Remembering the perimeter fences coming down at Norwich City's Carrow Road after the Hillsborough disaster 30 years ago
PUBLISHED: 17:18 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:18 12 April 2019
Nick Richards recalls how the effects of the Hillsborough tragedy were felt in Norfolk as the perimeter fences came down at Carrow Road the following week
I wasn’t at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989 or indeed Villa Park for Norwich’s semi-final against Everton. It goes without saying that the disappointment Norwich City fans felt at losing 1-0 to Everton in that game was totally overshadowed as news filtered through from Sheffield that fans at Hillsborough were not simply watching a football match anymore but were becoming part of a terrible tragedy. It’s hard to appreciate in the modern age that there were no mobile phones. People took radios to matches, Norwich and Everton fans at Villa Park would have found out about the tragedy through word of mouth from other supporters.
I was nowhere near the tragedy but I was a football-mad teenager and the tragedy felt like my world had caved in.
I lived and breathed football. I went to games, I bought magazines, collected stickers and collected programmes. I remember rushing home on the Saturday from Dodgers bike shop on the corner of Cambridge Street in Norwich with my brother, where I’d been buying a bike part, to tune into Radio 2 for the afternoon’s coverage of both semi-finals.
As the events unfolded that afternoon I soon moved from my bedroom to downstairs and got my parents around the telly, there was clearly something awful happening. This disaster was of course played out live on Grandstand as the death toll rose throughout the day.
At school on the Monday my friends who had been to the Norwich game at Villa Park didn’t talk about it. It quickly became clear that football didn’t really matter anymore when so many people had died.
Towards the end of the week as thoughts turned to Norwich City’s next game, there was a collective sense at my school that football had to carry on. There was now a question being touted around the classroom: Are you allowed to go?
I, like many of my then 14-year-old friends were Carrow Road regulars but suddenly, because of Hillsborough, a discussion was being had in my house and almost certainly in thousands of other homes in the country about whether football was actually safe anymore.
Something as simple as going to a game now had become a serious health and safety topic threatening the liberty of millions.
“It’s not going to happen again, is it?” I announced at lunchtime on Saturday April 22, 1989 to my mum as I defiantly prepared to leave the house to meet my mate Jake for the clash with Aston Villa.
I stood at the front of the Barclay End right up against the thick metal caged-fence which, judging by what I’d been told about over the previous seven days, was now an extremely dangerous place to be at a football match.
My mum wasn’t keen on me going and 90 minutes before kick off I stood in the front room as she explained that if there was a crush I was to put my arms in an X-shape in front of me which would enable me to keep breathing. She made me practice several times in front of her which I found both unnecessary and embarrassing, but now, as a parent myself, I can fully understand.
She didn’t know that my dad and I had already been involved in a crush watching Norwich play Liverpool in April 1987 when a late Norwich winner had caused leaving fans to flood back in and sent most of the lower tier of the River End onto its knees. It was nowhere near as serious as Hillsborough but any Norwich City fan who stood on the terraces at a big game when a goal was scored will remember being pushed down rows of terracing by other fans in a crush.
I vividly remember walking up to the River End turnstile that day and while my dad paid to go through the adult turnstile one of the stewards just ushered me in for free. I now wonder if there were too many people on the River End for that game.
I did go to the Aston Villa game the week after Hillsborough.
I was 14 and had to exercise my independence and show my mum that football would continue and that safety measures had already been factored in.
I was excited having seen the metal fences being taken down at Carrow Road on the television in midweek. For the first time I would be able to watch a game from the front of the Barclay End without having to look through a wire mesh. I took my camera too and snapped away with police stationed every couple of metres around the perimeter with the flag above the City Stand flying at half mast.
I have two other memories from that day. Bryan Gunn was suspended and I thought it was ironic that a young keeper called Jon Sheffield made his one and only Canaries appearance. “They put him in as a tribute,” I told my mate.
The other memory was wearing a brand new coat. It was a grey blouson jacket purchased from the highly fashionable shop Dash on Castle Street. Standing at the front of the Barclay I enjoyed the freedom of being able to lean on my elbows at the now fence-free front. Except a thick coating of black paint has been applied following the removal of the fences and I soon realised I now had a large horizontal black stripe across my chest and on both sleeves.
I returned home to a relieved mum who laughed off the coat stain and was no doubt incredibly relieved to have me home without any incident.
Football did change after Hillsborough. The fences came down, the subsequent Taylor Report ushered in all-seater stadia and Italia 90 was a hugely positive boost for the English game. Going to games became safer and more pleasurable and by the time the Premier League was launched in 1992, the atmosphere in and around the game was changing.
Hillsborough could have happened anywhere - even at Carrow Road - and 30 years on the legacy of the disaster is the way it changed the game in a positive way for every football fan today.