Hillsborough Disaster

The Hillsborough Disaster was a crowd crush that occurred on April 15th, 1989, at the Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield. 97 people died – 94 at the time, and 3 other deaths attributed to the disaster later – and 766 people were injured.

Previous Problems with Football Stadiums

The 1970s and 1980s had been terrible for the reputation of English football fans: safety was low, and hooligans fighting had seen English teams banned from Europe.

There were warning signs that an incident such as this could occur at Hillsborough. Only one year earlier the same two teams had met in another semi-final, and crushing in the same stand was reported. The stadium did not have a safety licence after problems of crushing had happened in 1981.

The Disaster

Overcrowding pushed supporters against the crowd control barriers
Overcrowding pushed supporters against the crowd control barriers

The disaster happened during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The game was being played at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday, and was shown on live TV.

The deaths and injuries happened due to a crush in the stand holding the Liverpool fans. Although the stand was already full, police opened a gate to allow more fans in in order to stop over-crowding outside the stadium.

Feeling crushed, many fans tried to get out of the area. However, a crush barrier collapsed and fans began to fall on top of each other. As fans tried to escape onto the pitch, police officers tried to stop them.

Fans attempted to get over the fences to escape the crush
Fans attempted to get over the fences to escape the crush

Although the game was stopped after 6 minutes, the disaster continued to unfold.

Advertising hoardings were torn down to act as stretchers for the victims. 44 ambulances arrived at the ground, but only one was allowed into the stadium.

The Aftermath

The disaster forced safety at football stadiums to be prioritised
The disaster forced safety at football stadiums to be prioritised

The Hillsborough disaster saw 94 people die on the day, and another person in the following days. In 1993 a 96th person died from injuries, and in 2021 a further death was recorded as being caused by injuries sustained at Hillsborough.

The fallout from the disaster has been significant. A report (The Taylor Report) found fault in the stadium and, more significantly, the police. After the disaster it was decided that major sports stadia in the UK should be all-seater (no standing areas).

Major faults in the police were revealed, not only at ground level but also in lies told by senior police officials as to how the disaster happened. Initially the police said the blame was with drunk fans rushing into the stadium.

An investigation found the police, government and media had lied about the cause of the disaster
An investigation found the police, government and media had lied about the cause of the disaster

The Sun newspaper – Britain’s biggest selling paper – also reported that fans were to blame. Under a headline ‘The Truth’ it talked of drunken fans stealing from the dead and urinating on the police. The paper’s editor at the time, Kelvin McKenzie, refused to apologise. The Sun is largely hated in the city of Liverpool.

In 2012 a second report absolved fans from blame. It also stated that 41 of the then 96 recorded deaths could have been avoided with quicker medical attention, and found that 164 eye-witness accounts of the disaster had been removed, and 116 accounts unfavourable to the police had been changed.

Along with other disasters Рsuch as the fire at Kings Cross Station in London Рthe UK began to make its public venues safer.  Passing health and safety checks is one is the most important things a public venue has to do.