London (AFP) – The final Anfield memorial for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster was held on Friday 27 years to the day since the tragedy devastated Liverpool.
Families of the deceased unanimously agreed this year’s service would be the last public event at Anfield in memory of the Liverpool supporters who died on April 15, 1989 during crushing on the terraces at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.
Less than 24 hours after Liverpool’s incredible fightback to beat Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter-finals, Anfield was emotional for far more sombre reasons.
Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters died at Hillsborough, summed up the mood when he said of the difference from the Dortmund atmosphere on Thursday; “Anfield was a cauldron, today it’s a church”.
The loved ones of the 96 were joined by Reds manager Jurgen Klopp and members of the current Liverpool team, who were given a rousing reception from 25,000 fans inside the stadium when they arrived for the service.
England manager Roy Hodgson, a former Reds boss, was also among the VIP guests in seats on the famous Kop end of Anfield, along with Kenny Dalglish, who was Liverpool’s manager at the time of the disaster, and many of the team from that day including Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson.
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 in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough after going to see their team play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.
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 Liverpool’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.
Some fans at Anfield 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 was given a standing ovation and rapturous applause as he gave the second reading from the Gospel of John.
The emotional scenes came after the jury at new inquests into the disaster retired earlier this month to start considering its conclusions about how the fans died.