2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the Premier League but right before the first match of the season kicks off, one of the legendary voices of English soccer had to clarify his remarks about the Hillsborough disaster.
In a radio interview for BBC Radio 4, Sky Sports soccer commentator Martin Tyler reflected on the origins of the Premier League and noted how the state of the sport was a lot different back in 1992 than it is today. While things aren’t perfect in terms of fan behavior, hooliganism was more widespread 30 years ago and Tyler cited Hillsborough in his remarks.
“It was a great adventure and 3,000 live matches later – not all commentated by me, thankfully for the public – it does seem like it worked,” Tyler said. “You have got to remember football was in a bit of a crisis at that time. We weren’t that long after Hillsborough and other hooligan-related issues as well, so it was very much a difficult time for the game generally.”
The Hillsborough disaster was when 97 Liverpool fans were killed and hundreds of others were injured when overcrowding at the 1989 FA Cup semifinal resulted in people getting crushed. For decades, despite evidence to the contrary, Liverpool fans were blamed for the disaster. It wasn’t until 2012 when, through an independent investigation, the British government concluded that the disaster was not the fault of any Liverpool fan but was in fact caused by a “lack of police control” along with an ensuing cover up by police, that included taking blood alcohol levels of dead children, to shift blame on Liverpool fans who were at Hillsborough.
Tyler apologized and the BBC expressed regret for their respective roles. Tyler explained that he was not implying they were one and the same and apologized for any misunderstanding.
“This morning while discussing various crises facing football 30 years ago, I referred to some examples including the Hillsborough disaster and also controversy over hooliganism at matches. These are two separate issues. There is no connection at all between the Hillsborough disaster and hooliganism – I know that, and I was not implying that there was. I apologise sincerely and wholeheartedly for any misunderstanding.”
Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler has issued an apology for comments made during a BBC interview on Friday morning pic.twitter.com/x4h8UKgb0r
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) August 5, 2022
The BBC put out a statement expressing regret that they didn’t challenge Tyler at the time when he made those comments.
“We regret that we did not robustly challenge Martin Tyler on a comment which appeared to link Hillsborough & hooliganism. Martin has since apologised for the comment & clarified that these were separate examples & he did not intend to conflate the two.”
Interview on @BBCr4today
We regret that we did not robustly challenge Martin Tyler on a comment which appeared to link Hillsborough & hooliganism. Martin has since apologised for the comment & clarified that these were separate examples & he did not intend to conflate the two.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) August 5, 2022
Reading Tyler’s comments, it can be read in two ways. He very well could be telling the truth and wasn’t trying to connect the two. And when you read it with that perspective, his comments still make sense. It’s also fair to point out that Hillsborough was the catalyst for what modern top-level English soccer would ultimately become. The Taylor Report from 1990 resulted in monumental safety upgrades and regulations to stadiums throughout the UK to ensure another Hillsborough doesn’t happen. While that was a tragedy, it did have a hand in the creation of the Premier League.
That being said, Tyler’s comments can be read in another way. And even if he didn’t mean to, a reasonable person could come to the conclusion that he was connecting the two. That’s when the interviewer could have saved Tyler by asking him to clarify what he meant. If Tyler is saying, “We weren’t that long after Hillsborough and other hooligan-related issues…,” the interviewer could have asked, “You mean they’re different situations?” And Tyler would say, “Of course they’re different, but in their own way, both helped form and shape the Premier League.”