Hillsborough Stadium disaster remembered, 25 years later
Ninety six blue seats at Hillsborough stadium are replaced by white seats to represent the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago. (AP Photo/PA)
Steve Douglas, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:52PM EDT
LIVERPOOL, England -- Scarves donated by football clubs across the world were laid out in the centre circle at Anfield, forming the shape of the number "96" beneath a clear blue sky.
Outside the stadium, two middle-aged men -- one wearing a Liverpool shirt and the other an Everton jersey -- shared a warm embrace next to the famous Shankly Gates.
Tuesday was the day the global football community, and in particular Merseysiders, united to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semifinal.
The focal point on a day of commemoration and remembrance was Anfield, where Liverpool players past and present and the families of the victims were among the estimated 30,000 people who attended a moving memorial service.
Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, the managers of Liverpool and Everton, delivered readings and then made short addresses in which they paid their respects to the men, women and children who died in Britain's worst sports tragedy. Both earned standing ovations.
"We will always strive to honour the families and the memory of the 96 that we lost," said Rodgers, his voice beginning to tremble. "You'll Never Walk Alone," he added, a nod to the club's anthem.
Bells from churches across the region rang 96 times and Liverpool's public transport came to a halt for a minute's silence at 3:06 p.m. (1406 GMT) -- the time the fateful match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was stopped following a crush in a standing-only section of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground.
A short memorial also was held across Stanley Park at Everton's Goodison Park, after which schoolchildren led a procession to Anfield holding 96 linked football scarves.
And tributes poured in from across the world, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter sending a letter to the English Football Association in which he expressed "my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the 96 who so tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster." Flags at FIFA's member associations were flown at half-mast on Tuesday.
UEFA President Michel Platini and British Prime Minister David Cameron also sent their condolences to the victims' families of the 96.
It isn't just the disaster that has left a deep scar on the club and city. The grieving families have spent 25 years seeking justice after authorities initially sought to place the blame on the victims by characterizing the tragedy as a result of hooliganism.
The original accidental death verdicts were overturned by the High Court in London in 2012 after documents uncovered a coverup by police, and fresh inquests into the fatalities are currently being held in a bid to get the deaths officially described as unlawful killings. The inquests have been adjourned this week because of the anniversary.
"The authorities took on the wrong city if they thought they were going to get away with it," Martinez said to loud cheers. The service was interrupted on two occasions by chants of "Justice for the 96."
Accompanying the grieving and ongoing suffering of the families is a sense of optimism that justice is about to be served. There is also a feel-good factor in Merseyside because of the exploits of the two clubs this season, with Everton on course to qualify for next season's Champions League and Liverpool top of the Premier League by two points as it seeks a first championship in 24 years.
"Stress is good," Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said in the direction of the Liverpool squad at the end of her address, "... it makes you fight and I know that is what you are going to do to get this championship."
The service started with local clergymen reading out the names of the 96 victims, with a light being lit inside a Band of Life sculpture in memory of each person. It ended with 96 balloons being released as fans sang a stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone."