The eternal flames that burn on the Liverpool Football Club crest are fuelled by the memory of the 96 fans who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough Stadium on April 15, 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final match in Sheffield, England.
The largest sporting disaster in British history has spawned no shortage of grief — from press reporting falsehoods blaming the fans to the police’s repeated attempts to obstruct the search for justice. Director Daniel Gordon’s documentary Hillsborough unravels this complex tale and its lasting effects on the shared fabric of soccer, the press, and politics.
Hillsborough constructs an in-depth, revealing account of all the events that unfolded before, during, and after the Hillsborough disaster. In broad strokes, the documentary guides the viewer smoothly between addressing the precise details of tampered-with witness reports to how deep-rooted institutional complacency can be concerning stadium security. Archival footage, interviews, police reports, and press releases all intertwine to reveal the truth: 96 innocent fans were unlawfully killed due to stadium inadequacies and the failures of the police and ambulance services.
The documentary was initially released in 2014, during which time a 2012 High Court inquest was still in progress. Upon the inquest’s conclusion in April 2016, 15 minutes of new footage were added. This updated version is set for its North American premiere on June 10 as part of the Canadian Sport Film Festival (CSFF).
CSFF Executive Director Russell Field notes that “Hillsborough is a look – through the lens of sport and practice of sport spectating – at how a cover-up within the criminal justice system can have very real consequences for ordinary people participating in what is seemingly the most ordinary of practices, cheering on their team.”
The disaster happened when the standing-only Leppings Lane pens of the stadium — an area segregated from the field by tall fences — experienced a human crush, ultimately leading to the deaths of 96 and leaving a reported 766 injured. In the midst and aftermath of the chaos, the police fed lies to the press, claiming the crush was the fault of drunken Liverpool fans. This unfounded narrative quickly became accepted nationwide, dealing another devastating blow to the community that had just lost 96 of its members.
Gordon makes poignant the personal accounts of loss, fear, and anger. One moment in the documentary involves survivor Dan Davies describing being pulled out of the over-packed pen and into safety by fans on the terrace above as archival footage depicts brave fans trying to help each other out of danger. As Field notes, “The film palpably reflects [Gordon’s] desire to tell this story and offer a forum for the families of victims and the police officers on the ground to set the record straight.”
On the documentary’s selection for the CSFF, Field says, “The high quality of Hillsborough stood out. It is a powerful, moving, and at times riveting film that is part investigative journalism and part an exposé of the abuse of power.
“Many people who attend CSFF have a love of not only film, but of sport as well. Many have first-hand experience with sitting in a stadium cheering on their favourite team. None of them could ever imagine that they would be putting themselves at risk in doing this.”
As the author of Hillsborough – The Truth Phil Scraton states in the documentary, “The price of Hillsborough is not reducible to 96 people dying. The price of Hillsborough is the price of institutionalized injustice, the appalling treatment by some of the media of the good reputations of innocent people, [and] the cavalier way in which wonderful people were vilified.”
Hillsborough premieres at the TIFF Lightbox on Saturday, June 10. Student tickets are $8.50.