News from Played in Britain

Leitch barriers from Saltergate destined for museums

May 20 2010

They were once so ubiquitous at British sports grounds as to be almost invisible, but now, thanks to Played in Britain, two of the last known patented Leitch crush barriers in the country are to be preserved by the National Football Museum in Preston and the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow. Both barriers are being donated to the museums by Chesterfield Football Club following the last ever match at Saltergate on May 9.

Originally designed and patented by the Scottish engineer Archibald Leitch in 1906, the distinctive barriers were installed at football and rugby grounds all over Britain until at least the mid 1950s. Millions of fans leaned against them without being aware that their design was a direct consequence of the 1902 Ibrox disaster, in which Leitch was heavily implicated (a story told fully in Engineering Archie, part of the Played in Britain series).

Leitch biographer Simon Inglis (left) and Peter Holme

Leitch biographer Simon Inglis (left) and Peter Holme from the National Football Museum size up one of the Saltergate barriers before the 139 year old ground is cleared for development.

Following the 1975 Safety of Sports Grounds Act more rigorous testing resulted in large numbers of Leitch barriers being replaced. Even so, hundreds remained in place, including dozens in the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough, where the disaster which led to the phasing out of terracing occurred in April 1989.

Since then, as more historic grounds have been bulldozed and old banks of terracing replaced by seats, the numbers of original Leitch barriers has diminished steadily.

Played in Britain editor and author of Engineering Archie, Simon Inglis was first tipped off in March to the fact that Saltergate's barriers might be among the last surviving, by football ground enthusiast and author Mike Floate. Inglis in turn contacted Chesterfield's Alan Stevenson and both football museums, with the result that the club kindly offered to donate two of their remaining barriers after the Saltergate's final match against Bournemouth on May 9. In total four intact Leitch barriers remained until the end, in corners of terracing not used for some years. One is too short to be worth preserving. One is to be auctioned to fans as part of a general auction at Saltergate on June 13, and the other two will be transported to the two football museums once demolition of Saltergate starts later this summer.

Hampden Park in 1937

Hampden Park in 1937 - once home to more Leitch barriers than any other stadium in Britain, holder of the all-time British attendance record of 149,415 (on April 17 1937), and now home to the Scottish Football Museum, where one of the Saltergate barriers will now be preserved.
(photograph courtesy of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park)

Speaking on behalf of the National Football Museum, research officer Peter Holme said, 'These barriers were an important part of the football experience for millions of fans throughout the 20th century, so it was vital that we preserved at least two for posterity. We are therefore very grateful to Chesterfield Football Club and in particular to Alan Stevenson and the club historian Stuart Basson for agreeing to support our efforts.'

Not just a steel barrier, once a way of life

Not just a steel barrier, once a way of life

Scottish Football Museum curator Richard McBrearty was equally delighted. 'It is especially appropriate for one of Archie's barriers to come back to Glasgow, where he was born and learnt his trade, and moreso that it should be preserved at the museum at Hampden Park, where literally hundreds of Leitch barriers were installed during the 1930s, at a time when Hampden was the largest football stadium in the world.'

Simon Inglis added, 'To younger fans these barriers may appear to be a crude concoction of rusting metal bits and bobs, but to my generation they are genuinely iconic, symbolising a lost world of spectatorship, camaraderie and reverie. Whenever I give lectures and put up pictures of typical Leitch barriers the majority of the audience recognise them immediately, and with great affection. Like many fans, I had a particular barrier I would always try to lean against, in my case on the Holte End at Villa Park. So it is great that these two from Saltergate will find their way into museums.

'The question is, how many others might there still be out there? We'd be fascinated to hear if anyone knows of any other survivors that we may have missed.'

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