The Hillsborough disaster of exactly 20 years ago today helps put football into perspective for West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray.
Albion may be embroiled in a fading fight to secure their Premier League status and while relegation would be a bitter blow for Mowbray’s and the players’ careers, it is only their livelihoods and not their lives that are at stake.
Ninety six Liverpool supporters died following the crush in the Leppings Lane stand at Hillsborough and the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest was abandoned after just six minutes when fans starting coming onto the pitch to avoid the crush.
As a result of the disaster and the subsequent enquiry by Lord Taylor of Gosforth, known as the Taylor Report, football changed forever with new safety measures and all-seater stadiums introduced.
However, crowd safety is still an issue elsewhere in the world and Albion centre back Abdoulaye Meite experienced another disaster last month while on international duty in the Ivory Coast when 19 spectators were killed following a stampede of fans during the 5-0 win over Malawi.
Mowbray is no stranger to personal tragedy as his first wife Bernadette died of breast cancer during the 1990s and, as a result, he is able to put the winning of football matches into perspective.
“What happened in the Ivory Coast was hugely sad,” Mowbray said.
“You have to break it down to the human element.
‘‘Mothers, fathers, husbands and wives send their loved ones off to football matches and if they don’t come back it is wrong. It is only sport.
“Life and death, I have been there and experienced how death can affect your family.
“This is only a game, basically. We are trying to win three points and we talk about how important relegation is, or promotion, and I don’t want to demean it in anyway because people are very passionate about football.
“But in the context of what life and death is, it is just a game of football.
“We are all trying to be successful and trying to win, to enjoy our own careers and we want the supporters to be happy, but it is just a game.”
Mowbray, who was forging a name for himself at Middlesbrough in 1989, remembers fondly the electrifying atmospheres of packed terraces from his playing days but believes the loss of those moments and the introduction of all-seater stadiums was a small price to pay to avoid another Hillsborough.
“Football has moved on dramatically in lots of ways since then,” he said.
“The safety aspect of football has moved on and you only have to look at the stadiums we play in every week. The Premiership is a huge spectacle every week in huge arenas with full houses.
“It is great to be involved in it and yet people do say that when you look at the numbers and the crowds football clubs used to have standing, the atmospheres generated were excellent.
“You can think back to the Kop at Anfield and how it used to sway in the Bill Shankly era.
“The price is too great to pay and the risk is too high. It is right that the safety aspects are in place and people can go to football matches, and mothers will know their son is coming home.”