There was an uplifting feeling at Anfield as the families of the 96 football fans who died at Hillsborough 25 years ago, and the city as a whole, move closer to the truth
By Tom Maston at Anfield
With the inquest into what happened at Hillsborough on this day 25 years ago finally established and well under way, the sense of justice that imbued Anfield was palpable.
For a quarter of a century the families of the 96 who passed away at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest have fought to clear the names of their loved ones, and there was almost a celebratory nature to what has traditionally been a sombre affair.
Fans of different clubs, including Everton, Celtic and Newcastle United, as well as thousands donning the red of Liverpool, packed Anfield and applauded and sung their hearts out throughout the service.
Their moods have, of course, been lifted by performances on the pitch, with the Reds now favourites, maybe even destined, to win the English title for the first time since 1991, and the standing ovation that accompanied any mention of the current squad grew louder each and every time.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers described the families of those who lost their lives as an inspiration to him and his side, and few would argue that it would be fitting for them to end the season celebrating the league title.
Rodgers, along with his players, were applauded to their seats alongside a throng of former stars. Alan Hansen, the captain on the day of the disaster, was joined by Ian Rush, Jan Molby and Robbie Fowler as well as the recently retired Jamie Carragher.
Sat behind them were both the club’s ladies team and youth players. The education of all who represent the club of this, their darkest chapeter, is highly important, and Steven Gerrard has previously stated that his role as captain includes making all players aware of the tragedy and what it means to the supporters and city.
The noise ratcheted up a notch as the friends and families of the the 96 arrived in the stadium, with Reverend Kevin Bolton of the nearby Oakfied Methodist Church praising the dignity they had shown during their fight for justice in the face of such dreadful obstacles.
A ring of lights, known as the Band of Life, inscribed with the name of each victim was illuminated as each name was read aloud, before the stadium fell into silent contemplation at 3:06pm, the exact time when the match at Hillborough 25 years ago was stopped.
The whole city ground to a standstill as a mark of remembrance, with 96 bells ringing out and all public transport halted so thousands across Liverpool could pay their respects.
The scene was replicated at Goodison Park, with chairman Bill Kenwright allowing Everton fans and the playing staff into the stadium for free to watch the service from across Stanley Park on the screen.
One member of staff who wasn’t at Goodison was manager Roberto Martinez, instead invited to Anfield to give a reading.
He spoke of when he heard the news as a youngster in Spain, as well as of how the city of Liverpool and its two football clubs would continue to stand together in their fight against those who wronged the victims for so long.
“As a family, we couldn’t believe the pain and horror,” he recalled.
“How can anyone die watching the game you love? That isn’t right, that isn’t fair.
“What happened afterwards wasn’t right and wasn’t fair either. To have to fight for the good name of the ones you lost was appalling.
“But as my chairman said a year ago, the authorities took on the wrong city.
“I don’t have to tell you Everton are with you, you know that. Everton remembers, we always will.”
A permanent memorial will be erected at Goodison Park later this year as an ongoing sign of the solidarity that was so evident at Anfield on Tuesday.
Liverpool boss Rodgers also paid his respects, praising both the families and his predecessor Kenny Dalglish, who was manager at the time of the disaster.
“As manager of Liverpool Football Club I am surrounded every day of my life by inspiration,” he said.
“Within my current team I have some fantastic players of true greatness, playing great football and are right now wearing the famous red jersey. As manager of this club you don’t struggle for inspiration.
“But without doubt the single biggest source of inspiration for me is on every matchday when I arrive at the ground and see the Hillsborough memorial and those 96 names.
“For those that we lost and those who have campaigned for them, on behalf of the survivors, you are the true inspiration.”
He added: “Becoming the manager of such a great football club you are following in the footsteps of great men, and although you aspire to live up to them one day, it’s impossible. One such man is Kenny Dalglish.
“Liverpool Football Club and the city were so blessed to have a man of his qualities leading the club at such a time. Although he seeks no credit or claim, his help and support at the time and afterwards has been critical to the families and survivors.”
Special thanks were reserved for local MP Andy Burnham, whose work with the families eventually led to the original ruling of accidental death being overturned. He returned to the memorial five years on from his first appearance to give his thanks to the families and to again praise Dalglish, who personally attended many funerals of those who died in Sheffield.
The Kop led the rest of the stadium with cheers of ‘Justice for the 96’ to show their appreciation for Burnham, somebody who had opened the eyes of the nation to the injustice the families continue to suffer – but hopefully for not much longer. Their chants gave way to speeches by Trevor Hicks and Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who in turn gave thanks to Burnham and all those who had helped their cause.
The ongoing inquest meant that those giving speeches were not able to speak as freely as they would have liked, but the fact that the proceedings are even going ahead, plus the pervading sense that justice will be eventually done, made this a more uplifting, hope-filled event than it has even been.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the iconic anthem, was sung with particular gusto as Liverpool closed in on the Premier League title on Sunday and it resonated around the stadium once again here as flags from a host of clubs were placed in the shape of the number 96 in the centre circle.
It was a moving, symbolic finale, with British football coming together in solidarity as those most closely affected by the tragedy continue their vocal, vociferous fight for justice. A feel good factor is returning to Anfield after years of sorrow. Liverpool Football Club believe again.