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By fans, for fans. By fans, for fans. By fans, for fans.

The Guardian's reporting of Hillsborough

Sir Tokyo Sexwale

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It was, individual acts of heroism apart, a tragedy without any redeeming feature. It was a professional event, organised by professionals. And it was the most awful, dislocated, deadly botch. If you look for an image to remember it by, think of the inert bodies carried to ambulances on advertising hoardings, because no one had enough stretchers.

Nothing went right at Hillsborough on Saturday. What went wrong? Too many, from Liverpool of all tragic cities, arrived too late. Hold-ups on the motorway. Too many, from Liverpool, were syphoned for convenience into the smaller end of the ground. There were no early checks, as was normal and expected, for ticket holders. So there was a frantic scrum outside the ground, before the choked turnstiles, which threatened life. A gate was opened. Coincidentally, or not, a great surge of late fans poured into the central pen, crushing scores - mostly kids - who had arrived early, with tickets, against the wired remembrances of East Berlin that now ring our soccer grounds. But within that basic scenario, nobody knew what the hell was going on. Police central control - with television monitors - could not even control the death toll. The melee outside became a melee inside whilst, on adjacent terracing, there was space a'plenty. The computers relayed the wrong message. The public address system produced scant relevant information for almost an hour. Life-saving equipment wasn't to hand or in working order. Ambulances didn't realise the dimension of the disaster. The referee, lacking advice, started a game which wasn't ready to start on the stroke of three.


There will, of course, be a public inquiry. It will, on present indications, pass harsh judgement on the performance of the police, condemning the decision to give Liverpool fans the smaller ticket allocation, condemning the lack of barriers far away from the turnstiles, condemning the confusion on the ground and the paucity of co-ordination on high. But that is only the beginning. We have had our fill of disasters these past two years, and we have begun to learn how to respond. After King's Cross, heads rolled and millions have been spent to make sure such a horror does not recur. After Lockerbie, the entire fabric of airport security has been taken apart, thread by thread, and woven together again. Sheffield on Saturday is a no less serious event - and, if we are honest, it demands as serious a response.


Football is only a game. Our national game but only a game. It has been scarred, over the past ten years and more, by increasing violence. That was a social and a political problem. From Hillsborough you may piece together the story of how one problem gave birth to another. Liverpool fans were nonsensically given the Leppings Lane end because, since they had to be segregated, that was the easiest for from traffic flow from Merseyside. The perimeter fences against which they died were there to stop them, like their predecessors, pouring onto the pitch. The aim of the exercise was to prevent the kind of scenes customarily lamented as Our National Shame. But, in the process, a trap was sprung upon dozens of innocent victims.


The perspective needs to be broad, for otherwise any inquiry will only produce 227 detailed recommendations which will miss the deeper point. Policing big football matches today may be a quasi-military operation but such operations, because they involve human beings, will always be prey to individual disaster unless the basic situation is seen clearly.


It is this. Football fans are not animals, to be marched from one sub-Colditz to the next. The iron pens, which prevent escape, have to be dismantled. The European system of moats, allowing access in desperation to the pitch, has to be adopted. If that - or any parallel relaxation - produces additional hooliganism, so be it. The game, only a game, can always be stopped.


There is always, to be sure, a financial restraint. Terraces on our big grounds pack in more spectators than the seated areas where no surges can occur. Scrapping the terraces, installing all seats, would cost money. So what? The clubs, gripped by market forces, have never struck a balance between transfer fees and civilised facilities for the millions whose five pounds a time make them possible. The paying customer has always come second to a good inside forward. If Hillsborough , one of the League showpieces with a good safety record, can stage a tragedy of this dimension, how many more of our decaying inner city stadiums are waiting in line?


There was some debate yesterday about whether this FA Cup should continue. We agree with Liverpool's chief executive. It should not. This time it would wrong if the show just went on, because there would be the pretence that nothing had happened, that the game was what mattered. It isn't. What matters now - as after King's Cross - is the most fundamental investigation of safety at football grounds, and the opportunity to re-think priorities. Bits of politicking will, of course, float to the surface. (The relevance of football identity cards to the mayhem outside Leppings Lane is so tenuous as to be bizarre). But the question is really far wider. We have supped full of disasters. Here is one where the endlessly repeated challenge of complex professional organisation, long-range dilemmas of hooliganism and the pint pot of crammed turnstiles, choked side-streets and dark tunnels came together to spell disaster. With the futility of hindsight, one may see that statistically it had to happen. The iron pens, with their tiny gates, were always a menace. Unless there is now a mighty response to refurbish our football grounds - and to accept, along the way, that any additional risk of hooliganism will spell nemesis for the game - it will surely happen again.

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