SHEFFIELD, England -- Poor police crowd control, inadequate emergency medical facilities and shortsighted design of the soccer stadium here were being blamed Sunday as the death toll rose to 94 in the nation's worst sports disaster.
The victims were asphyxiated or crushed to death at a national soccer championship playoff match Saturday when thousands of additional spectators surged at the last minute into an enclosed and already overcrowded viewing terrace, trapping early arrivals against fixed metal barriers.
"Whatever decisions we have to take will be taken, because we cannot go through this again," Thatcher said during a half-hour tour of Sheffield's Hillsborough Stadium, where Saturday's semi-final championship contest between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest turned into a nightmare of panic and agonizing death.
After hearing several survivors tell of the event, Thatcher described their experiences as "a story, in the midst of tragedy, of tremendous, heroic courage and, of course, still fantastic anxiety."
Hero schoolboy Ian Clarke, 16, told Thatcher how he used the life-saving techniques he learned as a swimmer to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to "10 or 12" victims before collapsing himself.
"As the crowd moved away I could see people lying there with their faces going purple, so I helped drag them away," Clarke said. "We got about eight of them back alive, but I'm not sure about the others.
"I went back to get a few more from the terracing, but there was another surge and I was knocked on the ground. It was like being underwater when you can't get back up and you've got no air. I was trying to fight, but there were dead bodies on top of me.
"The only way I can describe it--it was like something out of a horror movie."
In a country suffused with grief and anger after the tragedy, the inquiry is considered likely to bring legislation that could drastically alter the traditional face of Britain's most popular sport.
10,000 Mourners at Service
At Liverpool, the blue-collar port city that was home to most of the victims, up to 10,000 mourners attended a memorial service Sunday evening. Three thousand filled Liverpool's huge concrete and glass Roman Catholic cathedral, while more than twice that many stood outside under chilly, overcast skies.
The first 25 fatal victims identified by police Sunday ranged in age from 10 to 62 and included two sisters, aged 15 and 19. Most of the dead were young men.
London's Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph both published extraordinary, angry front page editorials about the tragedy.
"A slum sport played in slum conditions," railed the Sunday Times. "Despite disaster after disaster, nothing seems to shake the complacency or incompetence of those who run the country's most popular spectator sport. Football (soccer) stadiums and their administration remain a disgrace. They are filthy, dangerous places; spectators only put up with them because of their enthusiasm for what happens on the pitch (field)."
"Pitiful indeed is the country that cannot ensure the safety of its people while at play," declared the Sunday Telegraph. "Inquiries are set up after each successive tragedy. New precautions are decreed. But to no avail. Football calamities are becoming as much a natural part of Britain's fate as are earthquakes in South America or famine in India."
The Football Assn., which administers professional soccer in Britain, is to decide early this week whether to cancel the rest of this year's national championship playoffs--a move comparable to halting the Super Bowl in the United States.
Saturday's tragedy also raised new questions over a ban that prevents British clubs from participating in European competition. The sanction was imposed after British fans attacked their Italian rivals during a May, 1985, match at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, triggering a riot in which 39 people died.
The Union of European Football Assns., which is the ruling body of European soccer, voted only last week to lift the ban for the 1990-91 season. But its action was conditional on the continued good conduct of British fans and the agreement of the British government.
From the archives: Police, Stadium Blamed in British Soccer Deaths
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