Hillsborough. A name that has become synonymous with tragedy and loss.
April 15th, 1989 is a date that no Liverpool FC supporter will ever forget.
But the history of the worst tragedy in British sport began to unfold years before.
April 11th, 1981. The FA Cup semi-final between Wolves and Spurs, saw crushing in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium. Over 200 Spurs supporters had to be moved to safety. Some sustained terrible injuries, such as cuts, bruises, fractures, and broken bones.
Thankfully, though, there were no fatalities on this occasion.
The fact that it happened, though, had Hillsborough removed from the FAs’ ‘neutral venue’ list.
This lasted for six years, until the 1987 FA Cup semi-final between Leeds Utd and Coventry.
In the period in between, work had been carried out to ‘improve’ (sic) the Leppings Lane terrace. New radial fences were installed, and some safety barriers were removed, by Eastwood & Partners, the company charged with the upkeep of Hillsborough. But by this time the grounds’ safety certificate was already well out of date, yet the club (Sheffield Weds) kept the capacity the same, when it should’ve been reduced by well over 1000. This was done so that the ground wouldn’t lose its ‘marquee’ status.
1987 saw yet another crush, yet not as bad as in 1981, or 1989. Because of this, the 1987 semi was considered by South Yorkshire Police, The FA, and SWFC to be a ‘success’.
In 1988, Hillsborough played host to yet another FA Cup semi-final. This time it was Liverpool and Notts Forest who would be competing for the trip to Wembley.
Again, crushing was reported at the Leppings Lane end, which had been allocated to Liverpool, in spite of the Reds having a much greater following. The reason that what happened in 1989 didn’t happen a year earlier, though, was that there was no panic on the part of senior match officials. The kick-off was delayed, so as to get everyone ‘safely’ into the ground. Plus, a few PCs took it upon themselves to close of the tunnel to pens 3 & 4, when they noticed it becoming ‘quite full’ (supporters having to be pulled through emergency exits, suffering cuts, and bruises, as it was the year before).
The tunnel closure was omitted from the post-match police report, though, and as such wasn’t given a place in the ‘Operation Order’ for the 1989 semi-final.
This was an omission that would ultimately contribute to the tragedy that would occur a year later.