A sombre memorial service was held yesterday to mark 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool football fans.
Loved ones of those who died were joined at Liverpool FC’s Anfield home by players, club officials and ordinary fans, who were among 24,000 attending the emotional anniversary.
The Liverpool fans died in the crush on the Leppings Lane terraces at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium after going to see their team play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final on 15 April, 1989.
As the families of those who did not return home took their places in reserved seats in Anfield’s famous Kop area of the stadium for the start of the service, the crowd got to their feet with a roar of approval and a huge ovation swelled from all four sides of the ground.
There were loud cheers and clapping for the gathering of past and present Anfield greats who took their seats, including current club captain Steven Gerrard, Kenny Dalglish, who was manager at the time of the disaster, plus Ian Rush, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness.
More recent stars Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were also in attendance, along with Howard Kendall, Everton’s manager in 1989, and current Everton boss Roberto Martinez.
On the pitch, thousands of football scarves were laid out in the shape of “96”, donated from fans and clubs across the UK and beyond after an appeal from Liverpool FC for scarves to show a symbol of unity over club rivalries.
The Rev Kelvin Bolton, from the local parish of Christ Church and Holy Trinity, began the service with a welcome and introduction.
He said: “Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century, a lifetime. Thank you for the example you have given to us of refusing to give up.”
Some of those who attended are witnesses in the new inquest into Britain’s worst sporting disaster. The inquest began last month and resumes next week.
The original accidental death verdicts in 1991 were quashed in the High Court in 2012 after a long campaign by the fans’ families.
Traditional football hymn Abide With Me was sung before the names of the 96 fans were read out. At each name a light was lit, on a large piece of sculpture entitled Band of Life, until all the lights were illuminated.
As the time reached 3:06pm, the exact moment the match was abandoned while the tragedy unfolded, a minute’s silence began.
In Liverpool’s main streets and shopping thoroughfares, public transport stopped. The hum from outside the ground faded as a hush fell across the city while Anfield, often a cauldron of noise, fell into a sombre stillness.
With their heads bowed, some fans wiped away tears as they remembered the scores of lives lost. The minute’s silence ended with a round of applause, as across the city bells tolled 96 times at churches and civic buildings.
The first reading was from the Bible, as Martinez read from St John 14:1.
In a short address afterwards, he said he was 15 at the time of the disaster – a football-mad boy in a football-mad family, when he heard the news.
He said: “We could not believe the pain and horror the families would get by receiving the news that their loved ones would not be coming home. Would not be coming home from a football match. How can you die by watching a football match?
“That was not right or fair what happened, and afterwards was not right or fair, either.”
To a huge cheer, Martinez added: “The authorities took on the wrong city if they thought they were going to get away with it.”
Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool’s first-team manager, gave a reading of Psalm 23, before addressing the Hillsborough families themselves.
Rodgers said his biggest inspiration as a manager was each time he came to Anfield, seeing the names of the 96 on the Hillsborough Memorial.