In the 23 years since the tragic Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives, Anfield has become a constant memorial for families and fans to commemorate and reflect the shortcomings that led to the events of April 15th 1989. However, today as the home fans gathered at Anfield in the build up to the always eagerly anticipated fixture against Manchester United, there was a different tone to proceedings.
Over the years, memorials marking the anniversary of Hillsborough have also served as campaigns for a review into the inquest which recorded a verdict of accidental death, despite describing policing of the crowd as ‘ineffective’. Just 10 days ago, the Hillsborough Independent Panel -formed after calls for a review into the inquest- found that the behaviour of Liverpool fans was not the cause of the deaths of 96 fans and that authorities had concealed the truth about what led to the horrific disaster in Sheffield.
Today’s commemoration before kick-off signalled an end to the campaign for justice but by no means an end to remembering those who lost their lives that day. Much had been made in the build up to the match of the fierce rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United fans tainting the sombre occasion which led Sir Alex Ferguson to write a letter, issued to all travelling fans, urging them to respect proceedings and “pay a tribute to their campaign for justice.”
Both sets of players wore jackets displaying ‘96’ on the back as they took to the pitch and were involved in letting 96 red balloons into the air. The pre match handshake between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, who were involved in last season’s race row, shook hands and let the tribute take centre stage. Sir Bobby Charlton, a Manchester United legend and survivor of Manchester United’s own tragedy, the Munich air disaster of 1958, presented flowers to honour the Hillsborough victims. Three sides of the stadium made up a ‘fan mosaic’ forming the words “The Truth, Justice and the 96” as a poignant rendition of Liverpool’s adopted anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” echoed around the ground, sung by the majority of fans in the stadium. Outside the stadium, Manchester United shirts were left displaying messages of support to the families of the Hillsborough victims.
The remembrance was largely observed and that will be the main story that comes out of the match in tomorrow’s newspapers, rather than what happened during the 90 minutes. An act of solidarity prior to kick off between two sets of footballers and fans sharing a club history steeped in tragedy. It conveys the message to everyone that football is not bigger than life and football fans can put aside rivalry to mourn. Today, it feels as if a line has been drawn under an appalling disaster that happened on a Saturday afternoon at a football match. However, twenty three years seems a very long, agonising wait for the families of the Hillsborough 96 to discover the truth.