Merseyside is normally divided by two colours and one question: “Red or Blue?”
However, today on the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, the clubs’ solidarity shone through as both sides showed their respects in remembrance of the 96.
At the annual memorial service at Anfield, which took on even greater significance in this momentous year for the ongoing justice campaign, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright joined Liverpool’s owner, John W. Henry, in giving a reading and a heartfelt speech to symbolise the unity shown across Stanley Park.
He underlined how the city as a whole was affected forever by the tragic events of 15th April, 1989.
As he addressed the Kop in front of a crowd of thousands at the memorial, Kenwright recalled a conversation he had with Hillsborough Family Support Group chair, Margaret Aspinall, back in September.
Kenwright remembered: “She said to me: ‘Bill, I want us to find the truth together’. Well girl, I think you’re getting there now!
Everton chief Kenwright, who sat next to Blues boss David Moyes at the service, read from Philippians chapter 4-9 and said in his speech that “the two most important words in the English language” are “me mum”.
He added: “I saw your banner on Saturday at Reading which said ‘you’ve taken on the wrong city’. Well, they’ve taken on the wrong mums too because we all know about Liverpool mums and the way they fight for their kids and their family.
“Next year, on the 25th anniversary I hope you will be celebrating the greatest victory that any team in this country has ever had, not just in football but in life.”
His words were greeted with deep applause and a chant of ‘Merseyside’, more famously associated with Wembley finals of the 1980s when Liverpool and Everton were the dominant forces in the English game, but this time in friendship and support.
LFC Principal Owner John W. Henry read a section from Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’, and told those attending how he has come to understand the importance of Hillsborough.
He said: “I have been humbled by the dignity and perseverance of their families in the search for truth and justice. Now there is a real belief that justice will be served.
“This club always cherish the memory of family and friends lost 24 years ago today. They will forever be a part of Liverpool Football Club.”
The families, who have fought tirelessly for their loved ones over the past 24 years, were given a standing ovation as they took their seats on the Kop ahead of the service.
Supporters from other clubs also paid their respects, with the colours of Bradford, Cardiff and Manchester City spotted amongst the crowd.
Margaret Aspinall – who joked to Kenwright that she “wasn’t turning into an Evertonian” – said she hoped the service would be viewed as a celebration for “those who found the truth on 12th September” last year, as well a day of remembrance.
She also thanked the Hillsborough Independent Panel members for their diligence in putting the report together, with the report’s author Phil Scraton also giving an emotional reading of his poem, ‘Their Voices Will Be Heard’.
Mrs Aspinall said: “It’s a great honour that I stand in front of you today as Chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and be able to say and deliver 100% to you, the real truth is out; a truth that finally puts the record straight.
“The Hillsborough Independent Panel report that was published on the 12th September 2012 has swept away all the established myths, lies and prejudices that have been thrown our way time after time.
“It has taken 8,551 dark days and the report consisted of 395 pages to finally expose to the world what we all knew from day one: the fans were not to blame.”
Fellow campaigner Anne Williams’ made a surprise, though welcome appearance at the service.
Mrs Williams was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after the report was released to the public and was not due to attend but managed to make it to remember her son Kevin and the 95 other lives lost on that fateful day.
There was a feeling of a celebration and tribute to the 96 as a round of applause followed a reading of each victim’s name and candles were lit to represent every life that was taken.
Mrs Aspinall expressed her thanks for Andy Burnham MP – applauded for his work following his appearance at the 20th anniversary – Merseyside MPs Maria Eagle, Derek Twigg, Alison McGovern and Steve Rotheram, as well as praise for Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May for their response to September’s shocking Hillsborough Independent Panel report findings.
At the conclusion of the service, 96 red balloons were released into the blue skies above Anfield and a feeling of hope filled the air as the quest for justice seems closer now than at any point over the last two decades.
Additional reporting by Alice Kirkland, Ian Bolland & Joe Barnes