i Editor's Letter: Safe football


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The Independent Online


Re Hillsborough today, I commend James Lawton (who was there on the day) and Simon Kelner to you. Simon explains how it was Hillsborough (and Heysel) that highlighted the need for state intervention in health and safety – easy as it is to ridicule today.

It is difficult, but important, for younger fans who attend matches today to fully comprehend the culture that pervaded football grounds back then.

My early experiences were at that bastion of mediocrity, Selhurst Park, home to Crystal Palace FC. But the fan experience was universal. Standing on the vast Holmesdale End terrace, we shared the exhilaration, joy, agony, extreme heat, cold and soakings that came with being part of a giant swaying throng, exposed to all elements.

One unforgettable night in 1979 I was one of 51,801 sardined into a stadium with a capacity of much fewer to see Terry Venables' Eagles soar into Division 1 by beating Burnley. It was fantastic and scary in equal measure. Well, almost. I was a teen. Hillsborough and Heysel were yet to happen. It was great!

But I was also there when people behind me literally peed down the terraces; when a fat Spurs fan co-ordinated their invasion of "our" end; when that happened against Arsenal, Chelsea… It was terrifying! The seated capacity is now 26,000. The football and the refreshments are still awful, but fans sit down, and pee in the toilets. These days I go to Craven Cottage with my daughter. It is exciting, fun and – above all – safe for all the family. As it should be. Let no one ever tell you that the bad old days were better.