If ever an argument for the value of an engineer’s advice was needed, the tragic events of April 15 1989 provided it.
As the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest got underway at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium, it became clear that at tragedy was unfolding.
Too many Liverpool fans were allowed into the Leppings Lane end of the ground and the lower tier of standing terraces became increasingly and dangerously overcrowded.
An order from licencing authority South Yorkshire County Council - on a police recommendation - to erect fences around the perimeter of the pitch as a crowd control measure and to prevent pitch invasions, meant that spectators were trapped in the crush. Some succeeded in escaping by clambering over the heads of those around them and scrambling onto the upper tier of the stand.
Others were not so lucky and a total of 94 spectators died that day - and a further two thereafter - crushed against the fencing and against crash barriers in the lower tier.
It was a national disaster, not least because of the high profile nature of the match. Prime minister Margaret Thatcher even visited the scene.
After the disaster, Sheffield Wednesday’s consulting engineer told NCE that the police had ignored his warning that perimeter fencing posed a safety hazard, preferring to keep them to eliminate the risk of a pitch invasion.
The disaster triggered the ninth, and perhaps most decisive, investigation into safety at football grounds in the 20th century. Previous probes had looked into notable disasters, like the fire at Bradford City’s ground and crowd crushes at Rangers’ Ibrox stadium in Glasgow and Bolton Wanderers’ old Burnden Park stadium.
But the Hillsborough tragedy claimed the most lives, which is perhaps why Lord Justice Taylor’s recommendations for change following the disaster won more widespread support than its predecessors. Significantly, perimeter fencing was banned and all-seater stadiums were imposed on the biggest clubs. Seating was seen as a better way to prevent the sort of mass crowd unrest that had blighted top flight football in the 1970s.
Reform also helped British engineers to become world leaders in modern, safe stadium design.