I am looking for Leeds fans who would be willing to be interviewed about their experiences on this day – please email firstname.lastname@example.org
I have written about the 1981 F.A. Cup semi-final at Hillsborough here in which Spurs fans narrowly avoided a disaster in the Leppings Lane terraces. On that day, thankfully the South Yorkshire Police responded quickly to the danger of crushing and opened the gates in the fences between the terracing and the pitch. This allowed over 500 Spurs fans to use the pitch as a place of safety. You can see a video of the Spurs fans escaping the Leppings Lane crush, and sitting around the perimeter of the pitch here.
After the problems in 1981, the Hillsborough stadium was not used again as a semi-final venue until 1987. Lateral fences had been introduced to split the Leppings Lane terrace into three ‘pens’ between 1981 and 1987. By 1989, further modifications had taken place that split the terrace into six pens.
So, as a part of the forthcoming documentary I thought it would be interesting to ask Leeds Utd fans about their experiences of Hillsborough to see if things had improved from the ’81 semi-final.
Despite Leeds having the larger support of the two teams in ’87, once again the South Yorkshire Police insisted that they were housed in the smaller Leppings Lane end. This happened with Spurs in ’81 and with Liverpool in both ’88 and ’89.
As Professor Keith Still, a world expert in crowd dynamics said in his interview for this documentary (clip here) “Hillsborough had a high risk of failure, by design” This is because the bottle-neck on Leppings Lane itself and the enclosed concourse immediately outside the turnstiles, allowed more people to gather than the turnstiles could admit. Over-crowding was almost inevitable.
Ted Heaton, a Leeds fan said “Myself and my friends were sat on the front row of the seats in the Leppings Lane Upper. This stand was given to us Leeds fans as part of our allocation.”
In a chilling reminder of scenes during the 1989 disaster, Ted told me of how the people in the upper stands had to pull people up from the terrace below. “I’d say that about 15 minutes before kick-off, we could see that the centre section of the standing area below us was extremely full. It’s easy with hindsight but we didn’t realise just how bad it could become. Lads were turning and looking up to us, a lot were being squashed and unable to enter the rest of the stand below. We started pulling fans up into the seats and out of the crush for a good while. My memory isn’t exact but we were still helping people out of the standing area after kick-off.”
If you are a Leeds fan who was at the 1987 semi-final versus Coventry City, please add to this conversation using the ‘Add Comment’ function below.