Rodgers will build on the lessons of Liverpool's tragic past
This club is a way of life claims manager after meeting Hillsborough relatives
Friday 14 September 2012
Hillsborough seriously damaged Kenny Dalglish but it might be the making of Brendan Rodgers, his successor as Liverpool manager.
From the moment Dalglish walked over to the Leppings Lane End, looking for his son, Paul, who had been among the crowd at the FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, to the moment he resigned in the bleak February of 1991, it cast its shadow.
Dalglish attended every funeral and campaigned to the limits of his strength for the victims, even addressing the prisoners at Walton Jail to assure them that The Sun's infamous front page "The Truth" was a lie. However, it is almost certain that, without Hillsborough, he might not have been gripped by the need to walk away from Anfield.
Rodgers is 39, a year older than Dalglish was then. His feelings when he attended the vigil at St George's Plateau, where his predecessor read out the names of the dead, were remarkably similar to those that overtook Dalglish at the height of the tragedy.
Every day Dalglish would go the Kop and look at the banks of flowers and scarves that washed over the old terrace, which he described as: "The saddest and most beautiful sight I have seen."
The only sound was often that of the breeze rustling the cellophane in which the flowers were wrapped.
Sometimes, he would break down: "I realised I had miscalculated the importance of the club to the people," he said later. "I never fully appreciated the part we played in their lives."
Yesterday, as the city took in the scale of its betrayal by those in authority, Rodgers expressed remarkably similar feelings. It may be the slogan of Barcelona but Liverpool is more than a club.
"It is a way of life," he said. "You carry a city and a people's hopes here and I also think that the club has to look for certain types of managers. That is something that is either inherent in you or it is not.
"After meeting some of the families of the victims last night, I drove away feeling a greater responsibility to these people. The more I am up here, the more I immerse myself in the culture of the place and the history of the club because, until you are here, you don't really understand it.
"Everyone knows it is one of the biggest clubs in the world but, until you are actually in it, you don't really sense the magnitude of it. I enjoy carrying the hopes of people and events like last night really fill you with pride but also give you an understanding of the great responsibility you have."
Rodgers' first responsibility is, to quote the inscription on the statue of Bill Shankly beneath The Kop, "To Make the People Happy". This he can only do by winning, just as Dalglish's side won the FA Cup a month after the cursed semi-final in Sheffield.
When news of the disaster trickled through to Highbury, where Nick Hornby was standing on the North Bank, watching Arsenal grind out a 1-0 win over Newcastle that would eventually help make them champions at Liverpool's expense, the author of Fever Pitch remarked to his mate: "Football will go on – even that game will be replayed."
Tomorrow, Rodgers' Liverpool, a club with a single point to its name this season, go to Sunderland. Football goes on and it is not a given that now justice for the 96 has been dispensed Liverpool will suddenly flourish on the pitch.
It would have been fitting had Dalglish's side beaten Arsenal to win the Double in 1989; instead they lost to the final shot of the season. The emotion of Old Trafford marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster was followed by an insipid defeat in the Manchester derby.
Nevertheless, as he drove away from the city centre, Rodgers confessed to a feeling that football; even in Liverpool or perhaps especially in Liverpool, should be given a sense of perspective. It is not, as it was in Shankly's quip, more important than life or death.
"Family is the most important thing in life," he said. "Your family and your health. Football is wonderful. It has given us a wonderful life, you as reporters, me as a professional. I love every minute of being a manager but life is more important. What football can give those people – the families of the victims and the survivors – is hope."
Rodgers had two principal thoughts as he left the vigil. One was that 41 supporters might have survived had ambulances been allowed into the stadium. The other lesson of Hillsborough is that perseverance, often against the cruellest odds, can succeed.
"Perseverance and persistence; these are the biggest things you can have in life," he said. "The Hillsborough families were a group who fought for 23 years. Can you imagine their journey? But they kept fighting. That desire, that will, that perseverance; those were the great words that kept flashing back to me when I was driving home.
"I am not sure it is right to talk about closure. I think the fight goes on for the rest of your life. You don't really get justice because you never get your father, sister or brother back but you fight for the cause and the cause was a simple one.
"It was the name of the people of Liverpool that had been damned for all these years. There is no doubting that some people on the outside would have believed the propaganda so it was great for these people to proclaim the message worldwide that we were right all along."
* John W Henry, the principal owner of Liverpool, has denied reports in America that Fenway Sports Group plan to sell the Boston Red Sox for around $1bn (£600m).
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