Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has dedicated his side’s crucial win over title rivals Manchester City to the victims and families of the Hillsborough disaster.
The midfielder’s ten-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest of the 96 to lose their lives at the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the tragedy and Anfield will host the annual memorial service which all the squad will attend. It was the proximity of that date, plus the significance of the week in general, which brought on Gerrard’s tears at the final whistle.
“The reason I was so emotional was because of when this game fell,” said the 33-year-old. “It wasn’t just because it was a big match in our season, it was because this week is always about more than football for everyone associated with Liverpool. It’s emotional for so many people. I’m speaking on behalf of everyone when I say the win was dedicated to the victims and families of Hillsborough. All the squad will be present at the service to pay our respects as we should.”
The service will also be attended by the club’s directors and other staff as well as a number of former players and managers.
Current manager Brendan Rodgers and Everton boss Roberto Martinez will give readings.
The number 96 will be written on the pitch in large figures made up of scarves donated by fans of all clubs and from various sporting institutions.
Kenny Dalglish, manager at the time of the disaster, assisted in this initiative by writing to all 92 League clubs as well as the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh national teams for support. The inspiration for the idea came from the “mile of scarves” formed between Anfield and Goodison Park a week after the disaster in commemoration in 1989. More than 4,000 scarves were tied together.
The scarves will be donated to local good causes, including homeless charities, after the service by the Liverpool FC Foundation.
A number of tributes were also made prior to the Liverpool v City match on Sunday. Next week, a celebration of the lives of the 96 victims is planned with a charity match in support of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
A team of UK and Irish Liverpool legends, managed by Dalglish, will take on a side of international Reds greats, under the charge of Gerard Houllier.
The commemorations come a fortnight after fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 victims opened in Warrington.
Meanwhile, Gerrard has told his team-mates they must all treat Sunday’s match against Norwich “like it’s the last game of our careers”.
The England midfielder struggled to contain his emotions after the Reds secured a 3-2 win over City on Sunday but pulled his team-mates into a huddle at the final whistle to impress upon them the importance of not letting their advantage at the top slip over the remaining four games.
Gerrard will approach facing relegation strugglers Norwich in just the same way as he would an encounter with one of the division’s heavyweights and he invoked the spirit of Liverpool’s astonishing Champions League final comeback against AC Milan in 2005 as a reference point for his team at Carrow Road.
“We have to treat Norwich like we treated AC Milan in 2005,” he said. “We have to forget what colour their kit is and the personnel wearing it and treat them as the best players in the world. We have to forget where we are and forget what we’ve done. We have to prepare for Norwich like it’s the last game of our careers.”
He added: “Every game is going to get bigger and bigger because we are getting close to that last game of the season. Of course Man City was always going to be huge at Anfield because they are in the race with us, but Norwich now become Man City, Norwich now become Chelsea, Manchester United –that’s how big it is.”