The F.A’s Responsibility in the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster

Should The Football Association be held partly accountable for the Hillsborough disaster?

There are numerous reports of the police’s misconduct, Lord Justice Taylor stated that the key element to this disaster was the lack of ‘police control’ and of course The Sun’s ‘The Truth’ coverage placing the fans at the heart of the blame which was later rectified 23 years later with the article: ‘The Real Truth’.

April 15th 2016 will be the last Hillsborough memorial service, agreed unanimously by The Hillsborough Family Support Group, at Anfield, where it has been held every year since the disaster.

Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium was witness to one of the most tragic events in football history. The 1989 F.A Cup Semi Final saw Liverpool, managed by Kenny Dalglish, take on Nottingham Forest on April 15th 1989.

Six minutes into the game, chaos erupted as thousands of football fans were placed into the steel-fenced terraces -Leppings Lane End-, which lacked the capacity required.

96 fans were crushed to death and hundreds injured.

Liverpool had asked for more space at the ground but after advice from the South Yorkshire police, the F.A denied this request meaning that 24,000 were squeezed into the entrance of Leppings Lane.

Despite denying the request for more space, there wasn’t any sign of tickets being checked, making it possible for non-ticket holders to enter the stand, evidence of poor procedures that should have been firmly in place by the F.A.

Live from the game Desmond Lynam interviewed one of the witnesses:

The police opened the gate and let everyone come in without a ticket…there’s the tickets there, proof of tickets that people just walked in that gate there and the police just let them walk in.”

The Hillsborough stadium itself was inefficient and it shouldn’t have been assigned by the F.A primarily.

The stand did not have a safety certificate, which is inexcusable. The stands themselves were designed to keep people within them, meaning that in the result of an emergency, it’s difficult to escape. The tickets for standing were not designated and with the absence of direction of where to go and only one gate opening to one stand this led to overcrowding in one area; due to poor signage fans were left unsure where to go and how they could enter the other stand which was virtually empty. Gate C, was opened, to place the large crowd outside the stadium to inside the stadium, representing signs of gross negligence and a lack of match day planning which should have been provided by the F.A.

“This ground was allocated for the F.A Cup Final because it could’ve dealt with any problems such as this and now it hasn’t and it’s down to greed, as far as I’m concerned.” – Witness interviewed live by Desmond Lynam.

Chief Superintendent Duckenfield was in charge and made the decision to open Gate C. Duckenfield was ‘inexperienced’ and had never been in charge of a game as prolific as this. The F.A should have strict rules on who is appointed to ensure that they have the skills and experience required to take charge of such games.

At 3:05pm and 30 seconds the game was stopped. Police formed a wall by the Nottingham end after cruel chants, in fear a fight may spark. However, the Nottingham end were unaware of the serious nature of the situation, due to a lack of information, leading to a waste of police time which could have been used to help in the trauma. Loudspeaker information wasn’t heard until 3:56pm.

“…Really appreciate if you can cooperate with the police. Cooperate with the control people” – Kenny Dalglish’s loudspeaker announcement.

The police should have activated the major incident plan where all emergency services could be put into action. 3:15pm was the time the first ambulance emerged -St John ambulance- but again due to poor architecture it was difficult for emergency services to enter the pitch that could have potentially saved more lives. The F.A should have had a contingency plan in place to be strictly followed by the police appointed and ensure ease of access for emergency services.

The F.A appears to of come a long way since this day.

“…the way in which the grounds of our football clubs are operated ensures that crowd safety, accessibility and enjoyment are world class as standard.” – The Football Association.

The F.A now publish example contingency plans, match day plans, stadium safety requirements and an entire section on managing high-profile games -most recently updated in 2014-.

The fact that another event of this scale is yet to happen shows improvement in procedures and highlights failings and flaws in 1989 where such information was clearly not as strong or strictly implemented.

The fight for the justice of the 96 is still on going and a jury are set to consider its verdicts on 22nd February where they will decide if the 96 deaths were ‘unlawful killings’.

This disaster was undeniably a chain reaction of stadium inefficiency and poor police control but without the influence of the F.A this chain reaction may have never knocked into place.

a1daf-jft96-singleA still image taken from the charity single “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” to raise funds for the families of the Hillsborough victims. 

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