Footy crush is a tragedy waiting to happen

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FOOTY FANS have grown used to the crush and the queueing trying to get on to trains after big games at the MCG and Etihad Stadium. But, could they be putting their lives at risk? PAUL GOUGH recalls the Hillsborough tragedy in Britain and warns that it could happen in Melbourne:

TWENTY-NINE years ago this weekend England’s worst football disaster took place when 96 people were crushed to death at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield at an FA Cup semi-final.

At the time the authorities were struck dumb – how could this have happened?

After all, for years they had been treating football fans like mugs forcing them to stand in overcrowded, crumbling terraces after entering grounds through turnstiles that had been built in the 19th century and nothing had gone wrong before.

As we know now the authorities had been riding their luck all along and Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, Victorian footy fans face the same situation and very few probably realise the danger they are in every time they go to the MCG or EmptyHead (sorry I meant Etihad) Stadium.

As was the case in England in the 1980s, footy fans are being treated as mugs whose lives are not regarded as really that important by the authorities.

And I am not talking about the AFL (who to their credit have ensured we now sit in comfort at all games) but rather the State Government and the public transport authorities.

MAKE NO MISTAKE the eternal crush at the Myki barriers at Richmond and Southern Cross Stations after big games at the MCG and Etihad is a disaster of Hillsborough proportions just waiting to happen.

It’s quiet now, but is Richmond station a disaster waiting to happen? Pic: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

It takes a special type of bureaucratic idiot to force everyone to stand and queue to touch on and off with the hopelessly outdated Myki system when we are talking crowds of 50,000 plus that regularly attend AFL matches in Melbourne.

The crowd milling around the barriers at Richmond station in Brunton Avenue after both the Round One Tigers-Blues game and last weekend’s Tigers-Hawks game was truly frightening when viewed through the potential for something to go wrong.

While so far disaster may have been averted, all it would take is for some kind of panic to take hold for there to be an enormous surge forward, crushing people against the Myki barriers.

This is what happened in Sheffield in 1989 (see below) when police let fans in at the last minute into an already overcrowded standing room area, thus trapping fans at the front of the pens against perimeter fencing surrounding the playing field.

 

The situation is now so bad at the MCG that yours truly never tries to enter Richmond station through the Brunton Avenue entrance post-match for fear of being crushed and rarely goes to Etihad Stadium, where the overcrowding on the footbridge to Southern Cross Station is even worse.

Many readers will probably think I am overreacting and will think such a tragedy could not happen here.

But having almost being victim to such a crowd surge while covering a one-day cricket international in Kanpur, India, in 1998 I know how easily an orderly crowd can become panicked and squashed in an instant.

There are now reports that Richmond station will be revamped as part of the AFL-State Government deal that will modernise the MCG and Etihad Stadium.

But like the Melbourne Airport rail link – I will believe it when I see it.

And until then the authorities will continue to ride their luck, treat fans like sheep and hope nothing goes wrong.

Just like they did in England until 1989.

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Author: Paul Gough

PAUL GOUGH covered the AFL from 1990 to 2010 for the Herald Sun, Australian Associated Press, the AFL website and Sportal.

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