Friday, 15 April 2011

Too Stand Or Not Too Stand

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Hillisborough disaster, that may not mean much too anyone that isn't a football fan but to those of us that are it still hits us like a memory that is all to raw. 96 people went to a football match and never returned, I'm not going to go over old painful ground here as this excellent piece in FourFourTwo says more than I ever could. What I am going to do though is share my memories of that day and the events that followed and why I feel that terracing should never return to any ground above League 1.

I remember where I was that day, I remember what I saw and I remember what I read as if I was reading it now. The dead faces that stared out at me from the front pages of the newspapers, the people crushed up against the fences, the blue metal fence that was embedded into their faces, their lives cruelly cut short before their time.

I was working in Sainsbury's as a part-timer in the meat room, yes I was the one that fresh packed your mince and chops, when I made a phone call home to my dad during my tea break to see what the score was in the FA Cup Semi Finals. This was before wall to wall TV coverage and the games weren't live back then, you had to wait for the highlights on Match Of Day that night to see the goals.

"Everton are beating Norwich and the game has been stopped at Hillsborough" there was an edginess to his voice I recognised and knew something had happened as I had heard it only once before. My Dad isn't an emotional man, he never has been but sometimes his tone will change and I know its bad news.

I was 12 years old as I sat and watched the Heysel disaster unfold on TV. Allowed to stay up and watch the game I remember vividly the policeman walking towards the camera a look of total shock on his face waving his arms about at the bodies piled up around him, not knowing what to do or say. I remembered the seriousness of my dads voice as he sent me to bed when we realised what was happening and I never forgot that tone to his voice.

"Whats happened?" I asked

"Some people have died son" He replied

I replaced the handset and made my way back to the table where my friends were sitting waiting for me to tell them the latest scores. I looked at them all expectant and I knew I would have to break bad news to one of them, news that as a 16 year old kid I didn't want to say.

"Well come on whats going on?" He asked

"Err Everton are beating Norwich" I said looking at the table

"Yeah and whats the Liverpool score?" He asked again

"They have stopped the game Dave as some people have died in the Liverpool end"

"Bollocks, stop taking the piss that ain't funny" His face redding with anger

"Sorry mate Ive just spoken to the old man its true" I couldn't look at him so I looked at the other sitting around him, all dressed the same in brown jackets and ties, all looking at me hoping I wasn't taking the mickey and knowing from my face I wasn't.

He flung his chair back and stood up pointing at me his face contorted with rage

"Your one sick bastard" He shouted as he barged past me to the phone and shoved his money in the slot, slamming numbers into the keypad

The manager of the store had been playing pool at the other end of the cafeteria walked over briskly his face stern and angry at the outburst that had occurred during his lunch break. He didn't tolerate swearing and even less so from part-timers, he looked down on us and tried to make our lives as miserable as possible ( that's a blog in itself).

"Okay Mum Ill come home now I'm sure hes fine don't worry" Dave was finishing his phone call just as the manager approached.

The look on his face told him that something was wrong and he waited for Dave to speak before he said anymore.

"Sir I have to go my cousin is at Hillsborough today he took my ticket as I had to work and some people have died there already"

Shocked by this the manager said Dave could go immediately and he rushed off to try and find some news. We listened to the radio the rest of that day shocked as the death toll kept going higher and higher, this was supposed to be a football match how could this happen again?.

I went to the pub that evening, The Cauliflower in Seven Kings with a few others from work. Standing in the corner was a lad in a Liverpool shirt crying his eyes out, standing next to him was my mate Dave. I walked over and spoke briefly to Dave who told me his cousin was one of the lucky ones who had managed to get out. I didn't speak to his cousin, after all what could I say?. I stood there sipping my pint not really in the mood anymore and shortly made my way home. This was 22 years ago and I can still picture it clearly today as I could then, all the thoughts and emotions of that day and the following weeks have come flooding back.

Dagenham and Redbridge and it is much loved by those that use it, Ive even used it myself on the odd occasion and I have to admit that I enjoy it.

However I remember the terracing from the 80's when I went to West Ham, Leyton Orient and Tottenham and I don't want that back ever again. Being lifted of my feet as the team scored and swept forward at the mercy of those around me, not being able to move to use the toilet or get a burger at halftime if I wanted to. It was an amazing feeling for the young lad that I was but now? I wouldn't let my kids stand on terracing at a Premier League club because I feel the sheer number of people that attend those games its to dangerous to be safe.

We cant be romantic about this, terracing has had its day like the mullet and the permed haircut. It belongs in the past and should stay there. So why allow it for League 1 and below?. The attendances are a hell of a lot lower and thus far more easier to control because of it. Not only that but the clubs in these leagues bar a few don't have the budgets to make their grounds all seater. Darlington is a prime example of this a great ground but no one goes and now they are in the conference. A few areas of terracing at clubs in these leagues is more than manageable and should be allowed to stay.

There does though need to be a bit of common sense as well, if these clubs get promoted to Championship they should be allowed three seasons before they have to change their grounds forever. This would allow them to try and establish themselves and most clubs do this within this time frame in higher leagues. To burden them with extra costs and changing their grounds for what could be one season would be wrong in my opinion.

I know this will upset a few of you but I make no apologies for it, if we are ever to be lucky enough to get above League 1 then the sieve will have to go. You'll hate it I know that and you will feel that perhaps the club has lost a little of its quirkiness and appeal to some of you but I don't ever want to have to go through seeing the fear in a mates eyes when he realised that people were dying at a football match and his cousin was there with his ticket because he had to work.

Is standing at a football match with 30,000 others worth that? To me no it isn't but I don't think many of you will agree with me. Just a final thought before I end this blog. Those 96 families have never had justice for what happened that day and this is wrong and needs to be addressed urgently, they need to know the truth of what happened that day, I have my own opinion and perhaps one day Ill share it but for now lets remember them and also make sure we never forget what happened that beautiful sunny day 22 years ago.

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