Review of ESPN’s Explosive ‘Hillsborough’ Documentary; Will Air On ESPN at 8pm ET Tuesday
Twenty five years after the Hillsborough Disaster, there are still people who question who was to blame for the tragedy that killed 96 fans. With Tuesday’s premiere of ‘Hillsborough,’ a brand new documentary that will air on ESPN at 8pm ET, the myth that Liverpool fans were to blame can unequivocally be ruled out.
In a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking, Hillsborough finally puts all of the key evidence into one emotionally charged and powerful film that explains what happened before, during and after the Hillsborough Disaster, and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the police and authorities who made a calculated decision to enact a massive cover-up to blame Liverpool supporters for the tragedy that killed 96 innocent soccer fans.
Despite glaring evidence from The Lord Justice Taylor report and the Hillsborough Independent Panel, there still remains the urban myth that drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters – pushing their way into the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest – were the reason for the crush that killed the Liverpool supporters in the Leppings Lane stand. That myth was propagated by the South Yorkshire Police, which was then taken verbatim by the tabloid newspapers and spun into “the truth” despite considerable evidence to suggest the opposite. To make matters worse, especially in the United States, a shock-jock radio show host went on a crusade to spin the lies on an impressionable audience, many of whom didn’t know any better.
Thankfully, ESPN and director Daniel Gordon have produced an incredible film that is, in my opinion, THE most important soccer film ever made. The film features plenty of never seen before footage as well as candid interviews with soccer fans who were there that fateful day. The film is an emotional roller coaster that will make you angry, cry and carry on in disbelief that it took the UK government 25 years to come to understand what really happened on April 15 and in the aftermath.
The film painstakingly pieces together CCTV footage with photographs as well as radio and TV commentary plus reenactments to present a convincing amount of evidence to paint the police and government as inept organizations that were focused on covering up what really happened to protect their own careers as well as to prevent the key figures from being prosecuted for the crimes they committed.
A new inquest is currently ongoing in England to examine the case, so the film won’t be shown in the UK. But I must admit that while the documentary is a must-see film that every soccer fan needs to watch, some of the subject matter in Hillsborough will be unfit for children to watch due to the emotional distress the film may cause.
Full credit must go to ESPN for having the fortitude to show this on its flagship network during prime-time on US television. Once you watch this film, it’s one that you will never forget.
The film is so powerful that for the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed to be British. The level of corruption and lack of human decency displayed by the police authorities in this film is staggering.
To me, the most memorable scene in the film is when author and scholar Phil Scraton enters the Parliamentary Archives in the House of Commons to go through the boxes and boxes of reports from the police officers who worked that day at Hillsborough (see photo below). The scene of Scraton piecing together the evidence of how the police authorities removed all criticism and negativity about how the police authorities handled the crowds is sobering to watch. The police authorities covered up the entire investigation and fed the lies to everyone who would listen.
Hillsborough is the first documentary in ESPN’s 30 for 30: Soccer Stories series.
Beginning on the fateful day in 1989, Hillsborough explores what happened and why. It offers a detailed examination not only of the horrific loss of life, but also of key developments in the preceding years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading to the disaster. Featuring first-hand accounts of fans in attendance as well as police officers—many speaking on camera for the first time—the film also explores the tragedy through the experiences of families who lost their loved ones and undertook a painstaking journey in a quest for justice that is still ongoing.
“Hillsborough is the most important soccer story of my generation,” said director Daniel Gordon. “What began as a day of expectancy turned into a quite unimaginable tragedy, the horror and pain of which have not diminished with time, as families and survivors have sought – and been denied – justice. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the disaster, I felt that now was the right time to look at the whole story, from the day, through the immediate aftermath and the now quarter century of the fight for justice. As a soccer fan who followed his team home and away in the era, I know that could easily have been me on that day and I hope I’ve done the story justice.”
30 for 30: Soccer Stories will include a mix of feature-length and 30-minute-long documentary films from an award winning group of filmmakers telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape. The series will air leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup on ESPN.
30 for 30: Soccer Stories will air on ESPN as follows (all times Eastern):
Tuesday, April 15, 8 p.m. – “Hillsborough”
Tuesday, April 22, 7 p.m. – “Maradona ’86” followed by “The Opposition”
Tuesday, April 29, 7p.m. – “The Myth of Garrincha” followed by “Ceasefire Massacre”
Tuesday, May 6, 7 p.m. – “Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy” followed by “Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry”
Tuesday, July 1, 8 p.m. – “White, Blue and White”
Mark your calendars to watch Hillsborough on Tuesday, April 15 at 8pm ET on ESPN in the United States.
It’s the most important soccer film you’ll ever watch.