Yesterday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy where 96 Liverpool fans were killed in 1989. Anfield was the site of the memorial service.
David Conn The Guardian- “After six days of heartbreaking testimony by bereaved families at the new inquest into how 96 people met their deaths at the Hillsborough football ground in 1989, there was a warmth close to celebration to the service at Liverpool‘s sun-blessed Anfield home marking 25 years since the disaster.
The grievous loss the families suffered was remembered: of sons, daughters, fathers, grandfathers, fathers-to-be, a mother – who went off to support Liverpool in that FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest under similar spring sunshine and clear blue skies.
But the speeches by Trevor Hicks, both of whose daughters, Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, were killed in the crush, Margaret Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James; the Liverpool and Everton football managers Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martínez, and the Labour MP Andy Burnham, dwelled more on the other, remarkably life-affirming side of the Hillsborough story: the families’ relentless fight for justice.
It was the word spoken more than any other on this day of solidarity, emblazoned on many scarves raised above heads among 24,000 people in the ground: justice, for the 96. Hicks recounted the families’ long campaign against the original 1990-91 inquest, the quest for the truth about what really caused the crush on the Leppings Lane terraces, and for accountability.
It was a campaign without result until five years ago when Burnham’s address as a Labour minister to the 20th anniversary service was drowned out by the crowd’s call for justice. That led to Burnham’s initiative to have all official documents relating to the disaster published, then the landmark September 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report, followed three months later by the high court quashing the inquest, after 21 years.
This time, in an age of expenses scandals and seemingly ubiquitous mistrust of politicians, Burnham – widely recognised to have overturned years of official inaction and helped deliver a justice process – was welcomed with an immediate standing ovation. He took as his theme the families’ determination, the togetherness of Liverpool and its two rival football clubs, as displayed by Martínez paying his respects in the home of his club’s fiercest sporting rival.
“Your voices were carried off the Kop and into the heart of the establishment,” Burnham said of the justice calls in 2009. “That was the moment the dam burst, and asked the most profound questions about our country, and how it is run. How could a whole city be crying injustice, and nobody was listening? In time, your fight will make our country fairer.”
Describing the “dignity, courage, humanity” of the families, who were sitting quietly in rows in front of him, he told them: “You are truly the best of us.”
That tribute was echoed by Rodgers, who mentioned some of Liverpool’s great players, its iconic manager Bill Shankly, and his own predecessor Kenny Dalglish, who as the manager in 1989 identified intensely with the families and personally attended many of the funerals.
“But without doubt the single biggest source of inspiration is every morning at Anfield, seeing the Hillsborough memorial, the 96 names,” said Rodgers, who has led his team to becoming favourites to win this season’s Premier League, with four games to play. “You who have fought so long on their behalf, and on behalf of the survivors, you are the true inspiration.”
The priests of three local churches read out the names of those who died, and a candle was lit for each name. This part of the service took more than eight minutes, to a crowd which had fallen completely silent.
Now, after the opening of the new inquest which is featuring the families’ personal statements about the victims, the world finally knows more about them, hearing of rounded, beloved, hardworking, talented people whose futures were lost, not just names on the long memorial list outside Anfield’s Shankly gates.
John Anderson, alphabetically the first, was remembered at the inquest by his son Brian, who was also at Hillsborough and survived the crush. He said his 62-year-old father was a fit amateur referee, married for 42 years, whose family were robbed of his retirement.
Six days of family testimony have covered 45 of those who died, not yet half; other families have gasped and wept hearing detail for the first time. One victim discussed on the first day was Patrick Thompson, who was killed at 35 leaving five children all under six.
“Please listen to the evidence, and let my children know that their dad was not a hooligan, but a hardworking man who just happened to love football,” his widow Kathleen had asked the jury, referring to the accusations of drunkenness made against the Liverpool fans by South Yorkshire police after the disaster.
Peter Thompson, not related to Patrick, was married and his wife was expecting their baby, when he went to the 1989 FA Cup semi-final and never came home. His daughter, Nikki, was born four months after he died.
When the candle was lit for Alan McGlone, 28 when he went off to the match, the crowd could recognise him as the father whose widow Irene told the inquest how their two infant daughters, Amy, then five, and Claire, then two, had asked her to send him in to wake them up when he came back.
“I am still waiting to wake my girls up from this nightmare,” Irene said in her statement.
After a break for the memorial service and Easter, the families are back in Warrington, Cheshire, to hear evidence about the 51 other victims. The new inquest is scheduled to last a year.
This service celebrated the families’ enduring love above all else, and culminated in Gerry Marsden singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, his original hit, long since adopted as the anthem of Anfield. The qualities of the Hillsborough families were recognised here, for having held their heads up high, and not walking alone through their storm.
Jeremy Wilson- The Telegraph-“ Five years had passed since Andy Burnham, the Member of Parliament for Leigh, had previously addressed a memorial service for the Hillsborough tragedy. Anger, understandably, was in the air and it was finally broken by one lone voice. “Justice,” shouted Roy Dixon, a Liverpool fan whose plea prompted a sustained chant of “Justice for the 96” that was to echo far beyond Anfield.
Burnham, who was then a government minister, paused, made it clear that he was listening and promised to act. New evidence was released, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was formed, the original verdict of accident death was overturned and now, 25 years on, a new inquest has just begun into what the coroner called “the worst ever disaster at a British sports stadium”.
Burnham was invited back to Anfield on Tuesday for the 25th anniversary memorial service and received a rapturous standing ovation.
“Things changed, not because of me, but because of you,” he said.
“Things changed because you made your voices heard and thank God you did. Your voices were carried off this Kop and into every living room in the land and, from there, into the heart of the establishment. I knew you were right and they were wrong. You helped me find the political courage to do something.”
Dixon, the man whose shout was to perhaps become the turning point on the road to justice, was among 24,000 inside Anfield for Tuesday’s memorial service. “Take a bow,” said Burnham.
“If I live to 100 I will never forget the sound of your voice mate. It was the moment the dam burst. One lone cry, now an unstoppable movement asking the most profound questions about our country and the way it has been run. How can it be that an entire city was crying injustice for 20 years and no one was listening?
“As things come full circle, the shadows are lifting. There is still an uncertain road ahead, we know that, but the country is with you. You have given hope to people the world over. What was your call five years ago is mine today: ‘Justice for the 96.’ ”
That justice might have been delayed but the mood across all of Liverpool on Tuesday stretched beyond sombre reflection to immense pride at a city that, perhaps more than any other in England, is so identified by its football teams.
The scarves of clubs from all over Europe were hung, three or four deep, on the Shankly Gates at Anfield next to the Hillsborough Memorial on which the names of all 96 who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest are inscribed.
Beneath and adjacent to the memorial was layer upon layer of flowers and messages. “When you say a silent prayer and your dreams are tossed and blown, remember those 96 empty seats that must never walk alone,” said one. Another simply read: “On days like these we remember that football without fans is nothing at all.”
The number of choice on the back of most Liverpool shirts at Anfield on Tuesday was 96.
At 8am, a message on Manchester United’s Twitter feed had reflected the goodwill that spread far beyond Liverpool. “Today we stand side-by-side with @LFC to remember the 96 fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989,” it said.
Everton also announced that they would be unveiling their own Hillsborough Memorial at Goodison Park before the end of the year. Their manager, Roberto Martinez, was another recipient of a standing ovation from the Kop following a beautifully judged speech after he had given the first reading of the service.
“I was only 15 in April 1989, a football-mad kid in a football-mad family, like any of you today,” said Martinez. “We could not believe or comprehend the horror of receiving the news their loved ones would not come home from a football match.
“What happened afterwards was not right or fair but, as my chairman said last year, they took on the wrong city. I do not have to tell you that Everton are with you. Everton remembers. We will always.”
Burnham, himself an Everton fan, said that he had asked his mum what he should say on Tuesday and she had told him to tell the Liverpool supporters that “it would be fitting if they won the league championship in this year of all years”.
Any reservation about making the link between such a devastating tragedy and the comparative triviality of football matches was eased by the message from Margaret Aspinall, the inspirational chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
Having spoken about the 25-year campaign for justice, she turned to the current Liverpool squad, who were sat in their entirety just below a who’s who of the greatest players in the club’s history.
“Stress is very difficult but it is also good,” she said. “It gives us determination to fight. I know that is what you are going to do to get this championship.”
At that point, the Kop could barely contain itself and chants of “Justice for the 96” soon switched to “We’re going to win the league”. Steven Gerrard, whose 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest Hillsborough victim, was visibly moved.
The name of Gilhooley, along with the other 95 victims, was individually read out on Tuesday. It took more than 10 minutes to complete the most moving part of the service. The whole of Liverpool then fell silent at 3.06pm, the time the semi-final was halted 25 years earlier, as bells rang out 96 times across three of the city’s churches. Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, read the evocative words of Psalm 23 of the King James Bible and, in a subsequent address, his emotion was evident.
“I’m surrounded every day of my life by inspiration,” Rodgers said. “I walk in every day past the statue of Bill Shankly and past the European Cup. But without doubt the single biggest source of inspiration for me is every match day at Anfield, when I arrive at this ground and see the memorial and the 96 names.
“You inspire us every day and inspire us to play. I feel inadequate to be in your company. Thanks for the inspiration you give to us all. We will always strive for you – the families. You’ll never walk alone.”
The front page of the Liverpool Echo had carried a photograph on Tuesday morning of every person who died in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough accompanied by the headline, “Never Forget”. If there is one small comfort to be had amid such a terrible tragedy, it is the ongoing certainty that few ever will.
This is it from Bobby Gee in The De Futebol Zone.