Chapter 3: Custom, practice, roles, responsibilities

Choice of venue and allocation inside the stadium

2.3.9 By the late 1980s segregation was a key factor in policing soccer matches. Considerable time and effort were committed to keeping rival fans separate, not only inside stadia but also in the immediate vicinity and in the approaches. At Hillsborough for regular league matches 'away' fans were allocated the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, or a smaller portion of terrace, depending on numbers.

2.3.10 FA Cup semi-finals were different as neither set of fans were from the Sheffield area and all were travelling some distance. Seated areas (stands) and terraces were allocated to each club on an approximately equal basis. Because Leppings Lane turnstiles provided access to the North and West Stands and to the Leppings Lane terrace they were allocated exclusively to one team (in 1988 and in 1989 to Liverpool fans). Other stands and terraces, and their access points, were allocated to the other team (in both years, Nottingham Forest fans).

2.3.11 According to SYP the decision about the allocation of 'ends' was based on motorway approaches, coach and car parking, and street layout. Liverpool Football Club, however, contested the decision, proposing that because their team had the bigger fan base and following they should be allocated the biggest end - the Spion Kop.

2.3.12 The former match commander, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole noted Liverpool's 'approaches ... to reverse the ends and I found that not possible to do'.[1] Referring to the Popplewell Report into the tragic fire at Bradford in 1985, he confirmed that 'the recommendations we have received ... have indicated spatial separation'. He stated that segregation benefited not only the crowd but also the local population.

2.3.13 Allocation of segregated areas within the stadium, therefore, 'was based on the geographical location of the Stadium and was in an effort to ensure complete segregation of supporters to prevent confrontation and public disorder ... this policy was followed and the operations were successful'.[2]

2.3.14 C/Supt Mole was approached by Graham Mackrell, the Secretary of SWFC, in March 1989 to confirm that SYP would be content to police the 1989 FA Cup Semi-Final should Hillsborough be hired by the Football Association (FA). 

2.3.15 C/Supt Mole agreed on condition that the stadium would be segregated with Liverpool fans allocated the North Stand, West Stand and Leppings Lane terrace and Nottingham Forest fans the Spion Kop and South Stand. This was the arrangement in 1988.

Choice of venue

2.3.16 The draw for the 1989 FA Cup Semi-Finals was made at 7.45am on Monday 20 March. Once the matches were known, 'Members of the Challenge Cup Committee, together with the Chairman of the Match & Grounds Committee' met to consider 'the choice of venue for each tie'.[3] 

2.3.17 A short time before that meeting took place, Steve Clark, the FA's Competitions Secretary, received a call from Peter Robinson, Liverpool Football Club's Secretary, with a request that should Hillsborough be chosen as the venue for their tie, Liverpool should be allocated the Spion Kop end of the ground.

2.3.18 Responding, Mr Clark spoke to Mr Mackrell at Sheffield Wednesday.[4] He, in turn, contacted SYP's C/Supt Mole. Mr Mackrell informed C/Supt Mole that in the event of Hillsborough being chosen, the FA had requested the 1988 allocation of the Leppings Lane and Spion Kop ends of the stadium be reversed to provide a greater proportion of accommodation for Liverpool fans.[5]

2.3.19 C/Supt Mole's reply reiterated his rationale for the 1988 allocation and, after consultation with Assistant Chief Constable Walter Jackson, he confirmed there was no possibility of change. Mr Mackrell contacted the FA and the SYP position was accepted.

2.3.20 Mr Clark 'spoke to Mr Kelly [FA Chief Executive] about the arrangements for the Challenge Cup Committee and mentioned to him the call I had had from Mr Robinson'.[6] When, however, Graham Kelly spoke with Jack Wiseman, the Chairman of the Match & Grounds Committee which would take the decision on ground venue, he apparently 'did not mention the Peter Robinson (Liverpool) phone call'.[7] This did not seem to matter, however, as Wiseman 'had already in his mind Hillsborough and Villa Park as the likely venue [sic]'.

Need for segregation takes precedence

2.3.21 Subsequent written submissions to LJ Taylor by West Midlands Police (WMP) note that the FA considered there was no option but to accept SYP's decision on the allocation of ends. Mr Kelly stated that 'allocation to competing clubs is now dictated by the need for segregation and the capacity of the sections of the ground to each club's supporters'.[8] He continued, 'on matters like this (ticket allocation) the staging club and the F.A. are really bound to accept the view of the Police'.

2.3.22 At a meeting prior to the 1988 Semi-Final, attended by Mr Adrian Titcombe, Mr Mackrell and an 'unidentified' SYP officer, an application from Liverpool Football Club for the allocation to be changed to give Liverpool supporters the majority ticket share was considered. The police officer 'objected to any change of ticket allocation and none was made'.   

2.3.23 The conclusion drawn by WMP was that the 'overriding necessity to segregate supporters of the two clubs has resulted in the situation whereby both the Football Association and Sheffield Wednesday FC allowed the South Yorkshire Police to effectively dictate allocation of tickets in both 1988 and 1989'. Consequently, the Nottingham Forest ticket allocation was 4,000 higher than that received by Liverpool.

2.3.24 In its submission to the Taylor Inquiry, the FA maintained 'the choice of venue and the allocation of ends was not in itself a contributing factor' to the disaster.[9] Yet the FA considered that the uneven distribution of tickets would have caused more Liverpool fans to 'arrive without tickets and more [Liverpool] fans with "Kop" tickets would appear at the Leppings Lane end seeking entry'.

2.3.25 According to the FA, the only concern about the suitability of Hillsborough for a capacity match attended by two sets of fans unfamiliar with the stadium layout centred on the configuration of the turnstiles at Leppings Lane: 'The rate at which the turnstiles were expected to operate at various sections of the ground does not appear to have been the subject of sufficient consideration by the organisers'.

2.3.26 As stated in the previous chapter, the processing of almost half the match attendance through 23 turnstiles entering via a confined concourse at one narrow end of the stadium constituted a clear and foreseeable risk.

[1] Transcript of C/Supt Mole's evidence to the Taylor Inquiry, day 6, 23 May 1989, SWF000001320001, p27.
[2] Statement of C/Supt Mole, 19 May 1989, SWF000001320001, p3.
[3] Note from Steve Clark, FA Competitions Secretary, FFA000001920001, p1.
[4] Note of meeting between Freshfields solicitors and FA, 27 April 1989, FFA000004820001, p1.
[5] Statement of C/Supt Mole, SYP000038700001, pp176-190. 
[6] Statement of Steve Clark, FA Competitions Secretary, HOM000000510001, p3.
[7] Note of meeting between Freshfields solicitors and Football Association, 2 May 1989, FFA000004550001, p1.
[8] WMP paper on ticket allocation, 17 June 1989, SYP000027590001, pp23-24.
[9] FA submission to the Taylor inquiry, SYP000033690001, pp74-75.