CRAIG NELSON: You can never go back to the days when grounds were not as safe
10:00am Saturday 12th April 2014 in Sport
ROBERTO Martinez praised the decision to delay the start of today’s football matches until 3.07pm as a fitting tribute to mark this week’s 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives.
I am sure every football fan in Bolton will echo the Everton manager’s sentiments and impeccably observe the minute’s silence ahead of Wanderers’ game at home to Barnsley.
The town, of course, is no stranger to tragedy.
A total of 33 Wanderers supporters died in March 1946, after barriers broke in the Railway End of Burnden Park shortly after the start of an FA Cup quarter-final tie against Stoke City.
It remained the stadium disaster with the most fatalities in the UK until 1971, when 66 Rangers fans died following a crush on an exit walkway outside Ibrox following an Old Firm match.
Fast forward 14 years and 56 Bradford City supporters lost their lives in a fire at their Valley Parade ground.
Each incident sparked outrage and led to recriminations and reports culminating in recommendations to improve the safety of stadia.
There is no doubt conditions inside grounds have been improved as a result.
Moelwyn Hughes’s official report after the Burnden Park disaster led to a much more rigorous control of crowd sizes. There were a reported 85,000 people crammed into the ground to watch Wanderers take on Stanley Matthews’ Stoke, far exceeding its capacity.
Hughes’ recommendations led to the introduction of turnstiles that could mechanically record spectator numbers as well as internal telephone systems in grounds. A voluntary safety code was also drawn up, as well as rules governing the inspection of grounds and new safety limits on stadia of more than 25,000 capacity.
The lessons learned in more recent history would suggest you can never rest on your laurels.
Following the Bradford City disaster, it would now seem unthinkable to see hordes of fans smoking underneath rickety wooden stands.
And while the introduction of all-seater stadia following the Taylor Report has not proved universally popular, I don’t know how many Wanderers fans would vote to move back to Burnden.
I sometimes find myself harking back to the good old days, stood on the Burnden Terrace, jostled by a swaying mass of fans, with the echoes of “walking down the Manny Road” reverberating.
But if the images of the Hillsborough disaster, as well as the coverage of the continuing inquest, teach us anything it is that you can never go back.
No-one should ever lose their life at a football match and our hearts must go out to the families of every fan who ventured out on a Saturday afternoon to support their team and did not return.