'Both clubs have had tragedies, now it is the time for us to respect one another'

United captain Vidic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia and lost his best friend at 20, calls on supporters to honour the Hillsborough victims and rebuild ties at Anfield on Sunday

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The Independent Online

Nemanja Vidic has lived enough and seen enough to know about other people's tragedies. When his home town of Uzice was bombarded in the Balkan conflict, he managed to escape being drafted into the army only because he played for Red Star Belgrade, a source of national pride. He was 20 when he lost his best friend Vladimir Dimitrijevic to a heart attack sustained on the pitch when they were both playing for the same team.

All of which means that the Manchester United captain, who with his Liverpool counterpart, Steven Gerrard, will release 96 balloons across the Anfield turf when their two teams meet on Sunday, can talk with meaning about how the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel elevate a football match between two inveterate foes beyond the realm of petty chants and rivalries.

"Football is important but it is never more important than life, any life," Vidic said yesterday. "It doesn't matter if it's in England or Serbia or any part of the world. I think, over the years, supporters in England have come across with respect after the many tragedies. I think we are on a test again. I think Man United fans are always an example of how they should behave. We have some history as well. We have some tragedies – and they have too. We should respect each other."

Proof that eloquence is not guaranteed to provide a lead others will follow came at Old Trafford six days ago when manager Sir Alex Ferguson's reminder that "there are always opportunities to show your greatness and I think this is another one" came to nothing. The Old Trafford chants about Liverpool victimhood during the game against Wigan a mere 24 hours later were wretched.

Yet there is growing cause for optimism where Sunday's game – the first at Anfield since the panel report laid bare 23 years of institutional failings and cover-up – is concerned. Far more than this week's dialogue between the United chief executive, David Gill, and the Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, the signals from supporter representatives reflect how any who take Hillsborough in vain will find themselves ostracised.

An editorial in the September issue of Red Issue states that "every time the police, CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], FA, media and establishment try it on in future, the words 'Hillsborough Inquiry' will ensure the world will have to cock a more sympathetic ear, because it has been proved beyond doubt what these dark forces are capable of trying to do, in concert, to save their own hides and feather their own nests, at football supporters' expense."

The message is clear and the award-winning Anfield Wrap podcast's inclusion of a Manchester United fan, Steve Anderson, in its own broadcast this week underlined how the key people are delivering the messages. The Manchester United Supporters' Trust reminded supporters yesterday that the "always the victim" chant "may be perceived" by Liverpool supporters and others as "inappropriate on Sunday".

Vidic has his own history with Liverpool. He was dismissed three times in 13 months against Rafael Benitez's side, from September 2008, when Fernando Torres had the mark on him. The selection of Mark Halsey as Sunday's referee – a man highly capable of the necessary perspective and sense – is deeply gratifying, though Vidic still harbours some indignation about those dismissals.

"I have had two or three times two yellow cards," he said. "Referees are under big pressure there because the stadium is tight and it's hostile."