Heather's Monthly Articles

A Proper Football Match, part 2

June 2019

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When Sheffield Wednesday football team played the Birmingham team, Aston Villa, a couple of months ago, I was there with my life-long Owls (the nickname for the Wednesday team) supporting father.

We made the four-hour journey from the south, where he now lives, to Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium arriving about 10 minutes before kick-off. I wish we’d set off earlier. Not so that we could have got there sooner and enjoyed some pre-match tailgating, as tailgating isn’t a thing in the U.K. Stadiums are in residential areas and don’t come with parking facilities, so finding a place to park is tough enough, let alone finding a place to picnic.

Out of town supporters probably wouldn’t want to park anywhere near a home team’s residence anyway. If their team were to win, they might not have a car to come back to! Instead people usually leave their cars at home and rely on public transportation to ferry them back and forth to the stadiums on match day. The added advantage of not driving yourself to the match is being able to enjoy a pre and post game beverage in one of the nearby pubs. And that’s where many supporters can be found, right up until kick-off.

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No, as I said, it wasn’t for the tailgating that I wished we’d arrived earlier, but for the singing. Thousands of supporters chanting in unison is something to witness. The minute we entered the stadium, dad’s fingers were tapping out the melody to Jeff Beck’s "Hi Ho Silver Lining." A song apparently popular with both Sheffield Wednesday and their Aston Villa rivals. The chants continued throughout the match. Their adapted lyrics spurred on the players when they performed well, or mocked the opposing team when they didn’t.

One of the most famous soccer match chants is the show tune "You’ll Never Walk Alone." While originally from the musical Carousel, it was adopted by Liverpool Football Club after it was released in 1963 as a chart-topping single by the Beatle’s fellow Liverpudlian group Gerry and the Pacemakers. The song became even more meaningful to Liverpool supporters after the tragedy that occurred at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989, when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in the FA cup semi-finals.

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Before the match began, overcrowding outside the entrance turnstiles lead the police match commander to order an additional exit gate to be opened. His fatal instruction caused an influx of supporters to enter the two, already overcrowded, pens which had been allocated to the Liverpool supporters. The result was disastrous. 96 fatalities and 766 injuries. The “worst disaster in British sporting history” lead to the elimination of fenced standing terraces in English soccer stadiums. Seats are now provided for all attendees.

Memorials in Liverpool and Sheffield commemorate those who lost their lives. The one unveiled at Hillsborough stadium on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy reads: "In memory of the 96 men, women, and children who tragically died and the countless people whose lives were changed forever. FA Cup semi-final Liverpool v Nottingham Forest. 15 April 1989. 'You'll never walk alone.'"

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