How Hillsborough disaster altered English soccer

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Since April 15, 1989, English soccer has never been the same.

On that day at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, 96 Liverpool fans died, crushed by a mass of people. This weekend marks the 25 anniversary of the worst sporting disaster the British Isles has seen, as every professional and semi-professional game in England will kick off at seven minutes past the allotted start time, as the game at Hillsborough was stopped after six minutes on that fateful day. Teams will then remember those who perished with a minute’s silence.

(MORE: English soccer to mark 25th anniversary of Hillsborough disaster, all games to kick off seven minutes late)

Many questions still surround what happened at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium. But in 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Report revealed a cover-up by the British government and South Yorkshire police. Outrage, anger and pain has been with the families ever since that FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The Hillsborough disaster also substantially changed the experience of watching soccer in England.

When one attends a Premier League match, you have an allocated seat. Every stadium, by law, must have a seat for everyone in attendance. This came into effect after the Taylor Report was published in 1990 and standing areas in England’s top-flight were abolished. It’s a significant change that has shaped the modern era of English soccer.

BEFORE HILLSBOROUGH

In the years leading up to the Hillsborough disaster, the terraces of English soccer were rough areas. Huge metal  fences were installed at the front of stands to stop pitch invasions and fans fighting with each other. Cages known as ‘pens’ were placed on the main terraces to split up sections and serve as crowd control. The razzmatazz of the Premier League was still a few decades away.

source: AP
Fans were crushed against metal fences, as police allowed 2,000 supporters to fill into metal ‘pens’ that were already filled to the brim.

Stadiums often filled beyond capacity. Tales of your feet never touching the floor during a game are copious from fans of a certain generation, who remember back to when attending a top-flight game in England carried a significant risk.

(WATCH: The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy)

Before Hillsborough, other incidents involving crushes at soccer stadiums occurred at Bolton in 1946, where 33 fans perished after a crush at Burnden Park after overcrowding. In 1964 a crush at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru, killed over 300 people after rioting broke out, then in 1971, 66 Glasgow Rangers fans were killed at Ibrox towards the end of an Old Firm derby after fans were once again crushed to death. Standing at soccer games certainly hadn’t been safe for quite some time before Hillsborough.

Old wooden stands, with steep banks and metal crush barriers dotted throughout them made attending big games troublesome. Women and children were often discouraged from attending matches, as it was often quite the ordeal just to get inside the grounds.

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The Hillsborough Independent Panel analyzed the tragedy during their report released in 2012.

With the violent undertones of watching soccer throughout the ’70s and ’80s in England, due to hooliganism and fighting often breaking out on the terraces, the implementation of metal fences was needed at the front of stands to stop fans running onto the pitch and disrupting the matches. Those attempts by the authorities to help curb violence played a significant part in killing 96 innocent victims at Hillsborough.

The pre-Hillsborough era in English soccer could not be repeated, as elementary errors converged. Police were given the all clear by their chief to let over 2,000 Liverpool fans pour into the Leppings Lane End of Hillsborough stadium just before kick off, but instead of funneling the fans towards the two less-crowded pens, they were allowed to push into the already overcrowded central area behind the goal. Coupled with the fences at the front preventing fans from being able to jump on the pitch to safety, including other factors noted in the report, many of the 96 died from compressive asphyxia whilst standing.

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Liverpool defender Steve Staunton, the youngest player in the Reds’ team that day at the age of 20, recalls the moment he realized something was horribly wrong while he was playing at Hillsborough on that fateful day.

Staunton is still reluctant to talk about what he saw, 25 years on from the tragedy.

“I don’t want to be too graphic but I could see youngsters, children, being pressed against the barriers so hard they were changing color,” Staunton said. “There was blood on the pitch and people screaming. There were  supporters trying to throw other supporters over the fence to save them but some were being caught on the spikes. It was all happening just a few yards away but I felt so helpless, there was nothing I could do. I just stared — like a rabbit trapped in headlights. I was in shock but I remember Bruce Grobbelaar [Liverpool’s goalkeeper] and the linesman shouting at me, ‘You’ve got to get off the pitch’. I was still staring into space, not believing what I’d witnessed.”

AFTER HILLSBOROUGH

In the aftermath, Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the Hillsborough disaster was thought to be thorough and all-encompassing. However, it has since been picked apart on several occasions, and none more so than the findings revealed in the 2012 report. Still, one of the positives to come from Taylor’s findings, in his initial report, was the implementation of all-seater stadia across the top divisions of English soccer.

source: AP
Remembered the world over, 96 Liverpool fans who never returned 25-years ago.

The Taylor Report specifically stated that all teams in the top two divisions of the English game had to play in all-seater stadiums by 1994, which saw the end of some of the largest and most famous terraces in the global game.

Over 30,000 fans used to stand in single terraces behind the goal at Manchester United’s Stretford End, the Holte End at Aston Villa’s home ground and, of course, the famous Kop end at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. Those vast steps of concrete were replaced by plastic seating, while many other famous old stadiums were leveled. The new laws meant a safety-first approach had to be adopted to stop any similar tragedy from occurring in England again. The Taylor Report also brought with it many other suggestions to increase safety inside the stadiums, as banning alcohol on the terraces and getting rid of fences and crash barriers also came to fruition.

In the modern era, consuming alcohol in the main stadium bowl is prohibited in Premier League venues, as you must consume drinks in the concession stands below. Suggestions to bring back safe-standing errors to the English game have so far not taken off, but several PL teams have shown interest in trialing methods used throughout the Bundesliga and other stadiums in Europe.

As things stand UEFA Champions League and Europa League games must be played in all-seater stadia, but German club Borussia Dortmund have come up with a clever way of allowing their fans to sit and stand. For Bundelsiga matches — the German top-flight has no bans on standing on the terraces — Dortmund can fit in an extra 15,000 fans to their Westfalenstadion by folding their seats up and using the safety bars present on each row for fans to lean on. Then for UCL games, they simply fold the seats back down to comply with UEFA’s rules.

source: Reuters
The victims families have fought effortlessly to overturn a verdict of accidental death, as they finally got justice for the loved ones they lost in 2012.

Whether that system arrives in England’s top-flight remains to be seen. The Football League have asked for feedback from teams in the Championship, League One and League Two, and a handful of Premier League teams have shown an interest. But the haunting images of that fateful day back in Sheffield in 1989 still hangs over English soccer 25 years later.

Back in February, Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey spoke to the BBC about hearing clubs opinion’s on safe standing, but doesn’t expect standing to be brought back to the top level of the English game anytime soon.

“The consultation has given us a better understanding of the wide range of views held by clubs on this issue and we will take our cue from the prevailing opinion,” Harvey said. “We recognize this is both a complicated and sensitive matter that will need significant debate. Therefore, no-one should assume that it will lead to overnight change.”

As of right now, nobody in England wants to risk a repeat of the severe pain and loss that came in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. The Hillsborough families do not want standing to return, after voting unanimously against it, and describe the ideas as “going backwards after so many steps forward” in fan safety.

A quarter of a century on, the ramifications of 96 innocent people losing their lives at a soccer match is still at the forefront of the minds of most English fans each and every time they attend a game. Those feelings will never vanish, and they will only intensify over this weekend as English soccer remembers the 96 who died at Hillsborough, after working tirelessly to make sure it never happens again.

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.