Hillsborough 25th anniversary: Steven Gerrard and Kenny Dalglish among 25,000 in attendance at moving memorial to remember tragedy
Nearly 25,000 people attended a memorial service at Anfield to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, with many of those at Liverpool’s stadium the family and friends of ‘The 96’ that were tragically killed on April 15, 1989.
The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium was abandoned after six minutes when the overcrowding of the Leppings Lane End led to 96 Liverpool fans being crashed to their death.
With every match over the weekend kicking-off seven minutes late to mark the tragic anniversary, Liverpool Football Club held their own remembrance service to pay their respect to those who never returned home 25 years ago.
With a giant ‘96’ made out of scarves taking a prominent position on the centre of the pitch, The Reverend Kelvin Bolton began the ceremony, before the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ rang out around Anfield.
A memorial sculpture was unveiled in front of those in attendance, and as Reverend Bolton read out each of the 96 names who tragically died, a light was flicked on in a mark of respect.
Anne Williams, mother of victim Kevin Williams, fought relentlessly to seek answers as to why her son was killed on that fateful day, until she passed away in April last year, and she was honoured with a banner in the crowd at the memorial service that read: “Thank you Anne Williams for carrying the fight on, without your hard work justice would not have been possible.”
Everton manager Roberto Martinez was given a standing ovation as he took to the stage to give a reading in memory of ‘The 96’, before delivering a passionate speech to reiterate that Merseyside stands together in the quest to get to the truth of the disaster.
“How can anyone die watching the game you love? That isn't right. That isn't fair," said Martinez. "What happened afterwards isn't right or fair either.
"I don't have to tell you Everton are always with you, we always have been and you know that," a composed Martinez added poignantly.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers also gave a reading, and with the entire playing squad in attendance as well, he thanked Martinez for his words, before turning his attention to the families who have fought for justice for 25 long years.
"We all stood for 25 years together, to honour and fight for the people we lost," said Rodgers.
"Your courage, fortitude, resilience and dignity for those you loved and lost inspires me every day. We will always strive to honour the families and the memory of the 96 that we lost. You'll Never Walk Alone.”
Rodgers also recognised his predecessor Kenny Dalglish, the Reds’ manager at the time of the tragedy and who was in the stands for the service. “Your support was more inspiring than any goal scored or trophy won, an example to us all," Rodgers said, before a standing ovation was given to Dalglish.
The Scot, who attended many funerals of 'The 96' including four in a single day, chose to remain seated as those surrounding him rose to applaud the Liverpool great, which included captain Steven Gerrard and striker Luis Suarez. Dalglish had written to all 92 Football League clubs asking them to donate towards the '96' that was on display on the Anfield turf.
Andy Burnham MP also spoke as part of the service, five years on from when he was drowned out by chants of "Justice for the 96" which led Burnham and then-minister Maria Eagle working to secure the release of official documents on the disaster, which were later reviewed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel in its September 2012 report.
The original 1990-91 inquest, against which the families had always campaigned, was quashed in December 2012 and the new one ordered, which remains ongoing.
“Five years ago, things changed because of you,” said Burnham, a lifelong Evertonian.
“I knew you were right. You helped me find the courage to do something.”
He also recognised Dalglish, and praised the former striker for his work in trying to get to the bottom of what really happened on April 15 25 years ago.
"What leadership, what loyalty he has shown in these 25 years. On your behalf, I thank him today.
"I thank all the players of that era... and all the players ever since. I thank the club. I hope they never let you down.
"[The city of Liverpool] stands before the country in a new light today.
"In time, your fight will make our country better - a place where power and respect are more evenly spread.
“Working with you all for these last five years has been the biggest privilege of my life,” Burnham continued.
“You have given hope to people the world over. What was your call five years ago is mine today. Justice for the 96.”
Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, took to the stage after Burnham, and reflected on the long and frustrating 25-year battle for justice.
“I had black hair and a tash then... it's been a very long road," said Hicks.
”It’s these families who are the real supporters and people who have made it all happen," before the families of 'The 96' were given a standing ovation of their own.
“The Hillsborough Independent Report changed the world's understanding of what the truth really was,” Hicks, who lost his two daughters Sarah Louise Hicks, 19, and Victoria Jane Hicks, 15, in the disaster, added.
“How did all this happen? Well the families made it happen, against all the odds. We pulled we pushed. We refused to go away.
”We'll get there. Just as we've been here for 25 years."
Belfast Telegraph Digital