Martin Tyler and the BBC have apologised after the football commentator appeared to link the Hillsborough disaster and hooliganism in a Radio 4 interview.
Tyler, who works for Sky Sports, was interviewed on the Today programme to mark this month’s 30th anniversary of the Premier League. He commentated on the league’s first match and reflected on the state of football at that time.
“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 comments by Tyler, 76, drew widespread condemnation and he issued an apology through Sky. “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,” he said.
“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.”
The BBC said: “We regret that we did not robustly challenge Martin Tyler on a comment which appeared to link Hillsborough and hooliganism. Martin has since apologised for the comment & clarified that these were separate examples and he did not intend to conflate the two.”
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At the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough 97 Liverpool fans were killed. After a 27-year campaign by bereaved families and survivors to legally establish the truth of how the disaster was caused, an inquest jury determined in 2016 that the 97 victims were unlawfully killed due to gross negligence manslaughter by the South Yorkshire police officer in command, Ch Supt David Duckenfield.
The jury also determined that there was no hooliganism, drunkenness, ticketlessness or any other alleged misbehaviour by Liverpool supporters that contributed to the disaster.
Steve Rotheram, the mayor of Liverpool city region, described Tyler’s comments as “exceptionally crass” and added in his tweet: “Even now, people whose careers are built on football still spread these foul smears. I hope there’ll be an apology sharpish.”
Paula Barker, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said Tyler’s comments were “disgusting”. She criticised the BBC for failing to challenge him and asked Sky Sports in her tweet: “How can he be allowed to have a career in sports journalism & perpetuate these lies”?