Liverpool fans celebrated the present and a 3-2 victory that puts their team on track for its first championship since 1990, but they also took time to remember the past only two days before the 25th anniversary of the tragedy in which 96 fans died inside Hillsborough Stadium.
There was a moment of silence at Anfield, where 96 seats for the match against Manchester City were left empty and covered with Liverpool scarves. Fans bore signs reading “Justice for the 96,” a reminder that only recently have the events of April 15, 1989, come into sharper focus. Henry Winter of the Telegraph writes:
Liverpool’s emotions had flowed long before kick-off. Their fans thronged in early, turning Anfield into a cacophonous arena even before Steven Gerrard ran out for the warm-up. Many of the banners related to Hillsborough, calling for “Justice for the 96” as the nation mournfully observed the 25th anniversary of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.
Other flags portrayed past idols such as John Barnes, Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly. The noise was loud early on and was sustained, particularly during that stunning first-half performance and then when Coutinho scored. They chanted Kenny Dalglish’s name as he emerged before kick-off with Ian Rush to receive a floral, red-and-blue “96” tribute from City legends Joe Corrigan, Mike Summerbee and Tony Book.
City fans, doing their club proud, held up a long banner of “YNWA 96” in the away end and then joined in the immaculate observation of the minute’s silence. The Kop was transformed into a mosaic, highlighting “96” and “25 YEARS”.
Although Liverpool led early on goals by Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel, City tied the score before Philippe Coutinho beat goalie Vincent Kompany in the 78th minute. There’s likely to be further celebration for Liverpool down the line, but the 25-year-old tragedy still resonates, for reasons that are, Sam Borden of the New York Times writes, “a bit more complex” than the “easy story line” of “a city still mourning a vast tragedy [finding] inspiration in the chase for an unexpected championship.”
It goes back to that phrase, Justice for the 96.
For years, the official verdict on what happened on April 15, 1989, was that the deaths were accidental, and that rowdy and violent fans were largely to blame for so many people losing their lives after being crushed on an overcrowded terrace.
Only recently has evidence supporting a more sinister version emerged: a staggering lack of communication that led to the police and stadium workers being grossly negligent. Many fans and longtime residents of the city have said that it is specious to link the anniversary of such a controversy to a pleasing turn of form on the field.
“Many people, especially in the tabloids here, will run that kind of a story, I suppose, but it just isn’t so,” said Phil Scraton, the founder of the Hillsborough Project, which researched the legal processes that followed the tragedy. Scraton was also a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which first identified, in 2012, the safety deficiencies and subsequent cover-up by the local authorities.
Scraton added: “I don’t think winning the league would add a different dimension or anything like that because then the suggestion would be that if they were doing badly, it would diminish the impact of the 25th anniversary. The truth is that the 25th anniversary is a massive moment because of where the campaign for justice is at this moment — and that is the case whether the team is doing well or not.”
While the team continues it quest, the search for what happened 25 years ago continues. Laws may have been enacted to require fans to have a seat rather than cramming in so tightly on terraces that people were unable to move, but the move toward answers for the Hillsborough tragedy continues. A jury has been empaneled in a proceeding to determine what happened to the 96.