Victims of a football tragedy: Five years after Hillsborough, Rogan Taylor assesses its impact, while a fan remembers the day

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The Independent Online
IT WAS only a couple of hours after the disaster. The Leppings Lane terrace, now deserted, resembled a First World War battlefield, strewn with twisted metal and the ghosts of the dead.

I knew there and then that Hillsborough would never again mean simply a football ground where Sheffield Wednesday played. The name of the stadium had joined those others: Ibrox, Burnden Park, Valley Parade, Heysel, all synonymous with tragedy of the footballing kind. When those 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in the dreadful crush behind the goal, the word 'Hillsborough' became overloaded with meaning.

For those bereaved, life would never be the same. But five years on, how many of us could have guessed just how much the disaster in Sheffield would change our footballing lives? Its impact has been nothing short of epoch-making and, inevitably, that means epoch-ending too. Hillsborough has proved the watershed of British football. It marks, once and for all, the end of the game our parents and grandparents knew.

All around Britain, the football grounds of the Premier and First Division clubs are being transformed. The traditional skylines are broken by the upsurge of huge new stands, as the all-seater requirements of the Taylor Report are fulfilled to meet the 1994 deadline. Other clubs have moved - or are trying to move - from their century-old locations among the Coronation Street-type terracing that wrapped around them like a warm football scarf.

Prices of admission are rising too, as clubs seek to recoup some of the enormous capital expenditure involved. Football fans, particularly those with little money to spare, are being squeezed. Many older or unemployed supporters find they can no longer attend and must resort to a vitality-free diet of TV football. The communities that have sustained the game for a hundred years are being quietly made redundant.

Few remember now that, at the time of the Hillsborough Disaster, the House of Commons was awaiting the formality of the third reading of the Football Spectators' Bill. This misguided piece of legislation demanded that all future football fans carry high-tech identity cards to insert into computers for admission to football grounds. It was the climax of a decade of increasingly draconian measures against the civil disorder that plagued the game.

Hooliganism was the word that many, perhaps most, people associated with football fans before the Hillsborough disaster. Fans were always seen as the perpetrators; never the victims of violence.

But after Hillsborough, football's supporters suddenly appeared in a different light. With official representation on the Hillsborough Inquiry granted by Lord Taylor to the Football Supporters' Association, the thoughts of organised fans were heard with a rare and sympathetic understanding. In his final report, Lord Taylor dismissed Margaret Thatcher's ID card proposals as dangerous and unworkable, and he called for a much closer relationship between fans and the administrators of the game.

It is with some confusion, therefore, that many supporters contemplate the changes that are now being enforced. Ironically, having been told they were worthy of much greater consultation, they were simultaneously informed that in future they would all sit down whether they liked it or not. And they don't like it.

Even at Old Trafford, which is this season witnessing some wonderful performances by the reigning champions, there are grumblings about the lack of atmosphere and excitement in the ground.

It's the same at the all-seater ground at Newcastle. In a recent article, a Geordie fan complains: 'Where will the singing begin? What will the new songs be? 'Blaydon Races' is no more.'

Now the songs will have to be led by the tannoy, as they were after the final match at Old Trafford last season. Manchester United had won the title at last, surely a moment to mint a new song of celebration? Instead, 'We Are The Champions' was instantly relayed to a crowd that could once make up its own songs for itself.

The bank of terracing most famous for adopting and adapting popular music to the drama of football is the Kop at Anfield. It was there in the early Sixties that Liverpool fans innovated a footballing sub- culture that soon spread everywhere. It was the same Kop, covered with scarves and flowers, that came to symbolise the disaster at Hillsborough, and the almost religious intensity of supporters' devotion to their club. When the bulldozers move in at the end of this season to reduce the Kop to rubble, the heart of the place will go with it.

No ordinary football fan wants even one more serious injury to occur, never mind another Hillsborough. But many of us are left wondering. How is it that we can transplant hearts from one body to another and build rocket ships to the moon, but somehow find it beyond us to construct safe standing areas in a football ground?

The author works at the Centre for Football Research at Leicester University. His book, 'Three Sides of the Mersey: An Oral History of Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers', is published by Robson Books.

(Photograph omitted)

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