The setting was the same, the scene could not have been more somber.
Two days after Anfield rang of deafening cheers and roars as Liverpool rallied to beat Borussia Dortmund, 4-3, in the Champions League quarterfinals, a smaller, much sadder crowd attended memorial services marking the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 people died.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, players and club officials sat with bereaved families mourning the loss of loved ones caught in a fearsome wave of people funneling into an already dangerously crowded section of Hillsborough on April 15, 1989.
The 22,000 in attendance listened to readings and speeches by Trevor Hicks and Margaret Aspinall, respectively the president and chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which has held memorial services each year. They have decided that this will be last such service staged at Anfield, as the latest inquest into the disaster is scheduled to be completed sometime this year.
The jury in the case has retired to consider evidence and decide whether the South Yorkshire police officer in charge of the event, chief superintendent David Duckenfield, committed manslaughter by gross negligence and is guilty of accidental killing.
Duckenfeld’s inept handling of the crowd surge and subsequent attempts to gloss over attempts to manipulate or exclude vital evidence infuriated families, whose long battle to negate the verdict finally paid off three and a half years ago. Extraordinary measures, such as taking blood samples to test the alcohol levels of the victims, outraged the families and led to the verdict being set aside.
Hicks has given harrowing evidence at the inquests about his efforts to save his two teenage daughters, Sarah, 19, and Vicki, 15, both of whom died in the tragedy. He paid tribute to the years of solidarity among the families as they lobbied for a new inquest after a High Court ruling in December, 2012, quashed an initial verdict that the 96 deaths were accidental.
Thousands of Liverpool fans had traveled to Sheffield Wednesday’s home stadium for an FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest. A few minutes after kickoff the match was halted as fans trying to escape a crush behind the Liverpool goal climbed fences and jumped onto the playing field.
More than 700 people were injured and 95 pronounced dead at the scene. Another died later in hospital.
Police and stadium officials blamed the deaths on wild, drunken, unruly fan behavior amid allegations of suppressed evidence and officials altering statements from police officers and stewards to deflect blame. A verdict of accidental death was returned by a jury in March 1991.
More than two decades of protests and pressure from the families led to the High Court ruling, which paved the way for a new inquest to be conducted. It started in April, 2014, and is the longest running case heard by a jury in British legal history.
Aspinall announced in February that this service would be the last to be held at Anfield. Club legend Kenny Dalglish read from the Bible. After the speeches and prayers by local clergy, family members released white doves into the sky. The service concluded with the crowd hoisting scarves and singing the team’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”