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From fear to awful reality

I can still remember watching Hillsborough unfolding on TV, the crush among the supporters.

Liverpool fans have sought justice since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989
Liverpool fans have sought justice since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989

What a lot of younger fans won't appreciate now is the conditions at football grounds in those days. Fans were penned in.

I was at Stamford Bridge a lot at that time, as I was an apprentice at Chelsea. We would train down at Heathrow and then take all the gear back to the stadium, so I was there on a daily basis. I watched a lot of games and it was scary, because of that thought you always had: what if?

We always worked at Stamford Bridge after the end of the season, too, helping to get the stadium into shape before the summer holidays. The apprentices would do jobs like cleaning the dressing rooms and painting the terracing and bits of the fences. It wasn't nice, even just standing in the place when it was empty. There was no roof over the terracing the away fans stood in.

We would go up to the middle tier of the main stand during games, where it was all-seated. But I would always look across to the terraces behind the goal, with The Shed being the one all the Chelsea fans were in. It used to be crammed full of people. I used to think 'imagine being stuck in there'. Then somebody would score and everybody would surge forward. I used to look at it and be thankful I wasn't in the middle of it.

The dangers were obvious, and then there were the perimeter fences. Chelsea were one of the first to put them up. And you always had that thought, what happens if there's a big crowd and you're stuck in there? When the fences went up, they were pointing out towards the park, with the barbed wire on the top. I thought it looked scary. This type of set-up was the reason Hillsborough happened. If the terracing had been open, the fans could all have spilled onto the park.

Back in those days, hooliganism in English football was at its worst. One of the young Chelsea players, Robert Isaac, was stabbed on his way to a game against Millwall. He walked up to The Den – at that time he was just breaking into the first team so he couldn't afford a car – and was stabbed after being approached by a group of hooligans.

The only thing that saved him was the thickness of his leather jacket, but I remember him coming into training with the big scar over his back. It was horrendous.

It was the hooligan element that caused the fences to be introduced. It was unfair, though, because there were only a few clubs that had a really bad element among their fans: West Ham, Chelsea, Millwall, clubs like that.

So the authorities put the fences up and from then on, it was only a matter of time until tragedy struck. Hillsborough, where there wasn't even a safety certificate, was a disaster waiting to happen. The Liverpool fans knew that, it's one of the reasons they chased justice for so many years.

I read and hear everybody, from managers to pundits, saying 4-4-2 is prehistoric. That's the biggest load of nonsense I've ever heard. Don't write 4-4-2 off, ever. I don't care what people say about modern football, if you get the right personnel, it works.

Sir Alex Ferguson won at lot of his trophies playing 4-4-2 and it's still one of the best systems. I know Scotland play a 4-1-4-1, but it's funny that Craig Levein's backroom staff both play 4-4-2 at their clubs, Peter Houston at Dundee United and Kenny Black at Motherwell.

The doubters who write it off don't know their football. I know plenty of managers who, if they had the right personnel, would love to play 4-4-2. I've played the lone role and I've played partnerships, and if you ask any striker, you can't beat playing a partnership. Everybody seems to be writing off 4-4-2, and that's embarrassing when one of the top teams in the world won trophy after trophy using it.

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