsborough in 1989).

2.1.15 Reflecting on the crushing, the discussion focused on the construction of the Leppings Lane terrace and its safe capacity. The officers, with the exception of Supt Chapman, agreed the maximum capacity of 10,100 was set too high.

2.1.16 C/Supt Herold suggested the construction of a lateral segregation gap providing a 6 to 8ft wide channel down the centre of the terrace to divide and segregate opposing fans for regular league matches. ACC Goslin disagreed, arguing that a relatively narrow gap would encourage missile throwing, with the police caught in the middle. Insp Calvert was concerned that the entrance at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium was characterised by delays and blockages and would benefit from reconstruction.[14]  All who attended the meeting received the minutes and a copy was filed in the 'F' Division policy file relating to policing Hillsborough.

Disagreement over crowd capacity

2.1.17 On 28 April 1981 C/Supt Herold met with Mr England, SWFC Secretary.[15]  C/Supt Herold informed Mr England that the SYP 'consensus view is that the 10,100 crowd figures specified in the Safety Certificate is too high'. Mr England disagreed, noting 'the former capacity, prior to the implementation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act at Hillsborough was 11,000 and that on a number of occasions in previous all-ticket matches the terracing has accommodated that number'.

2.1.18 At this meeting C/Supt Herold introduced the SYP proposal for radial fences: 'the Leppings Lane terracing should be sectioned "vertically" front to back to produce pens to enable more accurate crowd control and prevent sideways movement and he [England] is already actively considering this'. C/Supt Herold also conceded that it had been a poor decision to move fans from the perimeter track to the Spion Kop at half time.

Club-police tensions

2.1.19 SWFC remained critical of SYP, attributing to the police responsibility for the crushing incident. In a letter to CC Brownlow on 20 May 1981, Mr McGee described supporters' complaints about how 'crowd control at Leppings Lane end didn't do what it set out to do'.[16] SWFC's investigations concluded that 'the major contributory factor was that police turned away many supporters at the Spion Kop end wearing Tottenham favours but producing tickets that they had obtained from the Wolverhampton ground - they were turned back to Leppings Lane to be with the Tottenham supporters'. This then caused 'the congestion that resulted into the spill-over at the fence'.

2.1.20 Mr McGee concluded that 'clearly as a Club and you as a police force, we mustn't have this kind of trouble again if it can possibly be avoided'. This continuing criticism of SYP soured relations after the 1981 match yet the SYP Chief Constable defended his officers and 'his only criticism of his senior officers was for not opening the gates earlier'.[17]

2.1.21 A decade later, in its submission to the Taylor Inquiry, SWFC's position appears to have mellowed: 'the two parties most directly concerned with it [the 1981 crushing] appear to have reacted to it sensibly: the Police reconsidered the whole question of an open terrace and devised the penning system and the club accepted the recommendation and acted upon it in accordance with the advice of Dr. Eastwood and the authority of the Council'.[18]

SYP position on the 1981 Semi-Final

2.1.22 On 3 June 1981 ACC Goslin, on behalf of the SYP Chief Constable, wrote to Ted Croker, the Football Association (FA) Secretary, outlining the SYP position on the 1981 match.[19] He noted the late arrival of fans due to travel delays and condemned Wolverhampton Wanderers' sale of tickets to Tottenham Hotspur fans. He stated: 'Neither of the two participating Semi-Final clubs saw fit to inform the South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club or the Football Association about this situation and in that event the mixing of supporters was not properly catered for'. Consequently, 'some 400 Tottenham fans had to be removed from the Spion Kop, in the interests of general safety and public order, and were accommodated in the Leppings Lane end of the ground, which had been designated for use by Spurs supporters'.

2.1.23 ACC Goslin also raised the SYP assumption that the 10,100 capacity figure for the Leppings Lane terrace 'obviously contains a safety factor'. He described how the police had opened the fence gates to the perimeter track to relieve pressure and how they had refused further access to the terrace, concluding that 'no other course of action could have been adopted in the interest of public safety'. He received a bland reply.[20]

2.1.24 The issues of capacity and reconstruction raised at the SYP debrief were included in a key letter from SYP to Mr McGee on 5 June 1981.[21] The letter stated that 'the Leppings Lane end is not constructed to give maximum aid to the packing and control of the crowd and the accepted crowd capacity is such that there is no safety margin'. Further, it repeated concerns that had earlier been passed to Mr England, the Club Secretary, by C/Supt Herold at their previous meeting in April.

Responding to the 1981 Semi-Final

2.1.25 On 7 August 1981 a meeting was convened at SYP headquarters to discuss the organisation of football matches within the South Yorkshire area for the 1981/82 season. It was attended by SYP officers and representatives of South Yorkshire County Council (SYCC), SWFC, Sheffield United FC, Rotheram FC and Barnsley FC. In the minutes of meeting there is no mention of the 1981 incident.[22] A letter from the Secretary of the Sheffield branch of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Club was sent to the FA and SYP seeking an explanation for the crushing on the terrace but no response was received.[23]

2.1.26 A number of parallels can be drawn between the 1981 FA Cup Semi-Final and subsequent matches: late arrival of fans, delayed kick-off, opening exit gates to ease congestion at the turnstiles, problems with packing the terraces, the closure of the tunnel to divert fans away from the terrace immediately behind the goal and the opening of the perimeter gates. Reflecting back on 1981, SWFC argued that crushing occurred 'before the  pens were devised or installed and it is accordingly plain that this type of tragedy could have occurred in circumstances similar to those with which this Inquiry [Taylor] is concerned even if there had been no pens'.[24]  Had 'a thousand people ... been allowed rapidly to enter the most popular area of the terrace at a time when the entrance leading directly to that area should have been "closed" to them it must have been foreseeable that those at the front could have been crushed even in the absence of radial fences'.

[14] Minutes of the 1981 SYP debriefing, undated, SYP000096520001, pp2-3.
[15] Internal SYP memorandum from C/Supt Herold to ACC Goslin, 30 April 1981, SYP000096960001, pp144-145.
[16] Letter from Bert McGee to CC Brownlow, 20 May 1981, SYP000098450001, p4.
[17] Final submission of South Yorkshire Fire Service and Civil Defence Authority to Lord Justice Taylor, SYP000098170001, pp16-17.
[18] Final submission of Sheffield Wednesday FC to  Lord Justice Taylor, SYP000098200001, p12.
[19] Letter from ACC Goslin, SYP, to Ted Croker, Secretary of the FA, 3 June 1981, SCC000001730001, pp238-239.
[20] Letter from the FA to ACC Goslin, SYP, 12 June 1981, SYP000019280001, p17.
[21] Letter from SYP to Chairman of SWFC, 5 June 1981, SYP000096530001.
[22] Minutes of a meeting to discuss the organisation of football matches within the SYP area, 7 August 1981, SYP000013780001, pp331-334.
[23] Letter from a Tottenham Hotspur supporter to the Secretary of Liverpool FC, 20 April 1989, SYP000028950001, pp2-3. 
[24] Final submission of SWFC to Lord Justice Taylor, SYP000098200001, p12.