Liverpool was a city united on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster
Sky Sports' Vinny O'Connor reports from Anfield on an emotional day when the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster were remembered
Last Updated: 16/04/14 9:39am
One man told me how he had been in the upper tier of the Leppings Lane Stand as the disaster unfolded. An Evertonian spoke of how he had been at the other FA Cup semi-final that day, Everton versus Norwich at Villa Park, and how, on returning home, he learned his best friend was among the dead.
For the 25th year they relived the hurt and desolation, emotions as raw as they ever were. But with those was a resolve to continue their support for the families of the 96, taking comfort also in the number of people across the world - lives unaffected by the disaster - who still show compassion for those lost and those for whom life will never be the same again.
As the number of floral tributes at the Hillsborough Memorial grew, along with the number of scarves tied to the Shankly Gates, 21,242 made their way inside Anfield to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragedy by attending the annual memorial service.
The most poignant moment, as ever, was the reading of the 96 names from the book of remembrance, before a minute's silence at 3:06pm, the time that fateful game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was halted.
Then Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers gave speeches which encapsulated the mood of a city.
"As a family, we couldn't believe the pain and horror that the families would get from receiving the news that their loved ones wouldn't be coming home from a football match," said the Everton manager, a football-mad 15-year-old in Spain when he heard of the tragic events.
"How can anyone die watching the game we love? That isn't right. That isn't fair."
As well as empathy, there was a personal tribute to the families of the 96.
"It is only recently that I've had the privilege to spend some time in your city," added Martinez. "It's been over 10 months and I've experienced great warmth, great spirit, and seen great determination and commitment for ensuring what's right and fair. Those are the qualities that represent the Hillsborough Family Support Group, a remarkable group of people. For 25 years you've gained the respect of those within and beyond football and this city. Everton remembers. We always will."
There were cheers and a standing ovation, then more of the same as Rodgers took to the floor, thanking his counterpart, before describing the inspiration he draws from the Hillsborough families.
"I'm surrounded every day by inspiration," he said. "I walk in every day past the statue of Bill Shankly and past the European Cup. But without doubt the biggest source of inspiration for me is every matchday at Anfield, when I arrive at this ground and see the Memorial.
"You inspire us every day. We will always strive for you, the families. You'll never walk alone."
Then-MP Andy Burnham was heckled five years ago when he gave a speech as a representative of Gordon Brown's government but, with fresh inquests under way, the atmosphere was this time different.
"Things changed, not because of me, but because of you," he said in front of the Kop. "Things changed because you made your voices heard and thank God you did."
It later transpired that Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, had opposed the decision to let Burnham speak at the 20th anniversary memorial service - an admission he didn't mind making, thankful that Margaret Aspinall had had the final say on the matter.
The ceremony ended with Anfield joining Gerry Marsden in singing You'll Never Walk Alone as 96 red balloons were released into the sky.
Aspinall told me she'll take extra strength into the remaining 12 months that the new inquests are expected to last.
And still past 6:30pm people gathered on Anfield Road to remember 96 ordinary people who went to a football match and never came home.