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July 2021

An Arsenal perspective on Hillsborough

By Mike Collins

Sitting in my house in Nova Scotia I have been consumed reading about the results of the enquiry into Hillsborough and the Liverpool FC tragedy.

The reason I remember it so well is that I was standing on the old north bank with my son as some very confused news started to come through on that day. Eventually we were all huddled around supporters who had radios to hear the news even though the enormity still did not hit home.

What sticks out for me is that the much maligned Arsenal board very much did the correct thing and came up trumps.

First was the decision at Highbury to never erect the prison type fences that were a major reason for the Sheffield death toll. Events are now slipping into the past file in my mind but am I correct in thinking that an FA cup semi-final was routed away from Arsenal because they did not have fences to keep the unwashed mob in check?

The Football Association did little to look at the reasons for hooligan behaviour and address the serious problem with antiquated stadiums.

It was the Taylor Report that was instrumental in forcing football into the modern age and indirectly responsible for the Emirates Stadium as seating cut down the capacity of Highbury so much. I was almost crushed to death at a Derby County cup replay and cannot imagine the horror of those caught in Sheffield. Quite frankly safety has to be paid for (much as I dislike high ticket prices as much as the next person).

If my memory still hold out (and I welcome help in this direction) I believe Liverpool’s next home league game was against Arsenal and the FA actually ordered it should be played. I also believe that not only did Arsenal refuse but said they would take any penalties and the FA backed down in the face of so much condemnation.

This fixture was then played later in the year with a very interesting result.  Arsenal again did the right thing, by running onto the pitch with bouquets of flowers to place around the ground.

It is not fashionable today to think of Arsenal doing the right thing – and of course Arsenal’s actions at that time are as nothing compared to consideration of the tragedy itself.  But memories remain, especially on a day like today when finally the truth is heard.

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23 comments to An Arsenal perspective on Hillsborough

  • Abhishek Kumar

    Hi Mike

    A great story and although the event was really tragic, I am really satisfied to know that atleast Arsenal did whatever little it could do.

    I never knew this whole tragedy before yesterday and it pains to see that such a tragedy can happen in England. We in India are never safe in a stadium but still I have never heard such an incident in India.

    I am not comparing India and England but saying that such events are totally unheard even in India where we are accustomed to accident news every day. I think this must have left a really bad memory in England and I hope they get justice too.

  • Stuart

    I remember a particular news report a little while after and they were explaining different types of fences being considered. There was even one with a push button which automatically opened the fence (which was in use somewhere in Europe) but it was considered too risky due to the potential of pitch invasions.

    In the end they opted for all seating.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Thanks Mike for this article. I didn’t know about those things to be honest. But good to see that Arsenal did what they did.

  • jay

    Many Arsenal fans that went to the Sunderland semi final at Hillsborough in 1973 will remember the dreadful crush in the Leppings Lane end.The police opened the gates in panic because of a back up of fans ,many poured in without tickets .To make matters worse the FA had given the seated area behind us to Sunderland fans ,we wre drenched with Beer and piss during the game and Arenal fans were trying to climb up to their fans .We were not surprised whwn this dump of a ground was the scene of a terrible disaster years on.

  • gary

    Remember it well as i was also watching a game at the time in the North bank.. remember Arsenal fans singing songs about Liverpool Scum because at the time the news on radio coming through was about Liverpool hooligans that had caused loss of lives…how wrong they were

  • ARSENAL 13

    nice one Mike…..well to be honest even though I heard (a few times) this hillsborough tragedy, this is the first time I actually took time to know actually what did happen then.

    @ Abhishek….In India these sort of things do occur. I dont think our stadiums get over crowded. BUT other places do, like temples and piligrimages. The word that media use in India…………. “STAMPEDE”

  • LRV

    It was a terrible tragedy and the truth deserves to be told at long last.

  • Jaja

    While I can’t say that I have been an Arsenal fan for more than 6-8 years, I feel justified in my belief that Arsenal is just different from most clubs and it is a special club indeed. When I think of the way clubs like Chelsea treat their older players – banning them to youth teams; or the way Arsenal agreed to an FA cup (?) replay because of the perception that a player scored a goal unfairly, and now reading this your article, it just makes me feel that I am supporting the right club.

  • Nothing can diminish the tragedy – but we must recall that there were others which also revealed a total lack of planning by authorities and a total lack of concern for fans.

    Somehow the Bradford fire affected me more – perhaps because I had a book about English football grounds in which it said that under the seats in the main stands was a mountain of paper that had been stuffed there over the years and which was a great fire hazard.

    That is where the fire took hold. The fact that such a stadium could be allowed to exist in the late 20th century when we were supposedly a civilised country remains beyond my understanding.

    But even at the Emirates I have not always felt safe. If you sit near the back in the upper tier where it is at its fullest extent, it can take a good 10 minutes to exit the ground after the final whistle. That always seems too long to me, and one main reason why I chose a less exciting seat for my season ticket – I am within 10 seats and one row of an exit.

  • Laos Gooner

    Remember it well and I do think your memory serves correct on the details that followed.
    I will always think back to it as the day football finally woke up.
    brings back a couple of my own memories firstly being at Portman Road when we had to climb over the fence at the front of the pen. The pigs had not thought we would be so many supporters and eventually clear the home fans from the next pen. Secondly at an early champions League game in Vienna we hod won the first leg 6-0 at Highbury, lost 1-0 there to a dodgy penalty decision, any way the normal state of affairs applied and we had to await our escort after the game, we were waiting by the gates of the arena to get out when a running battle between the locals and the pigs went past, I remember they blokes next to me talking and one saying “do you remember when we were that stupid”. This must have been a few years later but I reflected at the time that things were moving forward rapidly especially in the minds of supporters and no one can dispute that is a good thing.
    I hope the truth finally comes out with this new investigation and that those who tragically died are vindicated from any blame. Best wishes to all their families.

  • nicky

    At the end of the day, unfortunately, it is people who cause these tragedies, invariably by the complete inability to stop momentum.
    Two examples come to mind.
    In 1942/3 at an air raid shelter in Bethnal Green, London, a mass of people tried to enter in a panic. Someone tripped at the bottom of the steps leading to the shelter. The people behind continued to press on and many were crushed to death.
    In 1945, an aged (and four feet nothing) Uncle and I attended the Chelsea/Russian Dynamo game at Stamford Bridge. The attendance was well over 80,000. After the game, as usual, we all wanted away as quickly as possible and my Uncle and I became separated down one of the fairly narrow exit lanes leading from the ground. Suddenly, in all the pushing and shoving, I heard my Uncle call out that he was going down. I couldn’t reach him but someone did and hauled him up from almost certain tragedy. There was no way that the crowd in that lane could have halted.
    These two examples only go to show that a mass of human bodies
    determined to move forward is virtually impossible to stop.

  • jake

    I would like to start by saying it was a dreadful event.

    however i think clubs(or companies as a whole in) the UK still haven’t learn’t the lessons that such an event should have taught them.

    Safety and secoundly value for money should come before profit eg a good pint at £4.00 rather than a crap 1 at £4.00(no idea about currant prices of drinks as i don’t drink before games i attend anymore) would go some way to removing the second or thrid pint swiftly drank in the pub before a game and then the rush to get to the game before kick off. as you pay £4.00 for a pint in a plastic glass at the ground(if you still can buy a beer at the ground)

    it is the “rush” that worries me and has stopped me drinking before games wheni am lucky enough to beg or borrow a ticket

  • Adam

    @Mike Collins, Cheers for the read, I too was at the game (Arsenal Vs Newcastle) me and my mates were sitting pitch side when we heard of a pitch invasion at another game and were sh**ing it thinking it was going to kick off at Highbury as well. I was 13 at the time and should not have been at the game, I didn’t tell my folks where i was that day for the best part of 15 years. I remember clearly the animosity flying around till people either sobered up or heard the truth of the situation. Surreal day all around.

    @Mr Attwood, The video of the Bradford fire is still used in health and safety inductions for us trades, Absolutely frightening how quickly that fire spread, From smoke to blaze in something like 45seconds if i remember correctly.
    For those out there who don’t know how quickly a fire can spread. The heat was so intense it set the roof ablaze.

  • steve

    You are right it is people that cause these tragedies. Unfortunately the people that caused the Hillsborough tragedy were not the fans but the authorities. For years football fans were treated like crap.Never enough toilets in the 60,s. Anyone who went to a well attended game will recall pissing on the floor of the terraces. Lessons were not learnt from the Ibrox disaster and others. Well attended football matches were always an accident waiting to happen. I attended highbury Vs Man u as a 10 year old on an evening match in about 1965. the ground was packed, many locked out, the crowds were surging forward and uncontrolable. Official attendance about 63000. Many more were in the ground due to the common practice of 2 in 1’s at the turnstiles, with operators pocketing the extra etc.When Hillsborough occurred, the lessons of Heyssel etc were being learnt, however not fast enough. In fact there were recorded incidents at Hillsborough in the previous years. Fortunately standards have improved.
    This does not bring back the 96. May they RIP and nothing like this ever happen again. All credit to their families for pushing this for so long.

  • The Hillsborough tragedy made the Saturday evening news in the U.S., and then I didn’t hear another word about it for 19 years, when I began (by choice) to learn about English football. It took me a while to realize that I had heard the story before. It didn’t make sense to an American who knew nothing about the English game then, and it makes no sense to me now. At least now, the guilty are blamed and the innocent are cleared, and the likelihood of a repeat is negligible.

    As a resident of Canada, Mike, you might appreciate this: A couple of years ago I went to the last home game of the New Jersey Devils hockey team. The Prudential Center is a spectacular new arena, with no obvious flaws, unlike a 100-year-old football ground. But on the way out, fans were handed team photo posters at the bottom of the escalator. This was the wrong place to do it, and some of us nearly lost our balance. I thought we were going to fall over, and, instinctively, I said, “Oh, God, it’s Hillsborough!” Nobody fell, though. We were lucky.

    After I caught my breath, I realized that, if any of these New Jerseyans heard me, they were most likely to think of a nearby town named Hillsborough, not of the 1989 disaster. You’ll find plenty of fans wearing Liverpool (and Arsenal, and several other English & European clubs’) shirts a mile and a half away at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, but at the hockey game our typical North America-only myopia remains.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Thanks Mike for your recollections of the incident and the subsequent events that transpired ,more especially regardind Arsenal .
    We in Malaysia had live coverage of the semi-finals then ,but
    like most did not really comprehend the enormity of the situation until the next day when we read it in the newspapers and saw the aftermath of it in the nightly news .
    We only used to get an hour of the highlights of all the games played 2 days later .Thats probably why I’m not able to recollect the bouquet laying ceremony ( or maybe senility
    is setting in !).
    Thanks again .

  • Laundryender

    One of the days etched in my memory, I too was on the Northbank that day, and the mood was very sombre as the story drip fed its way through to us. The pictures on the news and in the papers the following day were all too harrowing. Sadly in the 80s football supporters in this country were all seen as hooligans and a blot on society. It was an attitude encouraged by a government that had a view of civilised society that few of us would recognise as being civilised. Every football supporter up and down the country knew, upon seeing the pictures what had happened. I certainly had that. “It could have been me” feeling, especially as we had been at Hillsborough just a few seasons earlier V Liverpool in a FA Cup semi-final. But it could have been The Holt end at Villa Park, or the Park Lane end at WHL. Both were no more than cages.

    I also remember with clarity a crush outside Highbury on a Northbank terrace turnstile, it happened at an evening match before a Southampton game. I took a friend and we were both unable to move at all for 40 minutes before finally finding ourselves at the turnstile, we had no control over our movement, It was truly terrifying; my friend has never been back to a football match, once was enough for him.
    Yes it could have been any of us, such was the disregard for the football supporter at the time.

    I am so pleased that the truth has finally come out, justice for the 96 will never happen, they cannot be brought back, hopefully now the truth is out they can rest in peace, though their loved ones will never be compensated, hopefully those responsible will be held to account, and justice will be served and seen to be served. Hopefully it will go right to the top of the decision making process and not stop at individual error.

    The chain of events that led to the tragedy should trace a path to the hostile ambience in our country at the time, and the political objectives of the decision makers. It was those that created the environment. HW Heinrich (accident causation) called it the ancestry domino, it had to be in place, and tumble for the other dominoes to follow. I know who I will always blame for the tragic events that day.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Being from a country that has know the Heyzel-tragedy I still find it unbelievable that people can get killed when going to a football game. Be it because of hooliganism (Heyzel) or being considered low creatures (Hillsborough) or because of lack of protection (Bradford). It should not happen!
    Unfortunately they did happen.
    To be honest I never really understood the “justice for the 96” until now. The reason is simply because I didn’t know how the Sun reported about it. And after what the Liverpool supporters did in the Heyzel-tragedy I didn’t really care a lot about their feelings. Liverpool and their supporters were a club with blood on their hands for me. Together with the Belgium government and Uefa by the way. But it was them that started the fatal attack on what should have been a neutral stand. Whatever went wrong it was that attacking run that killed the people.
    Feeling I still get angry about it in fact.

    But I also have the feeling that those tragedies brought something good with them. It has brought the notion that we cannot just push people in the ground and put them in unsafe conditions and hope nothing goes wrong. We may not like all the new rules that came out of it (like only seats and no standing terraces any more) but I would take the current situation always compared to the highly unsafe situations before.
    Fire safety has been updated (I hope!!!! )
    And maybe the most important thing is that apart from a bunch of idiots who are violent and will always be violent, supporters in general have changed their attitude.
    Every time I went to the Emirates I have seen home and away supporters mixing. I have seen away supporters going in the armoury buying Arsenal stuff, talking with Arsenal supporter in a rather friendly atmosphere. Of course when the game is played we shout and sing against each other and we taunt them and they taunt us. That banter should remain part of it. I think that is part of the game but when people go overboard they get picked out of the crowd and get removed as a warning.

    So maybe the 39 death of the Heyzel didn’t die for nothing, maybe the 96 from Hillsborough didn’t die for nothing, maybe the 56 from Bradford didn’t die for nothing…maybe it was a hard lesson for all involved in football that in order to improve the experience for the supporters we had to move on and change our attitude completely.

    The price for the relatives of the dead and injured people was a high price they had to pay. But since then football has changed not only on the field but most of all outside the field and in the stands. And maybe realising that change is the most important thing we should remember.

    But they didn’t have to die for that….

  • John Feeney

    A good post. You are indeed correct about the Arsenal Board getting it correct regarding the fences. I remember being at WHL when David Rocastle scored that famous wimmer in the littlewoods cup semi final.My fifteen year old friends and I were pressed against the dreadful fences during the frenzied celebrations.A number of years earlier agians West Ham at Highbury, crowd trouble in the North bank forced all us kids over the small barriers and onto the pitch. This escape would not have been possible at White Heart Lane or as was tragically proven, at Hillsborough.
    The decision to cancel the game in midweek was an excellent one.Following Arsenals league the insensitive FA cancelled all games that week.We wern’t due to play Liverpool though.Not that it matters.

  • insideright

    I can remember being at the Newcastle game – sitting in relative comfort in my upper tier season ticket seat and thinking it could never happen here. But there were occasions at Highbury where one felt unsafe and on one occasion (when I had given up my seat so that someone else could use it) I was in a frightening crush outside the North Bank turnstiles trying to get into the game. More than one turnstile had been shut because they had already let in their own particulat allowance of fans and the crush to get to the others was frightening. Police horses, there to hold back crowds did a good job but, as usual, it was a case of poor communication fro police to fans that made the situation worse. I actually wrote to the Club to complain (we’re talking the 70’s here) and got a letter back from (I think) Ken Friar)_ apologising and giving me a free ticket to a future game.
    Arsenal have always treated it’s fans that little bit better than most clubs and maybe have ‘earned’ their better reputation and maybe even the higher ticket prices as a result.
    @Tony – I chose my seat to be withing four feet of an exit and can be out of the ground in seconds!

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    I’m pretty sure the next match for Liverpool following Hillsborough was versus Arsenal at Anfield, hence why “that game” was played after the FA cup final.

  • bob

    The Sun’s mendacious coverage and coverup of the causes of the Hillsborough tragedy is now being slated as well. Consistent in their coverage – then (Hillsborough) and now (hacking) – they surely deserve a total eclipse. Perhaps Leveson inquirers will now find some room in their final press report as the cover-up of what happened has now broken wide open. No one deserves such a fate, whatever the tribal loyalties. Not surprising is Der Sun’s continuing abuse of AW/AFC, whose high-tide on my watch was last summer’s vile drumbeat against AW. Football and civility would gain massively by their well-deserved slating.

  • Mick Singfield

    It is truly staggering that the FA scheduled an FA Cup Semi Final at a ground with no safety certificate. Yet, the Police and other authorities including politicians who reviewed the events at Hillsborough must have known this. Why did it take 22 years for this fact to become publicly known? It is conspiratorial.

    When we are talking about negligence it is negligence of the highest order. Yet the FA is still standing.
    Re Comment by Bob-the Sun ARE scum- but they were only embellishing the findings of the inquiry-even they were not to know the Police fabricated a pack of lies on a grand scale.

    Funnily enough it is not that surprising that 3 Police authorities at the highest level conspired together to lie at the Hillsborough Public Inquiry. It is not inconsistent with the Birmingham 6 or Lawrence murder, Daniel Morgan death -it was only last year that a former British Intelligence Operative publicly stated that Britain’s Met Police is institutionally corrupt.

    Dont imagine that it could not happen again. Only that eventually the truth will surface one day.