In 1989, the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest drew a sellout crowd to the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England.
Attempting to keep fans of the two sides from interacting with each other and hooliganism from marring the day, officials decided that Liverpool supporters would get the smaller end of the stadium, and a combination of poor layout and only seven turnstiles open for the 10,000-plus ticketed fans for the standing-room terrace sections.
The scene was chaotic as fans tried to enter, and a police officer later told investigators that ‘he thought somebody was ‘going to get killed here’ unless the exit gates were opened to alleviate the pressure. Roger Marshall may have been right about that, but opening the exit gates led to a mass of people moving into the stadium, where the signage directing fans where to go was poor, and in the resulting crush, 96 people died.
It took nearly three decades for the blame for the incident to appropriately be placed on the police’s mistakes, after the cops had blamed Liverpool fans for the deadly stampede, the worst disaster at a sporting event Britain has ever seen.
We’re lucky today not to have a death toll associated with the Nationals-Padres game of July 17, 2021. But there still are major questions that need answers about how we handle emergency situations at full stadiums.
Tony Deyo is a New York-based comedian, and was at the game in Washington with his wife and 7-year-old son, down the right field line on the lower level. They heard the gunfire that broke out on South Capitol Street, but did not know what was happening.
“We thought a storm might be coming, like, on my phone I kept getting lightning alerts,” Deyo told Deadspin. “When I was looking at the radar, it kind of looked like we might get rain. And the way I remember it, we saw people running over, across the way. I thought maybe they knew more about rain coming than I did. We did hear what we thought were fireworks, but being in Astoria for the last month, it barely registered, like, yeah, whatever. But I did see people running, so it was like, oh, maybe they know rain’s coming down. Then you see the field clear, like, oh, nobody is out on the field anymore, which should have been weirder than it was because even if rain’s coming, they’re going to start pulling out tarps and stuff.”
The grounds crew was not coming onto the field. The Padres were not coming onto the field for the bottom of the sixth inning. It was just an odd scene, with some people in the park running for cover, including those being helped into the Padres dugout by Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., while others had no information about what was going on at all.
In addition to a wall of people coming their way, the Deyos noticed that the concession stands had all slammed their gates shut, not something that would happen if there was going to be a rain delay. Finally, they got some word-of-mouth information from a stadium worker, who said there was an “incident outside.”
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