Liverpool stars joined relatives of the 96 Hillsborough stadium disaster victims on Tuesday as the club marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a solemn memorial service at Anfield.
Club captain Steven Gerrard and former manager Kenny Dalglish were among those in a crowd of about 25,000 who gathered to honor the Liverpool fans killed after a crush during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield in 1989.
A minute’s silence took place at 3:06pm, reflecting the precise moment at which the fateful game against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground was called off.
Beforehand, local religious leaders read out the names of those who had died, as current and former Liverpool players, and family members of the victims looked on.
As they did so, the names of the victims were illuminated on the inside of a giant ring sculpture standing in front of the stadium’s iconic Kop stand.
The number “96” was written on the pitch in large numerals made up of scarves donated by fans and various sporting institutions.
Scarves were also draped over 96 seats in the stadium that had been symbolically left empty, while supporters attached scarves to the Shankly Gates beside the Hillsborough memorial outside the ground.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and his counterpart at city rivals Everton, Roberto Martinez, were among several figures to give readings, with both men expressing admiration for the victims’ families.
“Without doubt the single biggest source of inspiration for me is every match day here at Anfield, when I arrive at the ground and I see the Hillsborough memorial, where I see 96 names,” Rodgers said. “Those who we lost, and for those of you who have fought and campaigned tirelessly on their behalf, and on behalf of the survivors, you are the real, true inspiration for us.”
Rodgers also paid tribute to Dalglish, who was Liverpool’s manager when the disaster occurred and attended many of the victims’ funerals. The crowd gave Rodgers’ predecessor a standing ovation.
After a long campaign by the victims’ families, an independent report into the disaster concluded in 2012 that 41 of those who died would have had the “potential to survive” had they received medical treatment more quickly.
As a result, fresh inquests into the 96 deaths opened recently, while two investigations into the police’s handling of the disaster are also being carried out.
“How can anyone die watching the game you love?” Martinez asked, to resounding applause. “That isn’t right, that isn’t fair. What happened after wasn’t right or fair either. To have to fight for the good name of the ones you lost was appalling.”
Outside Anfield, church bells tolled across Liverpool and public transport services came to a halt at 3:06pm, allowing the city to pause to remember the victims of Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
Everton screened the memorial service at their Goodison Park ground, while there was also a small service at Hillsborough.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter called on all of his organization’s member associations to fly their flags at half-mast to mark the anniversary of the tragedy.
“Twenty-five years on from this dark day in the history of the game, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the 96 who so tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster,” he said in a letter sent to the English Football Association.
UEFA president Michel Platini also issued a statement to mark the 25th anniversary, saying that the “European football family” was thinking of the families.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of the 96, the survivors and all those affected by the tragedy.”
As a mark of respect to the Hillsborough victims, all professional matches that took place at the weekend kicked off seven minutes later than scheduled.
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