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ESPN Gets It Right With Hillsborough Documentary

Alex Livesey

The end of ESPN's documentary on the Hillsborough disaster summed it up perfectly. "For the 96," in white letters on a black background. Really that is what this is all about. The story of a tragedy and the following 25 years on the hunt for justice for 96 victims and a bit of closure for those 96 families.

ESPN tackled an ambitious project by turning it over to a Sheffield Wednesday fan in director Daniel Gordon who has been involved in other ESPN documentaries. Mr. Gordon attempted what no one has done before, and he succeeded in spectacular fashion.

"Hillsborough" opened with a chilling look at that fateful day from survivors of the disaster as well as family who lost loved ones. Stories of fans traveling to Hillsborough were related with a an impending sense of doom. Pictures of the 96 were shown as stories of taking the train or bus down to the FA Cup Semifinal were spoken of.

As the documentary progressed, Mr. Gordon began to set the scene at Hillsborough through testimony from both fans and police. Members of the South Yorkshire Police were willing to speak on camera, and the documentary shows just how perilous the situation was. For those well versed about the tragedy, it was shocking to see just how incompetent the management was. The coverup has been well documented, but to see just how bad things were manged is truly astounding, especially when it was obvious there was a problem in the stands.

The first hour of the documentary focused on the build up and disaster itself, following some members of the crowd from home into the stands. The testimony is chilling; several of the people interviewed saw loved ones disappear only to be found dead later on. A few managed to escape over the barrier while one actually passed out behind the goal. It is a horror that should never be experienced, and this documentary made it all too real.

While the first hour of "Hillsborough" elicited shock and horror, the second hour was even worse. This part was devoted to the inquiry and massive coverup. From the Taylor Report to the most recent Commission, the whole story is told. Every step of the way members of the families affected talk about their fight for justice, and the pain they felt every step of the way.

For the person first encountering the Hillsborough tragedy to those who have followed this coverup every step of the way, this documentary was perfect. Mr. Gordon told the whole story of Hillsborough through the eyes of those who were there and those who were affected. By keeping things to a small group, the audience is able to bond and feel the pain of losing a loved one, of spending 25 years fighting for justice, and of seeing just how important the truth can be.

Yet the battle is not over, even now there is still a fight for justice as a new coroner's inquest is meeting. For that reason this documentary has not aired in England. It will not air there until the inquest is complete. Only then will Justice For the 96 finally come true.