Hillsborough tragedy has made Gerrard
Published 11/04/2009 | 00:00
Steven Gerrard maintains that the memory of his cousin who died at Hillsborough has been the driving inspiration to his football career.
The Liverpool skipper was only nine when the tragedy occurred in Sheffield, but he recalls going to bed that night praying that the death toll did not get any worse.
But Gerrard, 28, recalls how he discovered the following morning that his 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was among the 96 who died, the youngest victim claimed by the disaster.
Gerrard said: "I was really, really shocked and deeply saddened to have seen the scenes on TV and hearing the radio at the time.
"I was completely and utterly shocked, whilst wondering if there was anyone we knew who was really close and personal at the game.
"But also feeling exactly what every Liverpool fan was feeling at the time, because I'm sure everyone was wondering if they knew anyone who was at the game also.
"And then obviously going to bed that night, (I was) lying there praying and keeping my fingers crossed that it didn't get any worse to what we had already heard.
"But unfortunately for myself and my family we got the dreaded knock the next morning to say that a member of our family was at the game and had been tragically killed."
And as Liverpool prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, Gerrard says: "Obviously it was a difficult time to know that one of your cousins had been at the game and had been tragically crushed.
"And seeing the reactions of his mum, dad and family helped me drive on to become the player I have developed into today."
Gerrard will, as usual, lead the Liverpool players at next Wednesday's memorial service at Anfield, just 24 hours after the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Chelsea.
He said: "The memory of Hillsborough is very central and very important to this club and the 96 will never be forgotten, as well as the people that got hurt.
"It is important these people get remembered individually and not just as a number of 96. This club has fought for justice ever since and will continue to do so. We have stuck together since that day like we always do at this club and that shows what kind of football club we are, sticking by each other when times are tough. We are not just about what happens on the pitch, we are all one off the pitch as well.
"Time has gone by, but the scars will never ever be healed and the fans will never ever forget. So you can always rely on our supporters to be there for you when you need them."
Gerrard also explains how foreign players joining the club are made aware of the disaster and what is expected of them in terms of how the club honour the dead fans each year.
He said: "It was such a big tragedy, a majority of the players are already aware of the event. They have probably seen the scenes on the news as it would have gone out worldwide on the television at the time.
"Straight away you learn the values of the club and what it's all about. So the players are brought up to speed about what happened at Hillsborough and they pay their respect every year like all the staff of the club do.
"We go every year to the memorial service and thousands of people turn out still to this day, so it goes to show that the Liverpool supporters will never forget about it and neither will the players."
Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher believes today's clash with Blackburn Rovers at Anfield is the most important league game he has ever played in.
The 30-year-old defender said: "The Blackburn game is the biggest league match of my career right now. I'm not just saying that because of what happened against Chelsea, but the league has always been the priority of everyone at this club.
"In the 13 years I have been involved in the first team, this will be the biggest league game I have been involved in, it really is that important."