Liverpool make point at end of momentous week
Sunderland 1 Liverpool 1
"It is more than just football at Liverpool," he said. "It is a way of life."
They were the words of the manager of Liverpool Football Club, and at half past seven in a corridor at the Stadium of Light, Brendan Rodgers sounded like one.
"It is my job as the leader of the football club to organise and help the families and supporters deal with it [the fallout from the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings] and the way we can is by putting on performances like we did tonight," he added.
"There was no deflection. The families and people involved in the city are an integral part of the club. There is no running away from that, it is something we very much embrace ourselves into, because it is a big part of the history of the football club and it is a way of life. It is a wonderful responsibility.
"I have worked all my life to arrive at a big club at the age of 39 and I learned very quickly that it is more than just football at Liverpool. It is a wonderful challenge and a real club of class and integrity, and I am very honoured and privileged to be the manager here and having the extra duties as manager is certainly no hardship."
These past few days have been momentous for Liverpool. A club moulded on the iron will of Bill Shankly needed its manager, its leader, to speak from the heart but to speak with the authority and stature of a man ready to march at the front as well. Rodgers in that moment found the correct tone to reflect the gravity of what happened last week, and what has festered like a bad wound for the 23 years since so many in supposed power sent 96 unsuspecting football supporters to their deaths.
"It has been a big emotional ride and week, as you can imagine," he said. "In the week and the build-up to the decision it was just the matter of all the evidence coming out and there was a lot of sadness and a lot of emotion. We used that as a lever and platform to bring into tonight's game and that performance against Sunderland gives us great hope and the verdict in the week going forward for the city and the club."
It did not overly deflate a renewed sense of optimism that Liverpool had not won. They were the better team, but more than that it felt like a club ready to move again without the weight of such injustice hanging over it.
Rodgers used the events of the last five days in his team talk. They have not hidden from the message of the Hillsborough panel. It was a tool to unify, and Liverpool have needed that as a club for a long time now.
"Stevie G always has words of inspiration for us before kick-off and he was like that again today, but the boss was like that today today as well," said Jonjo Shelvey.
"His message was 'Do it for the Hillsborough fans, the 96 who died', and that message was spelt out to us before the game in his team talk. What happened this week was an inspiration for us.
"The Liverpool fans fought for years to get that verdict and we wanted to come to a stadium like this in our first match since, and do it for them. There was no way we would allow ourselves to lose on a day like this.
"The way Brendan Rodgers plays his football suits me and I hope the fans can see that. I want to keep it going. I have played in a few roles so far, both in the deep and attacking, but to pull a shirt on for Liverpool, I would play anywhere because it is an honour."
High in the stands with the away fans were the flags, fighting now for justice, not just vindication. They delighted in Luis Suarez's equaliser after superb footwork from Raheem Sterling had opened up the Sunderland defence. A goal seemed the least they deserved after the week in which they learnt that 41 of their own had been alive at 3.15pm on 15 April 1989, and that the dead had had criminal checks done on them to besmirch their characters.
It cancelled out Steven Fletcher's 38th-minute opener, his third goal in two league starts since moving from Wolves for £12m. His goals are badly needed by Scotland and last night the striker opened up the possibility of a return to international football. The 25-year-old has not played for his country since angering Levein by withdrawing from a squad to face Northern Ireland last year. Levein has dug his heels in over the former Wolves man ever since, insisting he has to make the first move if he wants to start a reconciliation process.
When asked by a fan on Twitter "would you pull on your Scotland jersey next month if Craig Levein asked you to come back?" Fletcher replied by saying "yes".
Booked: S'land Larsson. L'pool Suarez, Skrtel.
Man of the match Shelvey.
Ref M Atkinson (West Yorks).
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