ESPN 30 for 30: Hillsborough

ESPN’s documentary strand has produced some classic films.  One thinks of the rather splendid Four Days In October about the miracle of the Boston Red Sox’s comeback from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS.  But whilst that film shows the glory of what sport can do to a city Hillsborough shows what must rank as one of world sport’s darkest days: from the simple fact of 96 people dying watching a football match to the cover-up of what really happened that April day in 1989 that followed for more than 20 years.

You can’t yet watch Hillsborough in the UK.  It’s taken twenty-five years to get an inquiry that might finally unearth the truth – or, at least given how much is now accepted as fact even before the inquiry opens, hold those responsible for what happened to account.  There’s very little need to rehearse all over again the mechanics of the tragedy.  Hillsborough, like virtually every ground at the time, was a nonsense venue. Spectators held in pens built by people with no understanding of crowd control or escape routes.  South Yorkshire Police as an organisation more concerned with holding back the plebian masses than with proper event management.  No stewarding.  Lessons from previous events passing unlearnt.

So the film has all that.  What is also has, through both on-the-day and archive footage, and clever use of photographs to show how the ground was set up, is the specifics.  Why the crowd built as it did, how it came to be in the central pens at the Leppings Lane end, and so on.  It also, damningly, shows the views the SYP had and how their reactions might be interpreted as being wholly inappropriate for the gathering storm.  Let’s leave it at that.

There are first-hand accounts from survivors and relatives – and some sympathetic voices from bobbies doing their job.  If you can make it past 45 minutes in without needing to pause you’ll have done well.  There is harrowing but vital to see footage of the dying and injured being treated on the field – whilst the police form a line to prevent the non-existent threat of hooliganism from occurring.  There’s no outside narrative voice but the talking heads lead us through all the salient points.

We then move on to the deliberate besmirching of the dead – even as some of them were possibly still breathing. One fan, interviewed here, loses it for a moment when speaking about how ‘The Truth’ portrayed them.  But it’s their collective dignity in the face of this bullshit that will stick with you.

There’s two hours of this and it’s a fucking hard watch.  On a popular video sharing site it’s currently split into 7 parts.  I could only make it through by watching one part at a time and then having a breather.  Even typing about it and thinking back to it leaves me reeling slightly.

It ends about as positively as this disgraceful episode ever could.  The independent inquiry totally exonerating the fans and opening up a new inquiry – one that might just not take the Establishment line but which it is doubtful whether will lead to any true justice.

Credit to ESPN for this film.  They didn’t have to make it.  Credit also to the measured way in which Daniel Gordon’s direction brings out the story.  It appears to have been pretty well received in the States even though for them Hillsborough must be soccer pre-history.  Hopefully one day we’ll get to see it on TV in the UK.  The voices from that day deserve to be heard and never forgotten.


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On the radio: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

from the beeb

It’s something of a surprise to come across what you imagine to be an old, familiar friend and discover that you have misremembered.  I had expected to tune in to Radio 4 Extra’s broadcast of the first-ever episode of old friend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and find myself surrounded by familiar jokes told in a familiar way.  Pleasing, rewarding, but not necessarily surprising.  As it was, things were rather different.  I must have been listening on a Thursday.

I grew up in a house that loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  We had all four books of the trilogy.  We had the audiobooks of the final two books of that trilogy.  We recorded all six episodes off the TV.  We also had what I thought were the original radio recordings.  You see, I knew, even before wikipedia replaced the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the standard repository of knowledge (well, it is cheaper), that it had all started on the radio and here we had a very obvious audio drama in cassette form.  It was that that I assumed I was about to hear on Radio 4 Extra.  I was wrong.

What I had, it appears, was a double disc recording of the second iteration of Hitchhikers.  One created for the stage and then recorded and sold.  Many of the lines and jokes are the same but the pacing, editing, intonation and, in some cases, the meaning are different.

All of which is a very long way of saying: well, this is nice.  I get to listen to something that is both comfortingly familiar and satisfyingly different.  So there’s just one question left: after 36 years, is it any good?

Well, of course it is.  What’s striking, trying to listen to the radio series ‘as new’, is how quickly we’re into a world of Vogons, gargleblasters and babelfish.  There’s really not a huge amount of time given to exposition beyond the famous face-off between Arthur Dent and the men who would knock down his house to make way for a bypass.  Towels are not mentioned but you can buy six pints and get significant change from a fiver.  The ideas and dialogue are startlingly clever and, crucially, remain funny and true.  Vocal styles may have dated, even the idea of hitchhiking is a little passée,  but we’re dealing with universal fundamentals here and they don’t move much in so little galactic time.

Apparently this hasn’t been heard anywhere for over ten years.  Given how often other shows get repeated this seems a little bizarre.  Hopefully we’re going to get the full set on this run through and then hopefully we won’t have to wait so long to hear it all again.

Or, like me: hear it again whilst hearing it for the first time.

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At the match: Eastbourne United AFC v Ampthill Town (FA Vase Qtr Final)

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

Sport has a funny way of getting you.  I’ve written elsewhere and bored friends to tears talking about how you know when a game, a sport or a team has grabbed you.  Sometimes these connections last until you change channel when the game finishes but sometimes they run deeper.  Right now, I’m flirting with those shameless folk at Eastbourne United AFC who have put on a cup (vase) run just as I introduce my son to soccer.

And this, his third match (second here, the previous Vase match being the other) was the one where something got him.  When Eastbourne’s second went in, pulling them ahead having had an earlier lead levelled, I didn’t have to turn and tell his eager five year old brain what had happened.  No, this time, I turned to see a boy grinning from ear to ear and clapping wildly.  Football, eh?  Bloody hell.

Anyway, this game did pretty much have everything.  Solid tackling, hard fouls, inventive attack, long balls, goals and a crowd.  Eastbourne led 1-0 at the break before Ampthill deservedly equalised.  Thereafter followed tension which only grew once the home side were back in front.  The visitors may have finished with 9 men (the boy has seen 6 red cards in his three matches) but they were laying siege when the referee blew for time.

So, now there’s the small matter of a two-legged semi final and, possibly, a Wembley final to come.  I did once make it to a Vase final at the old Wembley – a match so dull I can barely remember which teams were playing.  I’m sure if Eastbourne do get that far it will be an altogether more memorable occasion.

(There are some photos of the match here.)

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About “Hastings Pier” …

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - Click for Flickr page

We all know that piers occupy a curious position in the English psyche.  These seaside protuberances jutting out from windswept beaches and simultaneously conjuring up images of promenading Victorians and working-class seaside humour.  Many have fallen now into irrelevance and/or disrepair, and in a high number of cases they’re also in the process of falling into the sea itself, to exist only in sepia postcards and folk memory.

This is Hastings pier on a crisp Spring morning. You’ll note the crumbling structure and, no doubt, think that here is another wreck about to, at best, disappear. But, you would be wrong.

The pier was built in 1872 and was a venue into the 1960s but closed in 2006.  A fire a few years later destroyed most of what was left.  Plans to rebuild and reopen came and went.  But, thanks to the good work of the good people at the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust a grant has been obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund and with further public support the pier may be restored to life as soon as 2015.  The BBC reports that the first planks to reboard it have already been laid.

It could very well be that this photo showing a sad, burnt out, ruin is the one that will link to people’s fading memories.  I can cope with that but I wonder what the future for this pier will be: genteel promenaders or a selection of gags about pricking his boil.  Or something in between?

More info about the pier charity is here.

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At the match: Daventry Town v AFC Hayes

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

Daventry Town used to play in black and white at a non-descript ground called Elderstubbs.  Now, without moving, they wear all-purple at a modern thing called Communications Park.  They are also sponsored by something called  Welcome to non league football on the edge of understanding.

AFC Hayes didn’t used to be AFC Hayes.  And they are not Hayes & Yeading United either.  The latter play in Woking after all although one half of the merged entity had previously been called Hayes FC.  No, AFC Hayes were, until 2007, Brook House FC.  Apparently there’s a nice pub in Hayes called The Brookhouse.  I don’t know if they’re connected because google won’t tell me.

Anyway, this was a match where one team beat another 3-0 without a single goal requiring an attacking pass.  Penalty, direct free kick straight in and potential own-goal tapped over the line – that was how the scoring went.  The first two led to two yellow cards for one unlucky sod meaning that AFC Hayes had only ten men to look thoroughly grumpy by the end.

I took along a grandfather and a grandson (I was the middle generation).  And a camera which produced these pictures.

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The day Bangor went to Highbury. To play Napoli.

It’s one of the great stories of European soccer.  Bangor City taking on Napoli in the European Cup Winners Cup and if such a thing as the away goals rule had existed they would have been victorious.  A 2-0 win at home and a 3-1 loss away.  But, sadly and gloriously, the game went to a play-off.  At Arsenal.  And it was Napoli who won that game 2-1. Oh, the humanity.

Thirty-odd years after the heady days of 1962, I had the pleasure of going to Farrar Road to watch the Mighty Black & Greens of Aber Town go down without much heroism 5-1.  It seemed that every single Bangor fan wanted to tell us how they’d been there to see the boys in blue tilt at the giants of Europe.  Which was nice.

And now, here is the Pathe evidence of that extra leg. Football from a bygone era is always charming and I especially like that the English commentary repeatedly calls the team Naples.  It did make me wonder when we started calling them by their proper name.  It’s not like we routinely miss off the ‘s’ of Paris St Germain or talk about Bayern Muenchen.

Anyway, video …

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On the radio: North of Riga by Eoin McNamee

Men keep their strength in their hair, in a woman’s hair you will find her dreams.  Such was one of the recurring messages of this rather beautiful and engaging modern fairy tale from author Eoin McNamee.

Set in a harsh Irish port and focusing on a lone, and potentially lonely, girl Lorna and her friendships initially with two town drunks Mervyn and Sandra and then with potential Latvia witch (and definite hairdresser) Sarah, North of Riga was everything a good radio drama should be.  The story could not have worked in any other medium, the voice characterisation was spot on, and the creation of the bitter cold as winter rolled in was effective and shiver-generating.  I liked the repeated motifs of “Dear Lorna” and the listing of “one for …, two for …”

Special mention also to Amybeth McNulty who played the character of Lorna.  The thirteen year old girl whose mummy is ‘too busy’ to look after her and who must be different people to the enquiring social services, the bewildered adults and the tempting coiffeuse.

The resolution neatly brought together the fairy-tale elements and the apparently real and we were left with as satisfying a forty-five minute radio play as you are likely to hear.  Well worth checking out on the iPlayer where it’s drama of the week, or waiting for a Radio 4 Extra repeat.

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