Hillsborough-It Could Have Happened to You.
- 14 September 2012
The tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989 should never be forgotten. For many people, younger than my 45 years, it is hard to fathom from a distance of 23 years how it occurred. Many, if not all, football stadia at that time were an accident waiting to happen. Football supporters were seen by the chattering classes as the scum of the earth. No thought or consideration was given to safety by many clubs and it seemed the police couldn’t give a damn either.
By 1989 I had been going to football for 18 years, initially with my Mother and brothers in the luxury of the Main Stand at Ibrox. But as I approached my teens I started venturing to the enclosure or Centenary Stand and also to away games. Memories of Ibrox at that time include the three wheeled cars for the disabled parked behind each goal and having to buy a programme if you wanted to know the half time scores. But my lasting memory of the Centenary Stand, which was furnished with wooden benches to sit on, were people lighting bonfires to keep warm during the match. Nobody batted an eyelid. After the game most were stamped out but some could still be seen burning as you headed for the exit. At the time of the Hillsborough disaster Ibrox had become predominantly an all seated stadium but many hadn’t.
Away games were a real eye opener. Parkhead was appalling but palatial compared to many other grounds I encountered throughout Scotland.
Hampden Park’s terraces were constructed of railway sleepers covered in ash and when Rangers scored you ended up about 50 feet forward from where you started. You didn’t end up there because you surged forward but because the whole crowd moved as one mass and you had no option to go with it or be winded. Police stood at the back of the terraces, not keeping aisles clear. Drinking at the match or urinating where you stood was normal behaviour for many.
Easter Road was an adventure in itself especially when the casual scene came into being. I’m sure many a teenage Rangers fan can remember being chased along Princes Street like an extra in Trainspotting and diving into the sanctuary of Saxone the shoe shop to avoid the casuals. These colours don’t run but mine certainly did. The terrace was completely uncovered and crumbling, not just wee bits of it but whole areas were almost smooth like a ski slope. The crumbling rocks were easy pickings for those intent on lobbing a few pieces at the permed Alan Rough in goal. The police looked on but didn’t intervene.
Tynecastle, Love Street, Somerset Park were all of a similar standard, and God help you if you wanted to go to the toilet. Many had no roofs on them and the stench is something I can smell in my nostrils today. Football fans were treated with disdain by the clubs they supported and visiting fans were a profitable nuisance.
Violence amongst football fans was common place. Throwing missiles at each other through wire fences and fighting in the terraces were not something to interrupt your viewing and concentration on the match-you were used to it. Running battles along London Road happened almost every time I went to see Rangers play Celtic, yes people were lifted but there was no segregation after the match. You came out the Rangers end turned right towards Bridgeton and had to run the gauntlet. You had no choice. The Police stood and watched, occasionally intervening but not often.
Nowhere as a Rangers fan in my teenage years did I visit and not see some sort of incident. It wasn’t a case of ned Rangers fans or ned Aberdeen fans it just happened. You were either an interested onlooker or you took part. It was not pre-planned-football supporters weren’t organised into groups-but if they were attacked they hit back. Many meted it out because they enjoyed it and that was what going to the football was about.
Looking back on my teenage years going to football in Scotland it is a wonder nobody was seriously injured. I can remember three occasions going into grounds at Firhill, Dens Park and Tynecastle that I was literally lifted off my feet by the crush of the crowd trying to get in. I’m sure older readers will remember this happening to them too. The only time in recent memory I have been dragged back to those dark days of crowd safety was when I visited Bratislava to watch Rangers play Artmedia. It amazes me that grounds like this are still allowed to be used by UEFA after everything that has happened.
Drunkenness or violence was NOT a cause of Hillsborough, the Bradford fire or the Ibrox disaster. In the case of Hillsborough, the police and the emergency services could and should have done more to help those poor souls who went to see their famous club and never came back. The cover up by South Yorkshire Police is something I thought could only happen in a tin pot dictatorship not the United Kingdom.
The prevailing attitude was that football was trouble and those who went to games were hooligans. Profit before safety was the watch word of many clubs and Ibrox was all seated only due to the tragic events of the 2nd January 1971 and the foresight of the Rangers Board to make sure it never happened again.
Politicians, police and councils throughout the United Kingdom gave platitudes of condolence to those who died at Hillsborough and the majority of the general public were happy to accept that it must be the fault of the Liverpool fans. That was the perception of football then and it is only through the sheer courage of the families of the dead that at last there appears to be the hope of some sort of justice for the 96 who died.
I never felt endangered in all the time I went around Scotland supporting Rangers during the late 1970’s and 80’s. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I can say every Rangers supporter was very lucky that Hillsborough did not happen to them.
God bless the 66, 56 and 96
Graham is from Glasgow and has followed Rangers for as long as he can remember. A compulsive tweeter @gazborangers about Rangers and other nonsense. He's very old and Tom Forsyth is his favourite Ranger!