Tottenham On This Day: Hillsborough - It Could Have Been Spurs!

This day is remembered as the day Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers met in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. It could so easily have ended in a tragedy similar to the semi-final match at that ground in 1989.

Tottenham on this Day

11th April, 1981

Leppings Lane, Hillsborough, Sheffield – April, 1981

Eight years before the Hillsborough dusaster, Tottenham supporters who attended the FA Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 11th April, 1981 reported events in the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium which could have led to Tottenham fans being caught up in a similar disaster.

With the subsequent events in 1989, the Football Association obviously, didn’t take notice of the warnings from the Tottenham match. In 1981, there was a problem because Spurs who had a larger average gate than Wolves were allocated the much smaller Leppings Lane end. Supporters who were present, including some who were schoolchildren at the time, remember it being a very unpleasant experience and being scared with people having to climb over fencing and spilling onto the pitch to avoid the crush in the Leppings Lane end. Many fans realise that they were fortunate to avoid serious injury but 38 Tottenham fans were injured, including some with broken legs. The action of the police in 1981 probably saved the situation escalating as they opened the gates in the fences and allowed fans onto the the pitch perimeter.

The trouble started as early as the ninth minute with the referee, Clive Thomas, aware of the problem and speaking to officials about the situation. Last year, on Talksport, Andy Gray who was in the Wolverhampton team spoke of Wolves fans speaking to the players afterwards about experiencing similar problems with the crush.

Supporters made the Football Association and the club aware of what had happened that afternoon and the FA launched an investigation into the crowd control at the match. A newspaper report tells of one fan’s situation. He and a number of season ticket holders had arrived at the ground at 2.15pm and were ‘herded into the corner of an enclosure’. It was uncomfortable then but stewards and police kept pushing more and more supporters in from the back and by kick-off at three o’clock ‘the situation was terrifying’.

‘Women and children were being crushed. I am tall and able to take care of myself, but I felt my ribs cracking. Not until 3.10 did the police become aware of the dangerous situation and begin letting people on to the touch-line.’

He eventually forced his way to the back, where hundreds of people were unable to enter the terracing and with no hope of seeing the game.

A match report talks of:

‘Drama on and off the pitch as two goals arrived in the first eleven minutes but the tragedy was that fans missed the start. In scenes of unprecedented confusion, hundreds of Spurs fans arrived late, packed their way in and caused unbearable congestion in one corner of the Leppings Lane end. The police eventually allowed 500 of them on to the running track and they sat five deep round the goal, with dozens of them running on the pitch when Glenn Hoddle nudged Spurs ahead shortly before half-time.

At half-time police attempted to persuade Spurs fans to join the Wolves supporters on the Kop – but most refused. The second half began more or less on time but hundreds of Spurs fans still ringed the touchline behind the Leppings Lane goal.’

From such reports that are available and the video footage of the crowd problems, it is clear that there was a serious problem with crowd control affecting the Tottenham supporters at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough in 1981. That, nine years later, a similar problem should lead to the death of 96 Liverpool supporters suggests that the authorities did not take the earlier warning seriously and were remiss in not following up on the problems reported in 1981 and taking appropriate action to prevent it happening again.

As many who were present in 1981, sympathise with the Liverpool families who lost loved ones eight years later, they are so aware that it could so easily have been them involved in such a terrible tragedy.

Tags: 11th April 1981 FA Cup Semi-final Hillsborough Disaster Soccer Tottenham Hotspur

  • GlendasVolley

    I was 15 and had travelled up with my big brother. I clearly remember saying, after the game, “someone could have died. If that happens again, someone will die”.
    I’ve told that story, probably, hundreds of times since the tragedy in 1989. I don’t think many have really believed me, but 1981 is getting mentioned much more now. Your video has left me feeling a bit emotional, reflective and angry. I truly hope all the families of those who perished in 1989, find some peace of mind and justice is finally served to those at fault.

    • Logan Holmes

      The warning from the 1981 semi-final just seems to have been ignored.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Logan Holmes

    From Eddie Wright on Facebook:
    I was there & decided to go in early, because my son was 10 years
    old & I wanted him to have the experience of his first
    semi-final….We managed to get in the corner of the ground at the front
    of the second tier, which gave us a great view….I mentioned about
    2-30pm how the crowd below us were starting to get squashed against each
    other, some fans were being turned around facing away from the
    pitch….As it got to near KO time it was getting worse, as people who
    had stayed in the pubs, until late started to push in from the back….I
    thought then there would be catastrophes, but luckily it was only
    broken bones and not deaths….The authorities should have taken
    notice and done something straight away, but did not….

    I do not blame the police for what happened later, as they were on a hiding to nothing….

    Do not like Semi-Finals being played at Wembley, but it is more sensible, because it is much easier to handle the security….

  • Logan Holmes

    From Cyril Alfred Poulton on Facebook:
    Just spoke abt this on another thread we got crushed in Leppings lane
    twisted me knee spent the game on the touchline with hundreds of others.

  • Peter Flack

    I, too, was at this game. I’d bought a ticket from a local Sheffield lad and although a bit unhappy that it was at the Kop end in with the Wolves fans, was pleased I’d got into the ground to see the match. By 2.30 I was glad I was at the Wolves end as I watched what was unfolding at the Leppings Lane end. This was the worst crush I’d seen at a match.

    At half time a line of police formed a barrier from the top to the bottom of the left-hand section of the Kop end and nudged the crowd to the right ( no problem with this as there was plenty of space and it was well executed) in order to create an area for the displaced Spurs fans at the Leppings Lane end to be relocated. At least 1000 fans made their way up the touchline to take up their new positions. The Wolves fans were a little hostile initially but there was no trouble and the manoeuvre was a success-and almost certainly reducing injuries.

    What staggered me was that no serious inquiry was held to determine what had caused the problem and what lessons could be learned as a major incident had only been narrowly averted. Eight years later I watched with horror a reprise of those events … but this time with catastrophic consequences. Like Glendas Volley I recounted what had happened in 1981 to several people…and got the same reaction. I hope the new inquiry is more exhaustive than the earlier ones and delves into the 1981 incident in more detail as it may shed more light on what happened in 1989.

    • Logan Holmes

      Thanks Peter for your memory of that day – everyone who was there remembers clearly what happened and it’s incredible that nothing was done afterwards to ensure it never happened again. Very sadly we now know the consequences of that lack of foresight. COYS!