Hillsborough disaster anniversary: Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez among those at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 who lost their lives

Merseyside was the focus as tributes were paid 25 years on from the disaster

Anfield

Whatever the anniversary and however many the years, the small agonies of Hillsborough continue to reveal themselves. Even when the 96 were remembered under an azure blue sky in a city which feels that a reckoning is coming at last, the match report privately typed out by Victoria Hicks, the aspiring teenage journalist who never came home from South Yorkshire, was heart-breaking to read when first published on Tuesday.

“The Fulham team were totally humiliated by a fantastic Liverpool line-up and really, after a bright first few minutes, they were never really in the game,” Victoria wrote of Liverpool’s 10-0 win over Fulham in the Milk Cup on 23 September 1986. She was a 13-year-old, then. She was 15 when she died.

The wounds are still open for many and the genuine difficulty for the players, as they stepped off the coach at Anfield and into a crowd feeling title euphoria, was how to respond. There was a winsome smile from Steven Gerrard and a grimace from Luis Suarez, who received the loudest cheer, before they disappeared into the stadium.

Only when the afternoon was complete and the sun was beginning to disappear beyond the corrugated roof of the old Kop, did Margaret Aspinall, the Hillsborough Family Support Group leader, give voice to the fact that Liverpool can use the spirit of the campaign to drive their title ambitions.

“Stress is difficult. But stress is also good,” she said, slowly turning her gaze towards the players. “It makes you fight and I know that you are going to do that to get this championship.” And she won the loudest cheer in the house.

 

She was the one whose determination to involve the Labour MP for Leigh, Andy Burnham, in this commemoration service five years ago – which didn’t go down well with many at first – helped set about changing perceptions about Hillsborough irrevocably, as Burnham spearheaded the political fight for a re-examination of the tragedy. “I’m so glad I took that risk, Andy,” she told him at the service, though little did either of them imagine that the 25th anniversary service would take place amid such deference for the judicial system, because of the reopened inquests which Burnham’s work laid the path for.

Tuesday’s event, attended by 25,000 people, was staged amid a near obsessive concern about not affecting the course of justice – “ Ironic, that!” said Mrs Aspinall – though it helped that two of the great communicators in modern football management happened to be in attendance, as the men who stand at the helm of this city’s two great clubs.

The sharp, distinctive accents of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers pierced the silence, with the Catalonian tones of Martinez destined to be remembered here for a very long time, as he drew Everton and Liverpool together in remembrance.

Martinez was a 15-year-old, just like Victoria Hicks, living and breathing football when – as he related at his press conference on Tuesday – his father told him what had happened, far away in England. “We could not believe or comprehend the horror of receiving the news their loved ones would not come home from a football match,” Martinez said. “How can anyone die watching the game they love? That isn’t right. That isn’t fair. To have to fight for the good names of the ones you love is appalling.”

It was a measure of the way the tragedy has forged bonds at Liverpool that Rodgers, of necessity more circumspect in his observations than Martinez, paid tribute to a man whose job he took, nearly two years ago. “We are privileged to follow in the footsteps of great men and those we aspire to emulate, though we know that is impossible. One of them is in front of us today,” he said. “It’s Kenny Dalglish.”

Roberto Martinez at the Hillsborough service Roberto Martinez at the Hillsborough service

The stadium was a microcosm of the wider world’s attempt to comprehend. Nearly 2,500 viewed a transmission of the service at Goodison. Messages to the lunchtime BBC Radio Merseyside programme, in which the broadcaster Roger Phillips has charted many post-Hillsborough years, came from Charlton and Port Vale fans.

But it was Anfield which remembered most acutely. The extraordinary precision of the service – the seven minutes it took to read the names of the 96 taking us precisely to a verse of Abide With Me and then a minute’s silence – revealed a club which has been here, doing this, many times before.

There was not a deafening response from the crowd when led by a gospel choir in front of the penalty area where Raheem Sterling’s brilliance had given Liverpool a lead against Manchester City, 48 short hours earlier. Many instead preferred to sit in contemplation.

But after the elegies and the addresses were done and You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung, they chanted “Liverpool” with all their might. “My mum told me to wish you all the best for the title,” Burnham told them. “She told me to say how fitting it would be if you won it in this of all years.”

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness