It was once the scene of polite applause and a gentle contemplation of the game where families enjoyed picnics in the convivial atmosphere of a test match Saturday. Even as late as 1981 when Botham and Willis sparked the miraculous turnaround that led to a famous Ashes victory, Headingly's Western Terrace was the place that test watchers in the north wanted to be.
|Journalists run for cover after a direct hit on the Press Box.|
Now that has all changed.
This weekend the ECB and Headingly officials will hold emergency talks with the Government and the United Nations about how to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis engulfing the West Terrace. It is likely that a request will be made for a UN peacekeeping force to forcibly enter the beleaguered section in a last gasp attempt to stop the growing violence, unrest and human rights atrocities now prevalent all over the area.
There are even calls for Gordon Brown to sanction the deployment of British troops within the stands in order to finally bring an end to the violence. It was initially suggested by the ECB that the Barmy Army be sent in to try and establish peace, until it was pointed out to them that the Barmy Army are not a military outfit but a group of annoying glorified holiday-makers with a tiresome line in unamusing songs.
|The brutal reality of a Saturday on the Western Terrace.|
It's Saturday at Headingly and just after 10 in the morning. A gaggle of nervous looking stewards huddle together by the boundary edge glancing anxiously as the first people begin to make their way into one of the world's most explosive trouble spots - Headingly's notorious Western Terrace. More stewards arrive. I counted them all in and later, counted them all back again.
At first there is an almost surreal silence. The calm before the storm. And then it begins. By 10.45 there is an intermittent exchange of gunfire emanating from the stairwell at the back of the stand. Raised voices can be heard from the direction of Mr. Whippy's ice-cream van. Somebody has set a pile of discarded scorecards on fire.
Most of the problems here are territorial. In the 1980s the Elvis lookalikes held sway, dominant in both number and reputation. There were the belligerent drunks of course, whose ancestors went back thousands of years. Generations and generations had considered this sacred land their own. Then the Elvises came, laying down their scent like a dog marking its territory. Clashes became commonplace: the old versus the new. But it wasn't to end there. Gradually the influence of the Elvises waned with the growth in popularity of rival factions and the opening of several costume hire shops in the Festive Road area of Leeds. Within a few years the Western Terrace became flooded with a volatile mixture of cheap imported cartoon characters, drag acts and Jimmy Saville impersonators. The uneasy peace that had just about held for decades quickly descended into open hostility.
|No panic; a home made device is casually swatted back from whence it came.|
The stewards are nervous. They know that the trouble will get worse as soon as the bar opens. Just after 11 o'clock the first major incident of the day occurs. Without warning, a pantomime horse is thrown from the top tier of the terrace causing a group of men dressed as nuns to take hasty evasive action. Miraculously the pantomime horse appears to be still alive, twitching and groaning on the cold concrete floor. Whether through a compassionate urge to put the beast out of its misery or a savage need for violence, the nuns have reformed and begin landing heavy blows with their fists and feet on the stricken beast until the last signs of life are extinguished. Their work done the nuns move to another part of the stand as a group of pink panthers congregate to noisily pick the meat off the fresh corpse.
As wickets tumble news reaches us that an elderly newspaper seller has been taken hostage by an as yet unnamed military organisation. It seems that the poor man has innocently stumbled into the terrace to sell the early edition of the Yorkshire Post and has been quickly bundled off by a masked gang. It is only much later in the day that our fears are confirmed when a crudely recorded video tape is deposited on the doorstep of the press office. The tape shows newspaper seller Alf Tupper in a dishevelled state chained to a radiator. He appears to have cuts and bruises on his face and speaks in a terrified nervous tone as he looks directly at the camera - "My captors are treating me well and I am in good health. Please listen to these demands or else I will be killed. My captors only want three things but these must be completed by midnight. One, free admission for racing pigeons; two, proper pint pots not plastic glasses and most importantly Emmerdale to be called Emmerdale Farm again. That's all. Oh, and half a dozen ham barms and a million pounds in used notes, No shrapnel."
Just as we thought. Its the work of The Yorkshire Liberation Front (YLF) - a fanatical break-away group of bitter moustached radicals with little compunction about killing and torturing innocent citizens in order to achieve their aims. We could but wonder what fate might befall this unfortunate man.
As the lunch interval came ever closer there was the inspiring sight of an aid lorry parking up at the rear of the stand. The brave aid workers are surrounded by desperate wretches as they attempt to hand out essential supplies to the hungry and needy. Blankets, medicines such as Resolve, Headstart and sun block, bandages, even clean clothes. There's a welcome supply of food that has been flown over from the nearest Greggs. It may not be haute cuisine but these savouries may be the only meal these people get all test match.
All of a sudden our attention is drawn to the sounds of mass panic and screaming coming from the bar area. It is difficult to see at first what has happened. Some people are running from the scene whilst others rush over to see what is taking place. We speak to eyewitnesses who tell us what has happened. A Jimmy Saville impersonator in a shopmobility scooter approached the large queues of people waiting to get served. It is everybody's worst nightmare ... a suicide bomber. As he got nearer he allegedly shouted "Now then, now then in the name of Allah Guys and Gals, as it happens, clunk click for your final trip ..." Luckily, as he tried to detonate an explosive device lodged in the tip of one of his trademark cigars he was apprehended by several brave souls who no doubt saved hundreds of lives by their actions. Within seconds the Saville was overpowered and taken away by the a six-strong group of Flintstones to an open space where he was immediately hung on a makeshift gallows made of beer snakes and a pair of fishnet tights ripped from by a passing bearded Nurse.
Suicide Savilles are becoming a huge problem. Extremist elements recruit them to carry out their pointless fatal missions with the promise of martyrdom and the 40 brand new shell suits they will find in heaven. Most are young, vulnerable men who find it difficult to resist especially as they get an "Allah fixed it for me" gold medallion before their final trip.
|Innocent bystanders are easily caught up in the disruption in the surrounding streets.|
By now with the afternoon session well underway the atmosphere within the Western Terrace is getting uglier by the minute. A naked man runs out onto the wicket causing a five-minute hold up of play. The commentators on TMS chuckle and complain in equal measures - to them it is just another streaker. The sad truth is that this man is fleeing persecution and once in the custody of the stewards he will immediately claim asylum. Others are desperate to follow him but are held back by an armed unit of Scooby Do characters on the boundary edge.
Almost immediately there is a sound of fresh rapid gunfire at the top of the stands. A group of super heroes in the highest corner have attempted to start a Mexican Wave. Within seconds they are shot dead by sniper fire coming from the direction of the disabled toilet. Batman's lifeless body tumbles down through the seats like a human slinky. I look across to the nearest stewards for their reaction. They shrug their shoulders as if to say "what can we do?"
As I walk around the Western Terrace it is clear that my presence is treated with suspicion. At one point a small crowd of Wizard of Oz characters gather round me and some minor jostling takes place. To appease them I show them my press card but this has no effect. It is only when I mention PDCC that the situation is diffused. I decide that I have seen enough and as the crowd's attention is distracted by the fall of another wicket I prepare to make a hasty exit. Yet even this proves difficult. All the borders are now under acute observation by representatives of the numerous factions within the zone. Miraculously the Mr. Whippy van is still operative and is preparing to attempt to get back to its HQ. I run over and ask if I can climb in. Mr. Whippy agrees and after I have clambered into the vehicle he attempts to drive off. Sadly the chiming tones of Popeye The Sailor Man attract attention and a well-aimed hand-grenade flies through the window and explodes in a box of cornets. It's touch and go but the old van is made of sterner stuff and with his foot flat down on the pedal we manage to burst through the barriers to the left of the turnstiles and we're soon out in the neutral territory of Kirkstall Lane.
So what do we do about a problem like the Western Terrace? I don't have the answers I'm afraid. We have to leave that to the politicians. All I know is that I have seen Hell on Earth and it is on our doorstep.