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The memorial service included readings from the club's CEO Ian Ayre and forward Dirk Kuyt as Anfield remembered the 96 people who lost their lives back in 1989

SPECIAL REPORT
By David Lynch

On Sunday, just 24 hours after Merseyside had split to do battle at Wembley, the city of Liverpool united in grief for the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

The Kop, a symbol of raw passion of a different kind, transformed as it always does on April 15 each year to represent an alternative type of support. Nearing matchday capacity, the world famous stand saw the city’s red and blue sides come together to pay their respects to the 96 who died on that ill-fated day 23 years ago.

Though the Reds’ triumphant players were warmly welcomed upon their arrival alongside manager Kenny Dalglish, the sombre nature of the occasion is always evident in the customary reading of the names of the deceased.
In fact, quite how needless the loss of 96 lives was could not have been made clearer just a day after the city had seen its people travel to an FA Cup semi-final only for everyone to return safely - as should always be the case.

Readings from Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre and forward Dirk Kuyt - in between hymns and prayers from local clergy - were further reminders of what high regard the club still holds for its supporters and their fight for the truth.
Meanwhile, the attendance of Dalglish, the club’s manager on that day in 1989, has been guaranteed each year even before his return as boss. He is a man who knows more than most the impact of the tragedy, having attended numerous funerals in the weeks that followed the disaster.

The chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret Aspinall, gave her annual speech beside 96 lit candles in order to bring matters to a close. Mrs Aspinall began by thanking those who had organised the service, before reserving special congratulations for MPs Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham who played such an important role in bringing the Hillsborough issue to Parliament in October last year.

She also dismissed the idea that Liverpool could have played their FA Cup semi-final on Sunday so as to give Chelsea more recovery time for their midweek Champions League tie. Comedian Alan Davies had, earlier in the week, suggested that the Reds should have played on the 15th – something they have not done in 23 years – but he was unequivocally told to "keep his comments to himself" to widespread applause.

Finally, Mrs Aspinall went on to thank both of the city’s clubs for their respectful observation of a minute’s silence prior to Saturday’s semi-final. 

To conclude the service, 96 balloons were released as the crowd sung the club’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ alongside a choir in a touching and uplifting end to proceedings.

Each year there is a hope that the next gathering will have a happier tone, that there will no longer be a need for chants of "Justice for the 96". The enduring nature of the tragedy is that now, 23 years later, questions have yet to be answered over the inadequate police response to the events transpiring.

A stadium without a safety certificate, the lack of basic care for spectators and the subsequent attempted cover up mean this is not simply a yearly reflection on a loss of life but also part of a wider fight. It is a fight that goes beyond club loyalty and into the realms of human decency.

Justice for the 96.

Please click to donate to Hillsborough Family Support Group
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