After a fine MFW debut, @TheBoySadler, aka Chris Sadler, is back with an emotive take on 24 heartbreaking days in the spring of 1989…
Let me take you back to a cold night in 1989. 22nd March to be more specific. A Wednesday. About 9:16pm.
Norwich City were playing West Ham United in an FA Cup quarter-final replay (following their 8-0 demolition of Sutton Utd in the 3rd round, and a close 3-2 victory over a spirited Third Division Sheffield Utd in the 4th).
It was a top-flight clash of real pedigree and excitement. It was the days of inflatable canaries, ‘David Stringer’s Green’YArmy’ and Mike Phelan, Ian Crook, Jerry Goss, Andy Townsend, Trevor Putney, Malcolm Allen, Robert Rosario et al.
City were 2-1 up.
I was watching from the old Barclay Stand; a venerable but large single-tier stand in those days with no seats. Standing room only.
Standing close to the pitch and clutching the metal yellow barrier in front of me I watched the game unfold. The crowd was large, loud and boisterous; the game was end-to-end; the result was in the balance; and the tension was tangible, visibly intertwined with heavy wafts of cigarette smoke and beer.
It was an open game and the prospect of a place in the 5th round was stirring the sinews both on and off the pitch. As the game progressed and the tension grew so did the crowd surges when Norwich attacked, which pushed me against the barrier.
The stand was full, and we were crammed in like sardines so there was nowhere to go. My ribs couldn’t take much more of being bashed against the barrier. I became breathless. I became afraid. This was no fun, no fun at all. I looked for an escape, but there was none, nowhere to go. I was trapped.
Heretically, I started to hope for more West Ham possession to calm the increasingly severe crowd surges. At one slight ebb in the crush, I managed to turn around, tearing my jacket as I did so, to face the crowd so I could at least see when the surges were coming to enable me to brace and protect myself as best I could.
The game became a battle of endurance until finally, the final whistle blew. The relief I felt at the close had precious little to do with the winning 3-1 scoreline.
Over the next few days the fear and anxiety the match had engendered stayed with me, and from then on, I was a little more circumspect about where and when I stood for matches. That fear gradually diminished but lasted until the anodyne but more predictable all-seating was introduced.
I did wonder at the time whether I should say anything about the possible safety issues but as a youngster you feel like a small person in a big world and it was comforting to adopt the sometimes delusion that those in charge somehow have your best interests at heart. So I said nothing. (NB. I’m not suggesting that the club or management were in any way remiss on that night and am sure all relevant legal safety regulations and procedures were followed. I hold no grudge and assign no blame. That was just how it was in those days.)
But that spike of anxiety stayed with me for some time. And, tragically, just 24 days later it hit a second spike with the news of the unspeakably horrific event in South Yorkshire; where too many people were squeezed into too small a space with no opportunity for escape.
Anxiety, compassion and guilt. I felt all of them. What if I could have done something? What if…what if…? It hurt.
It must never happen again, it must not be allowed to happen again, and we must all take responsibility to make sure it will never happen again.
Safe standing means SAFE standing.
Love, respect and compassion to those who were lost and those who continue to suffer that loss. #RememberThe96