Hillsborough crowd incident at Sheffield Wednesday vs Newcastle a ‘near miss’, says council

Sheffield City Council says an overcrowding incident in the Leppings Lane End of Hillsborough was a “near miss” after a licensing body investigation.

The incident occurred on January 7, 2023, when Newcastle United travelled to Sheffield Wednesday in a third-round FA Cup tie, with away fans reporting safety issues before kick-off, with some having to rip nets away from seating to make space.

The Leppings Lane stand is where 97 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final due to a crush.

Initially, Wednesday commissioned a review with Sheffield City Council, which found that “all aspects of safety at the stadium complied fully with the club’s safety certificate”, with only “minor recommendations made about the matchday experience”.

However, after Newcastle made a Freedom of Information request to the council, it subsequently emerged that these “minor recommendations” amounted to a significant capacity reduction. The upper tier had its capacity reduced from 3200 to 2400, while the lower tier went down from 1500 to 1300. Some 4500 Newcastle fans had travelled to Sheffield for the match.



Sheffield Wednesday cleared after complaints of overcrowding during Newcastle win

A full investigation was then carried out by the council’s licensing body which culminated in a report given this week. Matt Proctor, the council’s sports grounds and events lead officer, told a meeting: “The initial concerns were raised by a journalist’s photograph and we actually reached out to Newcastle United supporters to give their insight into exactly what their actual concerns were about being at that particular end of that particular stadium.

“When we received responses from Newcastle supporters they raised different issues to the issues raised by the journalist and we carried out a full investigation.

”We classed it as a near miss and alterations have been made to the operation of that particular stadium as a result of the feedback.”

Speaking to the BBC, Peter Scaff from the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance told the BBC that the Leppings Lane End was still “extremely dangerous”.

Entry to the lower tier is through one sloping tunnel into the centre of the stand, with supporters then expected to fan outwards.

“That section of the stadium needs to be pulled down and rebuilt,” said Scaff. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Sheffield Wednesday did not wish to comment on the findings, but confirmed that all recommended changes had been implemented.

“In January 2023, NUST collated several hundred eye-witness statements from the issues that NUFC fans encountered during the FA Cup 3rd-round tie at Hillsborough,” the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust said. “Having presented them to the relevant safety authorities, we welcome the recent findings and hope all clubs continue to put the safety of supporters first.

“The Trust would like to thank again, those who provided input of their experiences on the day and it will hopefully make future visits by away fans to Hillsborough a safer and more pleasant experience.”

(Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

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