Hillsborough – The Bond Between Spurs and Liverpool Fans

5Live have just said that Hillsborough did not have a safety certificate in 1981.

On April 11th 1981 I caught the football special from London to Sheffield. The warmth of companionship between Spurs fans almost made up for the lack of heat in these ancient carriages, pulled out of mothballs just for us. This wasn’t football, it was part of history. These carriages had been pulled by a steam train. Narrow your eyes and there’s the buffet, Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson sharing a can of Special Brew at 8.30 am.

The complaints were raucous but good-natured. It wouldn’t have been tolerated in any other circumstances but this was how football fans expected to be treated in those days. Many of us traveled and anyway, who cares? This was a big game at a suitably historic ground, our first semi-final since the cup-winning year of 1967 and my first ever. After a fallow decade, Spurs were on the up.

We reached the city and were herded via the goods entrance into a long column. The police escorted us to the ground with anyone who had the nerve to break ranks and make a break for a shop selling food or drink being forced back into line. Again, par for the course and at least it was a safe route, shielded from any Wolves, United or Wednesday fans keen to get stuck into the cocky lads from the south. And no one could stop us singing. For a few minutes it felt like we were taking over the town. A short wait at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, including the usual unnecessary pushing towards the wall – why bother, we all had tickets and were early – and in.

First impressions were unfavourable. Peeling blue and white paint, shabby toilets, cracked stone steps. Normal, in other words. Although the ground was filling up I had the space to pick a spot halfway up and well to the right of the goal. The central areas were always jam-packed and the atmosphere would be electric across the entire end. It turned out to be a sound decision.

As kick-off approached a series of crowd surges forced me, disgruntled but accepting, away from my vantage point and closer to the pitch. I assumed that latecomers were carving out some room at the top of the banking and the effect had rippled through to me. I couldn’t see what was happening because I had long since lost the chance to turn round but despite being packed together, it  felt safe. There was no room to fall, after all. Lots of grumbling about why Wolves had been given the larger kop terrace opposite.

The game got under way and I was totally focused on the match, as ever. By this time, the pressure was such that I could not move my arms, which I had managed to lift in front of me to offer some protection during the last surge before movement became impossible. I spent the rest of the match less than ten yards from the front, my feet lower than pitch level because of the way the terrace was built.

Fans began streaming onto the pitch perimeter and looked back at the lads with arms raised in support. They sang a quick song before squatting on the shale. This signaled trouble and my heart sank. Looked like people had made a break for it. Bound to be bad for the club. More calls for grounds to be closed, for the hooligans to be punished. Worse was to come -the Spurs invaded the pitch when we scored.

In fact, the fans behaved very well. Five or six deep, they remained seated for most of the time. Some moved, under escort, to other parts of the stadium. Spurs everywhere!

And that was how I watched the rest of the semi-final. The biggest crush I have ever experienced, rooted to a single spot even when we scored a second. I vividly recall the tension as the match went on, 2-1 up with Wembley so close, the duel between two mighty warriors of the penalty box, Max Miller and Andy Gray, sparks flying as their heads clashed, both equally desperate to reach the crosses. The penalty that never was. Miles away at the other end or so it seemed, yet Hoddle won the ball clear as day. Hibbet tumbled and Clive Thomas pointed theatrically to the spot. How he loved the glory.

The final whistle, the march back to the station. I confess that despite the conditions, at the time I recall the thrills and passion of being part of something, the heated tension that only semi-finals can generate. Stories to tell of the day I went to the Hillsborough semi-final. I was there stories.

Plenty of time to contemplate the injustice of it all as the train took the long way home, as all football specials did.  That was my suffering and of course I would not be without it, because without the pain there cannot be joy. I didn’t see any fans with broken limbs or any who needed medical treatment, i thought had been in a scrap. That’s what it was like in those days. Oddly, although I must have gone to the game with a couple of friends, I don’t recall them at all. Intensely packed yet I felt isolated and alone.

On April 15th 1989, I played football on a sunny Saturday afternoon in southeast London. It was a friendly and shambolic 5-a-side  between my lot, a mixture of council employees from social services and housing, versus a side from the local community. Lots of kids – I brought along my two – and a lovely atmosphere, in a small but significant way the healing power of this wonderful game. For some time we had sought ways of getting closer to the community in which we worked and who were suspicious of us. Only football could bring us together.

I arrived home in the late afternoon and turned on the television. Pictures were being relayed from Hillsborough and I was initially pleased – the game must have started late so I could catch up with it. Then it dawned that there had been trouble and I switched over before the kids saw too much, although at the time the extent of the disaster was not apparent.

Now we know. Spurs fans of my generation will always have an extra bond with the Liverpool families, because it could have been us. Me. Standing near the front, feet below pitch level. Me. My heart goes out to the suffering relatives. An open gate at the back and the front. An open gate. All this talk of closure is so much hot air. The way it’s used in connection with trauma is not what it means. I’ve experienced loss of children, knowledge helps to understand but the pain doesn’t go away.

The families have been treated abominably, by the police and by the Sun who chose to sell papers regardless of the truth. I hope you find both comfort and justice.

34 thoughts on “Hillsborough – The Bond Between Spurs and Liverpool Fans

    • They won’t have full justice until those who were responsible are brought to account and charged. I don’t see that happening bar for perhaps one or two scapegoats, but at least the truth is finally out.


  1. i was there and saw the exact same events unfold. Ive always raised this when people talk about hillsborough. the police knew of the probs after our semi so why hadnt they addressed them. that has always been my question and the only reason i can explain is that we fans were always treated as second class citizens then, as well as incompetency. We should never forget it could hv been us.usWwe


  2. I too remember that game very well catching the train, and like you got there early as I had a ticket. but the crush just before kick off was terrifying, some were able to climb the barriers and sit on the parimeter, much to the disgust of the stewards and police who were trying to prevent this, others were able to climb onto the seating area, we all kept saying why did Spurs have the smaller end and Wolves the biggest, our support was far more greater…………..I also remember the following week when the barriers were removed at WHL, when we played Everton………….


  3. Glad the truth is being told. I was also there at the Spurs semi final, and I was for the first time in my life, scared at a football match. We got to the game about 15 minutes before kick off and we were in the tunnel trying to get into the stands and I was stuck in there for about 20 minutes and my feet did not touch the ground. I am 6ft plus and 15/16 stone, no lightweight, and the crushing pressure on my body was immense. struggling for breath the whole time. I actually wrote a letter to Sheffield Wednesday about it and never even got a reply from them. Disguting!


    • A terrible experience. I thought the crush was only at the front but clearly there were problems at the back too – others have commented (below) that they couldn’t even get on to the terrace.


  4. Relief and disgust. Relief that we can now begin to work TOWARDS justice. Disgust because, after all this lying over so many years it all comes out as easy as anything with a few honeyed words from the PM to accompany them – what he must have known about for years, but at least since he became PM in 2010 …….. And who benefited from all this? Basically a few rich clubs and Sky, owned by the filthy lot who printed the lies so exultantly, and coining it ever since. While we pay through the nose for plastic seats and half the time can’t even get to the good games any more. Justice – we’re nowhere near it yet!!


  5. I too was there as a 17 year old Spurs fan. It was discusssed as much as the game on the way back. Why were we given the smaller Lepings lane end and not the Kop end as we had more fans there (or so it seemed). We had had ticket checks 1/2 a mile from the ground but not everyone had been asked for proof of ticket. If there were ticketless people the authorities did kmow how to prevent access but could not be bothered to put it into action correctly. One gate was busted open as I recall but I did not see too much as was already in but ended up squeezing my way out of the lower tier and ended up watching the last 20 mins from the upper tier where a “friendly” yorkshire steward could see the chaos below and let me stand at the edge.

    I have no doubt it was the Police nd head stewards/security who caused the problem at our game and would have no reason to believe any different tactics were used at the liverpool game as it was just “herd them in to get them off the streets”.

    We tried to discuss this with the THFC supporters club as we were memebers then but were just dismissed.

    Not gloryfying football violence or any “isms” but we have been charged / fined for singing so called homophobic songs and if I were to punch someone till they were black and blue would get jailed. Those responsible for the decisions at Hillsborough are guilty of far worse and need to be puniished accordingly but sadly whatever is now done, it will not bring back the Fans who lost their lives.

    God bless them.



    • Bless them indeed.

      You’re right about the attitude of the authorities, perceiving everyone as a potential hooligan and defining the whole thing in terms of public disorder. So many frightening stories from ’89 but one that sticks in my mind is the fan who said police officers were pushing people back into the crowd when they tried to climb the fence to escape, they were right on the spot yet defined what they saw as disorder when people were dying before their eyes.

      Regards, Alan


  6. This is a human tragedy that just happens to be associated with sport. The real crime here is the cover up!

    Over the years I have become more annoyed with the stupid Liverpool fans hijacking this tragedy as if it was the world against their club. Let’s not forget, it is the same fans who were solely responsible for the Heysel Stadium which got us banned from Europe for many years.

    This is not about sport, this is about corruption and could have happened to any club and anyone. At last the truth has come out and hopefully justice will prevail and I will never have to listen to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” again when used in the context of this terrible disaster!


    • While Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen in English football, and could have happened to anyone, it did happen to LFC. Moreover, there’s a strong anti-LFC and let’s be honest anti-city of Liverpool angle to the reaction of the authorities and media to the disaster, and sadly from too many “ordinary” people over the years.


  7. @Jack Straw You do yourself no credit in peddling this nonsense about Liverpool fans; they deserve our admiration for their persistence in seeking justice. This piece of writing is a lesson to us all that it could have been any club that experienced this disaster, including ours. Taking the trouble to turn it into a slur shows you in a very poor light. Shame on you.


  8. A considered and insightful read Alan, with a Brief Encounter reference too. Excellent.

    I think most football supporters in the 70s and 80s knew or suspected the truth about Hillsborough quite quickly. While not at the 1981 SF, I had heard of the problems that day from other Spurs fans. Moreover, you only had to go to games, especially but not only as an away fan, to experience the hostile attitudes to football fans from the police and football authorities and clubs themselves and the fast decaying conditions in grounds.

    I hope truth brings a concerted search for justice. Not out of petty vindictiveness towards the political, football and police authorities whose neglect and hostility to football fans over many years led to the disaster at Hillsborough but rather because the families deserve nothing less and “establishment” cover ups in all areas of life have been part of our landscape for too long (ever). This might make such powers stop and think twice about the consequences of similar actions in the future, if they are shown to be accountable. Yes I am naive.

    The lengths that South Yorks police went to to defame Liverpool fans that day almost beggars belief, so outrageous is it. The seemingly easy acceptance or unquestioning attitude or complicit response to such outrageous tales, by politicians, the FA and the media shows how football fans, and by extension in those days, the “working class”, were regarded then.


    • Totally agree. Police attitudes in the 80’s were disgraceful. Remember Highbury in the away end supporters getting crushed because police wouldn’t open the empty areas. Supporters asking to be arresyed to get out of the crush. Let’s hope the families get justice but that will never stop the heartache !


    • I’ve followed the Hillsborough debate over the years for obvious reasons but the extent of the cover up as announced on Wednesday astonished me. I agree re the poltics. Rather than a concerted conspiracy by senior politicians to keep it quiet, it suited Tories to be able to demonise football supporters in order to support the law and order agenda used to devastating effect against the unions. Therefore they had no incentive to press hard for the truth.

      Younger readers might be surprised to know that Thatcher was on the point of introducing a membership system for football matches – if you were not a member of the club then you could not get in. It would have destroyed the game.


  9. i to was at the 1981 semi final i have been to matches all over the country, and for the first time ever feared for my safety, so much so i wrote to the fa telling them a disaster was waiting to happen at hillsborough, i got the polite letter back saying no such thing would happen. the reason for the over spill was the gate men were taking money from ticket less fans, we saw the notes pilling up. my heart sank on that fatal day. but as normal the fa new best


  10. I was also at the semi-final in 1981 and can back up the comment of b steel and confirm that the gatemen were indeed taking money from ticketless supporters of which there were many and allowing too many people into the ground. We arrived there about an hour before the game started but didn’t get in until about 5 minuites before kick-off. it was so packed just inside the turnstiles that we couldn’t get anywhere near the terracing at first and it was only after the first goal was scored and people started climbing over the barriers that we were able to get onto the back step of the terracing in the far right hand corner. If i remember rightly, didn’t the police clear a section of the terrace in the Wolves end to allow some Spurs fans to stand there in the second half. Not always a positive to have been in the ground and missed a goal, but in light of later events, could have been a lifesaver.




    • as i stated, i sent a letter to the f.a. but yet again true supporters never listened to. gatemen fa need to be looked into as well as police, i wonder if the same happpened with the liverpool fans paying at the turnstyles.may the lost rest in peace, and justice for the family of the loved ones that were lost, we fans all give each other banter, but a tragedy like that brings all fans together no matter who they support.god bless liverpol families


  12. I was at that semi and panicked as I watched it all unfold looking down on Lepings Lane from the main stand. I thought I`d dreamt it as it was never mentioned in reports on that 1989 game.
    One haunting statement that has been repeated over 23 years never fails to get me in the pit of my stomach; `They went to watch a game of football and never came home`. Quotes like that make me forget for a moment the various forms of football based hatred, which I`m afraid to say I am as guilty of as anyone.


    • You’re right. It’s that simple statement that says so much.

      Spurs’ experiencies have not received much attention but many Liverpool fans are aware of it. It’s an aspect of the tradegy that has been overlooked – it nearly happended once before yet still nothing was done.




  13. Such was the chaos that day i still remember walking what seemed miles to that bloody ground ,because we had to abandoned our coach to get to the ground and more chaos outside first being stopped from going in, then when inside madness ,for god knows how long we tried,it was about 1/2 before kick off,with all the pushing and shoving we ended up at the front ,but because there was no large fencing of sections like the LIVERPOOL game stopping you moving along ,however you were pushed from pillar to post ,it was seriously crushing ,people were being pulled up into the main stands ,but what police there was and stewards done nothing absolutely nothing and i believe also their was 38 injured
    I was with a few mates luckily ,and 1 of them BOB [god rest his soul] was a big lump ,i asked if would he get over me get over the fence , this he did and my other mates followed with his help ,we then asked the the stewards politely to open the gates took seems like forever but was only probably a couple of mins
    We ended up eventually on the half way line , 3 sides had spurs supporters sitting and they did put people up the wolves end ,i can still remember to this day how lucky we were as tottenham supporters
    Finally a short time after the 89Hillsborough disaster, we played EVERTON and us as spurs supporters in the shelf and park lane had a whip round and a wreath was given to them to put AT the memorial for the people of LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB ,first of all the police and the stewards tried to stop it but such was the volume of noise they relented, and to this day i have never never heard 1 song from us about that


    • keith, an amazing piece of writing, on that day at hillsborough 1n “81, if only the authoroties took notice then the liverpool v forest game may well have been a day to remember. it bought a lump to my throat and made me just sit here and think and ponder what might have been . footie fans get treated like shit and no one ever cares. now maybe because of this tragic day and the wonderful people of liverpool things are (hopefuly) about to change . i was also there when the wreath was presented to to the everton supporters it was an amazing thing and heart warming .


      • I was at Hillsborough in 81, our coach organised by our local pub fell through the night before. So under the influence of a few beers my brother and i decided to hitch to Sheffield come closing time. We didn’t arrive at the ground untill about 2.30 and the concourse was jam packed, just like that horrible day in 89 the police opened the concertina gates to help stop the crushing at the turnstiles.
        When i was a kid i contantly pestered my dad with questions about the double team of 61 and what it was like watching that team. He would often remark that the crowds were so big at the lane that if you put your hands in your pocket you wouldn’t be able to get them out again. That day in 81 felt much worse than that, i struggled to breath for long periods, well it felt like that, and the sweat was poring off me and everyone around me.
        I noticed a couple of lads climing the fence to escape, only to get a clump from old bill who thought it was a pitch invasion. Shortly after fans were screaming at the police to let us out. Lucky for Spurs fans that day as the police then opened the gate to let spurs fans out. I’m convinced to this day that the opening of that gate saved lives, god bless that copper. I didn’t think much about that day afterwards as it was normal then to be treated as subhuman at football.
        I was at plough lane watching spurs play wimbledon when the news of the disaster filtered through, spurs fans were going mental, how could they let this happen again, why did the FA always give the team with the largest support the smallest terrace. I have never belived the lies peddled about liverpool fans, anyone with a soul watching the coverage of that day could see it was overwhelmingly liverpool fans frantactly trying to help the injuried, with the majority of the police standing around doing nothing.
        We have since learned that Hillsborough didn’t have a valid safety certificate in 81 and didn’t have one in 89 either, heads should roll for that alone.
        To finish my heart goes out to all liverpool fans, the courage of the famillies to fight this long battle is an inspiration of titanic proportions, god bless each and every one of them.


  14. What a good article, and the experiences related in the comments are another piece in the puzzle of the sad history of overcrowding in football grounds. I am a Liverpool fan, but have been aware that Spurs fans had a near-miss at Leppings Lane and know a good deal about the conditions at the ground. Unfortunately, there were injuries and authorities and the FA should have reacted to that but they didn’t. Except to install dividing fences that made the situation even worse, for the tunnel now led into the middle two pens and not the whole standing area. Thank you for writing this.


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