Stan Hey: Terrace apprenticeship was fun – but not to be repeated

‘At times the sway would lift you 30 or 40 yards from your spot and deposit you in the beery heart of the Kop’
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The Independent Online

It doesn't show up on my CV but the Saturdays spent in the Boys' Pen at Liverpool Football Club in the early 1960s were character-building.

I learnt that having spent 6d to get in, I was buggered if I was going to hand over a shilling to a bigger boy to avoid being smacked in the gob. You could act tough, but I also learnt to point to my National Health glasses; I learnt to be self-effacing and to hide in a crowd; how to put out small fires made of newspapers, lit by under-age cigarettes. And I learnt the rough comradeship of watching your team in the midst of heaving bodily contact.

Graduating to the Kop, of which the Boys' Pen was a small part, the 24,000 all-swaying mass was a beast of great beauty. At times it would lift you 30, 40 yards from your spot and deposit you among the beery heart of the Kop, from which you'd be helped away with a kick up the arse.

But you learnt the joy of communal celebration when Peter Thompson put a 25-yarder into the top corner, or Ian St John headed one in, and you learnt this overcame all the discomforts; such as the sudden wet warmth on your trousers as someone emptied their bladder, or the regular loss of shoes.

During the 1980s, hooliganism meant the terraces became bleak places. But Hillsborough changed everything. The moated, spike-fenced terraces became the equivalent of penal colonies, as far as the police were concerned, and then on that terrible Saturday, a death-trap. If any fans of the new generation feel a longing for terraces they never stood on, they should read Lord Justice Taylor's report which embraces passages that could have come from a Wilfred Owen war poem. Taylor made football grounds safe and civilised. Women and families began to attend the game.

Now there's a clamour to open up the terraces again, thanks to a fit of nostalgia – a nod to harsher economic times or a belief that some of the joy has gone out of the experience. Indeed, some grounds are so quiet, they are now called "The Library".

So, have your campaign for the noise and the swaying – but please, be careful what you wish for.