Remembering 30 years ago: When crowd crush took the gloss off Leeds United's win at Middlesbrough

Leeds United defender Chris Fairclough scores at Middlesbrough in his side's 2-0 win on December 9, 1989 - on an afternoon remembered for a crush in the away end at Ayresome Park.
Leeds United defender Chris Fairclough scores at Middlesbrough in his side's 2-0 win on December 9, 1989 - on an afternoon remembered for a crush in the away end at Ayresome Park.
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THE SPECTRE of Hillsborough worryingly came to the fore thirty years ago today for Leeds United fans during their side's Division Two fixture at Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park.

It was back on December 9, 1989 that an early winter's afternoon on Teesside saw fears abound that another footballing tragedy could be unfolding.

Howard Wilkinson's Leeds side had arrived at struggling Boro with their sights set on securing the second part of a North-East double after a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at Elland Road seven days earlier in front of a crowd of 31,715 - the best in the division thus far.

That triumph over the Magpies, thanks to Ian Baird's goal, avenged a 5-2 opening-day reverse at St James' Park.

A week on from that home win over Newcastle, Leeds were chasing their second successive win against a Boro side who they had beaten 2-1 in early-season at Elland Road, courtesy of a comical late own goal from Gary Parkinson.

Football was secondary three-and-a-half months on at Ayresome Park. In the event, Leeds may have won 2-0, but more serious events became the post-match talking point.

Leeds, flying high in the table, had quickly sold out their 2,108 allocation for the Clive Road corner, an end which contained spiked fences in an era when football hooliganism was rife.

A packed out away end saw Carl Shutt give United an early lead, with it soon becoming evident that a fair number of visiting fans - unable to get tickets for the away section - were present amid home fans in the Holgate End in a crowd of 19,686.

The supporters were marched down the touchline of the South Stand before entering the already heaving away section, with a seemingly natural overflow section in the 'Boys End' at Ayresome being ignored.

A surge then resulted in dozens of Leeds fans being rammed against the fence of the overcrowded away end.

Terrified children were carried to safety over the dangerous spikes, with medical staff quickly rushing to the scene, while other supporters climbed over segregation fences into the home areas amid the worrying crush.

The game was called to a halt for 15 minutes as both sets of players and benches watched on anxiously.

Leeds fans later spoke of their anger that it took five minutes for gates to be opened to enable distressed supporters to get to safety on the perimeter of the pitch.

All together, 19 Leeds fans required treatment and five were taken to hospital. A ten-year-boy was detained overnight.

Once the game got under way, a second goal for the visitors from Chris Fairclough sealed victory for Leeds against the struggling hosts.

Almost ten years earlier in January 1980, Ayresome Park had witnessed a tragedy when part of a brick pillar crumbled and two gates collapsed - resulted in the deaths of Boro season-ticket holders Irene and Norman Roxby as they were leaving the South East corner of the ground following the hosts' 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

Nearly a decade on and thankfully there were no fatalities on this occasion, but it was another serious incident all the same in a grim year for English football.