I lightheartedly dove into The New Yorker online on Sunday morning, but my mood quickly turned. There was an article, fronted by a macabre photograph, pertaining to the danger of crowds. The piece was topical in that it focused on Black Friday crowds wreaking havoc and bloodshed; gouging, trampling and beating one another over the limited bait: retail “Super-Bargains”. It’s all become very traditional, the news this year being that people were standing on line one week in advance of the sale date. But a couple years ago a 6’5” 300+ lb. retail agent was trampled to death when a mob blasted through the doors of a Walmart. Much finger pointing and legal wrangling ensued, and presumably some lessons were learned about human behavior. Back to the photo. It was not from Walmart or Black Friday, but from a soccer match in Hillsborough, UK in April of 1989, and more topical than one might suspect.
During the soccer match, a mob of late(r) comers outside the stadium were viewed as becoming dangerously crowded, so a large exit gate was opened allowing them to surge into one section of an already packed stadium. The crowd stepped and inched forward to accommodate the influx, but those at the front had little room to spare. They were watching the beginning of the match through a high, heavy gauge wire fence, purposely designed to be unbreachable.
I am sympathetic to such a situation, having experienced about 20 seconds of panic years ago (before 1989) at a much smaller venue. I arrived early, hoping for a good seat, and within an hour found myself between the locked plate glass entry doors and a crowd of maybe 1000 people. As showtime neared the crowd began to press forward, no doubt unaware that their small shufflings were being summed at the front of the crowd. I was off my feet briefly and being carried toward the glass, and had begun to employ my elbows against innocent strangers in the struggle. I believe we at the front were able, in this instance, to push back against the tide and re-establish some space. Such was not the case for many at Hillsborough.
Photographers on the field turned from the match to the horror behind them, and did what photographers do. I’m sure many of them would have traded camera and career for a pair of bolt cutters. 96 people were crushed to death against the fence and against each other that day, and I say the horrifying photos are topical because I’ve just read that some of them have been released by the press toward a new inquiry into the nearly 24 year old catastrophe.
I’m embedding a video here of a broadcast of the first minutes of that game. It is, out of context, a very benign video. No one is pictured dying behind the left hand goal as the game plays on. This is how easily and quickly it happened to 96 people, aged 10 to 67, on a beautiful April day. It happens at events around the world too frequently, to this day. Do not let it happen to you.