An own goal? Rooney caught in crossfire between 'The Sun' and an unforgiving city

Fifteen years after the event,
The Sun has apologised to the people of Liverpool. It said sorry for reporting, in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster which claimed 96 lives, that Liverpool fans had stolen from fellow supporters as they lay injured on the turf, and that they had urinated on police and the bodies of those who died.

Fifteen years after the event, The Sun has apologised to the people of Liverpool. It said sorry for reporting, in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster which claimed 96 lives, that Liverpool fans had stolen from fellow supporters as they lay injured on the turf, and that they had urinated on police and the bodies of those who died.

The newspaper published a full-page apology yesterday for its reporting of the disaster, and acknowledged it as "the most terrible mistake in its history".

The city, though, was not in a forgiving mood and Liverpudlians jammed radio phone-ins to express their anger. The reason? What they saw as the cynical manipulation of a series of interviews this week with England's football sensation, Wayne Rooney, who plays in the city for Everton. Listeners queued up to accuse The Sun of trying to cash in on the interviews with Rooney and his girlfriend, Colleen McLoughlin, with the apology.

In its editorial, The Sun said the reports were "a mistake ... for which we are truly sorry". The Liverpool Echo ran an editorial last night accusing the tabloid paper of being "cynical and shameless".

The Sun, which sells 3.3 million copies nationwide but only 12,000 in Liverpool, remains the subject of a boycott in Merseyside. The Sun's coverage of the disaster lost the paper around around 200,000 readers in the city and sales have never recovered since.

The Sun sought to suggest that Rooney, only a toddler at the time of the disaster, had become a hate figure for selling his story to it - but most reserved their ire for the newspaper.

Peter Sampara, who survived the disaster, said: " The Sun's apology is too little, too late. They're doing it on the grounds of economics, not morality. Some people say forgive and forget, but the depth of the insult to the people who died, to their relatives - why should The Sun be forgiven? It increased the pain for everyone. Rooney's been ill-advised. Maybe he can't appreciate the devastating impact on people in the area. But I've got a 10-year-old daughter and she sees it."

The paper carried an article yesterday claiming that Rooney was "hurt" by a "hate campaign" against him because of his deal with The Sun. The story, headlined "Backlash! Fans turn on Rooney", was illustrated with a picture of Rooney and Ms McLoughlin, holding up a copy of last Thursday's edition of The Sun.

The photograph - used to give the impression that the player was sympathetic to The Sun's attempt to bury the hatchet with Liverpudlians - was taken in an entirely different context and the Rooney camp was feeling deeply let down by the newspaper .

The football player was not consulted about the apology, despite detailed discussions on the series of articles - thought to have cost the paper £280,000.

Liverpudlians were deeply suspicious of The Sun's claim that Rooney had been targeted in a hate campaign. Steve Hothersall, the news editor of Radio City, said: "I don't think anyone blames Wayne. They just think he is a bit naive."

The footballer is represented by the agent Paul Stretford of Proactive Sports Group (PSG). A spokesman for PSGsaid that it had "absolutely no comment". Graham Dudman, the associate editor of The Sun, which says it long ago apologised for the Hillsborough report, told the BBC Radio's Five Live that the "entire senior team" of 1989 had left the paper, "yet we are still being blamed and tarnished for what was a terrible mistake".

Phil Hammond, who lost his 14-year-old son at Hillsborough, said: "This will not be accepted by me or any of the Hillsborough families. They are hiding behind Rooney.

"They think that because they've got a big name on board people will start to buy the paper but we're not that stupid."

The view from Liverpool

Alan Bleasdale: Writer

They are 15 years too late. They should never have printed the filth that they did. The only thing this will do is make Wayne Rooney a lot of money. The damage has been done. Nobody will buy The Sun on Merseyside.

Ricky Tomlinson, Actor

I simply cannot believe this - they can stick the apology where the sun doesn't shine. They've used a young lad here as a wedge to get into the shops in Liverpool - and it won't work. It's a dirty, dirty marketing trick.

Rita Tushingham, Actress

It's a shame that Rooney has been brought into this. He is an amazing talent and was so young at the time. The families will grieve for ever, and I think it is very difficult when there is a sudden uproar.

Beryl Bainbridge, Writer

Rooney was a child at the time so what would he know about the tragedy? He can hardly be blamed for what has happened now. I bet the behaviour of the fans was awful 15 years ago, but how can we know now?

Christian O'Connell, XFM DJ

The people of Liverpool don't forget the coverage and outrageous lies after Hillsborough. Will they forgive The Sun ? You've got to be kidding. They sell almost no copies there, and this won't have much effect.

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