Saturday 3 December 2016

Liverpool stars past and present join bereaved families at final Hillsborough memorial

Pat Hurst

Published 15/04/2016 | 19:40

Balloons make the number '96' during a memorial service at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 15, 2016, on the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.
96 Liverpool supporters died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough football ground in Sheffield, northern England. 2016 will be the final year a memorial service is held at Anfield. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Balloons make the number '96' during a memorial service at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 15, 2016, on the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. 96 Liverpool supporters died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough football ground in Sheffield, northern England. 2016 will be the final year a memorial service is held at Anfield. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

A sombre service has begun to mark the final Hillsborough memorial at Anfield, 27 years to the day after the tragedy.

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Loved ones of the 96 who died have been joined at the home of Liverpool FC's by past and present club legends and around 25,000 ordinary fans to mark today's emotional anniversary.

Families of the 96 unanimously agreed this year's service, held annually on April 15 to mark the 1989 disaster, would be the last major public event at Anfield. Today VIPs sat in the stands in honour of the fans who lost their lives as the service began on the pitch in front of the Spion Kop.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his players received a rousing reception as they took their place for the service, following last night's last-gasp heroics in their Europa Cup tie.

England manager Roy Hodgson was also among the VIP guests in seats on the Kop, along with Kenny Dalglish and many of the team playing from the days of the disaster in 1989, including Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson. Former Anfield great Kevin Keegan was also in attendance.

The service began with the traditional football hymn, Abide With Me, before silence fell as the names of the 96 were read aloud.

All died after 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 April 15 1989. As each name was read a light was lit, one by one, on a large art sculpture entitled The Band Of Life, until all the lights were illuminated.

As the time reached 3.06pm, the exact moment the match was abandoned as the tragedy unfolded, a minute's silence began In the city's main streets and shopping thoroughfares, public transport was halted and the hum and noise from outside the ground faded as a hush fell across the city, while Anfield, often a cauldron of noise, also fell into a sombre stillness.

Some fans wiped away silent tears as they remembered the scores of lives lost in Britain's worst sporting disaster. The minute's silence ended with a round of applause, as across the city bells tolled 96 times at the city's Metropolitan Cathedral.

Marking how the city has united to support and help the families of the 96, it was a player from Liverpool's nearest rivals, former Everton striker Graeme Sharp, who gave the first reading, Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd.

Dalglish, one of Liverpool's all-time greats, and manager of the team on the day of the disaster then received a standing ovation and rapturous applause as he gave the second reading from the Gospel of John.

Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, said the support and solidarity shown to the families of the 96 showed what the city was about.

He said: "We want you, the families, to know during this time we offer you our thoughts and prayers and we want you to know we stand with you and support you during this difficult time."

He said the support group set up by the Hillsborough families was an inspiration to all for the devotion they had shown to their loved ones. He added: "This city will never forget the 96 people who lost their lives. You wouldn't go away, and thank God you didn't go away."

Mr Anderson, to mark that this was the last service to be held at Anfield, asked the families of the 96 to remain seated while all around them the thousands of others present stood and clapped them for 96 seconds.

Bishop James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool, said when he first came to the city Hillsborough was like an "open wound" but the families now were not "vengeful or vindictive".

He said: "The 96 belong to the ages and we will never cease to remember them."

Trevor Hicks, the president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who lost his daughters Victoria, 15, and Sarah, 19, in the tragedy and has been instrumental in the families' long campaign, was next to address the service.

He said, to cheers and laughter, he thought the Liverpool players got some "divine intervention" after Thursday night's result.

He was also cheered as he made reference to "another great city" and said he had always respected the tragedy of the 1958 Munich air disaster which killed Manchester United players.

He said supporters, while "rivals on the pitch, should be united in grief".

The final address was left to Margaret Aspinall, the current chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who lost her son, James, 18, in the disaster.

Mrs Aspinall thanked local religious leaders, the club and most of all the fans during the years of their long campaign. She added: "I'm looking at all these faces around here and I know we all owe you a great, great debt. You stuck with the families all these years, you did not have to."

At end of the emotional service, 96 white doves were released before a rousing rendition of the club's anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, accompanied by The Salvation Army Band, reverberated around the ground.

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