Former England star Paul Parker on the Hillsborough anniversary
PUBLISHED: 16:47 15 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:37 23 August 2010
By Paul Parker, former England star and Reporter columnist NO professional footballer playing the game in 1989 could fail to be affected by the Hillsborough disaster, writes Times star columnist and former England player, Paul Parker. A lot has been w
By Paul Parker, former England star and Reporter columnist
NO professional footballer playing the game in 1989 could fail to be affected by the Hillsborough disaster, writes Times' star columnist and former England player, Paul Parker.
A lot has been written about it in the 20 years that have followed but, one thing is for sure, football is a completely different sport now.
As a player at the time, my first reaction was one of total disbelief when I first heard what had happened. I - and none of my team-mates - could believe it had happened. You would never have thought 96 people could be killed at a football match.
I was playing at Queens Park Rangers at the time. We didn't have the perimeter fences that were present at Hillsborough and, upon which, so many Liverpool fans were crushed. There was obviously some method behind erecting those fences but, on reflection, it was complete madness to effectively cage supporters while they were trying to do nothing more than watch a football match.
It was worse in some parts on the continent though. I remember playing in Rotterdam in front of fences that had barbed wire on top of them because it was thought the supporters were so dangerous.
As a result of the Taylor Report - the inquiry that was set up after Hillsborough - this country now has among the safest grounds in the world, and that's something we should be proud of.
When I used to watch games from the stands, I remember standing on the terraces and they'd be a surge of people that would pile me into the barriers. I would have to try and duck underneath them or they would slam into my stomach.
Nowadays, I take my son to watch QPR and he is certainly in a safe environment - improvements such as this is why the game now attracts so many women and children as well.
However, another impact of the events in Hillsborough was that it brought the players on the pitch and the fans watching from the stands closer together.
Before the disaster, the only time I thought about supporters was when we were winning and they were cheering us on, or when things weren't going so well and they criticised us.
But, after Hillsborough, the role of supporters did play on my mind and I started to appreciate that they were more than a bunch of people paying to watch us play. The relationship changed, and footballers began respecting supporters in a way they had never done before. They were just as important - if not more so - than the 22 players out on the pitch because, without the fans, football would be so much less of a sport.
Although we do have much safer grounds, we should never get too complacent, though.
Supporters may feel secure inside a stadium, but the sport's hooligan element still exists. They have, instead, moved to nearby pubs and railway stations and football's next challenge is to try and remove this odious element from the game.