Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez says he’s going to get some legal advice in response to claims made by Neil Warnock about his team selection against Fulham last season.
Warnock’s side Sheffield United were relegated last season when, despite having lost far too many games over the course of the season, Rafael Benítez ensured they went down by not picking his strongest team.
It was of course all Rafa’s fault, Warnock having planned the season down to the finest tiniest detail and having expected Fulham to lose against the Reds. Instead his plans were in tatters. After not expecting to have to win their last to avoid the drop he found that his team had to win it after all. In fact they only had to avoid defeat – a draw would do. It was in their hands, but that wasn’t the point – Warnock expected Rafa to make his side safe, and he let him down.
So on the last day of the season it was pretty much down to Sheffield United to guarantee their own safety. Stop Wigan, and they were safe with Wigan down in their place. Warnock also knew that West Ham United could go down instead if they lost against Manchester United, but he’d began to start thinking that other teams weren’t willing to help him. They weren’t – United beat United as expected, just not the actual United everyone had expected.
How that great mind must have ticked over all day and all night as the day grew closer to Chelsea’s latest semi-final with Liverpool.
The two sides have been drawn together in Champions League semi-finals for three out of the four seasons Rafa Benítez has been in charge. In the other season they met at the group stage instead, and also had an FA Cup semi-final.
But the Champions League semi-finals have been particularly heartbreaking for Chelsea. In 2005 Luis Garcia scored a goal that to this day haunts the then manager Jose Mourinho. He mentioned it just about every time they played Liverpool, claiming it was never goal. He said it hadn’t crossed the line, and even though no replay exists to show if it had or hadn’t, he kept insisting it had been kept out. He kept quiet about the other option the referee had – had he not awarded the goal he’d have sent off goalkeeper Petr Cech and awarded a penalty.
In 2007 it went to penalties, and Liverpool went through.
So now, with two days to go, it was time to try and unsettle the Liverpool squad, manager, and fans. After all, we’ve nothing else on our minds.
And what a masterstroke it was. Surely nobody would see through it. The job fell to Joe Lovejoy, of The Sunday Times, ably assisted by the headline writer.
The headline was a masterstroke: “Chelsea line up summer bid to snatch Steven Gerrard from Liverpool.”
Already the smiles from Saturday’s win were starting to fade. Surely not?
The article began: “Chelsea will make a third attempt to sign Steven Gerrard from Liverpool if, as expected, Frank Lampard leaves at the end of the season.”
Oh no! Here we are about to play Chelsea, and now we find our captain’s off to join them in the summer again. He had a bit more: “Jose Mourinho, Chelsea’s former manager, was twice out of luck when he tried to buy the Liverpool captain. However, fortune may well smile on his successor, Avram Grant.”
Maybe there’s something in it though. Look at how much his value goes up per year: “Gerrard almost joined Chelsea in June 2004 for £20m, and again 12 months later, for £32m, after the Anfield captain reacted to the interest by submitting a transfer request.” So, we’re talking about his value going up by £12m a year, so the £72m is going to come in handy.
FA Barclays Premier League – April 19th 2008 – Result
Fulham 0 Liverpool 2
Liverpool’s win sees them move pretty much to within a point of assuring fourth place and a spot in next season’s Champions League qualifiers.
With three games to go the maximum points fifth-placed Everton can get is 70, and the Reds are now on 69. Goal difference is in Liverpool’s favour, they’re now 15 goals ahead of Everton. That said, if Liverpool did only manage one point from the last three games, and Everton got all nine, maybe Everton could close that goals gap. The Reds travel to Birmingham next weekend, then the following week play host to City in the last home game of the season.
With one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final with Chelsea, Reds boss Rafa Benitez had rested key players. But Sami Hyypia had to leave the field at half-time after a clash of heads. Rafa said: “We have a problem with Sami. He has a knock in the head. He was dizzy so I asked him if he’d seen the third goal! He just looked at me!”
Midfielder Javier Mascherano, back from suspension was also a slight worry: “Mascherano has one or two knocks as well but I think they will both be okay for Tuesday.”
Steven Gerrard didn’t travel at all, due to a neck injury, but Rafa is hopeful his captain is fit for Tuesday night: “I was talking with the physios today and he is improving but it is still too soon. You always have to be careful with the neck. He’s been scoring a lot of goals with his head!”
The win means nobody can complain about Rafa resting the bigger guns against a team looking to avoid the drop. Rafa accepted that fourth place was looking pretty safe, but wasn’t counting on it: “I picked a team I believed could win the match. It’s clear we are nearly there, we now need just one point and Everton need to win every game. But this is football, we still must be careful.”
“Today it was important to do a good job. We scored two goals without Torres and Gerrard, so we have confidence. But Chelsea is a difficult team.”
As ever, reporters want to know Rafa’s thoughts on the ownership situation, but he deflects the questions better than a Frank Lampard shot: “We can completely focus on the game against Chelsea now. We’ve talked a lot about boardroom matters for a long time but for now I just want to speak about football, if that’s possible.”
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has relegation worries rather than Champions League hopes, and his worries increased with Fulham now five points from safety with three games to play: “We matched them quite well but once they got their first goal we were chasing the game and when they got the second goal it put us out of contention.
“We can retain hope of staying up. The task gets harder because we have not recovered any points on the teams above us and we have lost another game and another opportunity. We have given a good account of ourselves but we do not have anything to show for it.”
Rafa Benitez promised he’d put out a “strong” side against Fulham down in London, and although it includes many changes from what has turned into his first-choice side it’s one that should be able to win this game. But does it include any clues for the Champions League semi-final line-up?
Jamie Carragher gets a rest rather than Sami Hyypia, which might mean Carra’s starting at right-back again next week and needs to conserve some energy! Of course it could also mean that Sami Hyypia will be on the bench at Anfield. Hyypia’s partner at centre-back is Martin Skrtel, with Finnan and Riise taking the full-back roles.
It does seem like Rafa’s going for a more conventional 4-4-2 today, but with Rafa it’s usually best to wait until the game’s underway before making any assumptions. Lucas and Mascherano are the two central midfielders on the field, with Pennant and Benayoun the two normally wide players, Crouch and Voronin the front men. If Rafa’s going for the 4-2-3-1 formation then Crouch would probably get the Torres role, or as near to it as he can get, with Yossi, Voronin, and Pennant making up the three behind.
Gerrard has a neck complaint and so hasn’t travelled. It’s a strong bench, Rafa choosing to use experience on the there rather than youngsters. Carra is joined by top-scorer Torres, Xabi Alonso and Fabio Aurelio, all quite likely to be starters against Chelsea. John Arne Riise will be hoping to show Rafa today that he should be picked ahead of Aurelio.
Fulham are battling against relegation, so it’s not going to be an easy game. If Liverpool win then they will be likely to need just one point from their remaining three games to ensure fourth place, thanks to a big advantage in goal difference over Everton.
A different kind of enemy to Liverpool fans has just reappeared on the scene, and it’s almost a welcome sight.
Up until around six months ago the mention of the name Jose Mourinho was sure to raise some angry and disgusted mutterings from just about any Red. But since then he’s left Chelsea, and Liverpool fans have new targets for their angry and disgusted mutterings.
No doubt he still hasn’t got over the goal from Luis Garcia. The one that crossed the line according to hundred of independent witness wearing Red shirts in the main stand. The one that hadn’t according to the independent witness wearing a somewhat ruffled look that night, claiming later: “The linesman scored the goal. No-one knows if that shot went over the line and you must be a hundred percent.” We were.
Mourinho’s not in charge now, but knows who he wants to win: “I don’t know who will win. I think always between big teams the result is a question mark. I want Chelsea.”
He also wants them to win the league: “Mathematically it’s possible. I want them to win. Yes, for the fans, for the players, yes, for the friends I have in the club. And when I say friends I include the board. I have no problems with Peter or Roman. I always support my friends.”
Avram Grant wasn’t happy with the squad Mourinho left behind, but Mourinho’s response was to the point: “I don’t care what Avram Grant says.”
It’s nice of Jose to back his old club. The last time a former Chelsea manager backed his successor for success against Liverpool in a Champions League semi it was the Reds who got to the final. Back in 2005, Claudio Ranieri said: “I think Chelsea have more chances because they are used to being in this position but they must be careful. Liverpool are strong in the Champions League.”
How right those words turned out to be. The bit about Liverpool being strong, rather than who would get through.
Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks’ eagerly-awaited interview with Sky Sports News went out at 6am this morning, UK time, and is bound to attract massive attention. There’s little doubt that chief executive Rick Parry, fellow co-owners George Gillett and former chairman David Moores will be in contact with each other to discuss their responses, whether individually or as a group. And it would be a surprise if Dubai International Capital weren’t party to those discussions. This is big news, and although it still seems difficult to work out how it could make any difference to the final outcome of the ownership fight, everyone involved seems determined to be heard. But did we learn anything new?
The recent phase of publicity with regards to the ownership began with George Gillett speaking on Canadian radio, where the co-owner spoke about his relationship with Hicks having broken down, insisting that death threats made him decide not to sell to Hicks, who he said had run out time anyway. Last week Rick Parry received a letter from Tom Hicks, asking that he resign from his post at the club, a request Parry has resisted.
Today Hicks explained why he wants Parry out: “If you look at what has happened under Rick’s leadership, it has been a disaster. We have fallen so far behind the other top clubs. The new stadium should have been built three or four years ago.
“We have two sponsors, maybe three. We should have 12 or 15. We are not doing anything in Asia the way Manchester United and Barcelona are. We have a tremendous number of fans in Asia. So we have got the top brand in the world of football, but we just don’t know how to commercialise and get the money for it to use to buy great players.
It was the 19th Anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster today, and like every year thousands of Liverpool supporters joined the families of those who died to remember the ninety-six who lost their lives in 1989.
A service was held at Anfield, starting at 2.45pm, with a minute’s silence at 3.06pm, the time that the referee took the players off the pitch as it became clear there were problems.
The emotionally-charged service ended with a rendition of You’ll Never Walk alone.
The two readings this year were read by Brian Hall and Gary Ablett.
Although the club’s owners didn’t attend the service, David Moores, Rick Parry and Rafa Benitez were there. The full first-teams squad plus the club’s youngsters also attended.
The gesture shown by Celtic in the aftermath of the game and ever since were acknowledged by the Hillsborough Family Support Group’s chairman Phil Hammond. Celtic played Liverpool after the disaster, and to this day their fans have continued to show support. Now it looks like a charity game will be played.
Mr Hammond said: “Liverpool Football Club have always enjoyed a special relationship with Celtic, and next year we want to take this unique friendship to the next level.
“Next year it will be 20 years without our loved ones, 20 years of sheer hell and injustice. I’m pleased to announce that agreement has been reached with Liverpool to play a charity match on or about April 19th.
“It won’t be the current team who plays, of course, but more appropriately we are trying to arrange a game between the Liverpool and Celtic players who played in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Fingers crossed it will be played at Anfield and all proceeds will be split between the Hillsborough Families Support Group and the Marina Dalglish Appeal.”
Some photos of the build-up to the service and the tributes next to the eternal flame can be seen by clicking below:
It’s the the anniversary of the worst day in our club’s history, and no matter how low we all feel now at the turmoil our club is in, we know it’s nothing, not even close, to the pain we felt back then.
Ninety-six people died. Ninety-six sons and daughters. Ninety-six people in one way or other just like us.
And they didn’t just die. They died in one of the most horrendous ways possible. When you sit and think about how it happened, when you momentarily picture yourself as if you were one of the victims, it fills you with a feeling that, well, I literally can’t find the words to describe. And trying to imagine it won’t even come close to the horrors those ninety-six fellow supporters went through.
And of course, although they might ask us not to, we also must not forget the survivors. They saw and felt and heard terrors no human should have to. At a football match.
April the Fifteenth 1989. Nineteen years ago. An FA Cup semi-final, played as always on a neutral pitch. Hillsborough was chosen, as it had been the previous year when these two sides met.
It wasn’t a venue chosen for any other reason than its capacity. There was nothing special about the place; it was just one of the biggest grounds in the league in terms of how many tickets could be sold.
I still remember my outrage at reading in the paper how the tickets had been allocated. Nottingham Forest had an average home gate of 21,000. Liverpool’s was something like 40,000. Nottingham Forest were given 28,000 tickets, 7,000 more than their average home gate. Liverpool were given 24,000 tickets, 4,000 less than Forest, and 16,000 less than their average home attendance.
My outrage was confined to just how hard it would be to get a ticket. How unjust it was for the tickets to be dished out this way. How it lacked any sense. Little did we know how unjust it would all turn out to be.
And my disappointment at not being able to get a ticket was eventually to become relief.
The decision to allocate tickets this way ultimately fell to the FA, but they acted on advice from South Yorkshire police. They wanted Forest fans to get the Penistone Road end, which contained what Wednesday also called their “Spion Kop”. LFC fans were to get the Leppings Lane end. The reasons given were to do with routing traffic as easily as possible.
Unfortunately no thought seemed to have been given by those traffic-conscious police to roadworks on the M62, which caused delays for Liverpool fans. Just to ensure delays, there had been more hold-ups from police searches of coaches. At 2.30pm, with half-an-hour until kick-off, a large crowd of supporters had built up outside the ground, at the Leppings Lane end.
Supporters were anxious to get in, having had to contend with the delays from the motorway, and knowing kick-off was close.
The Leppings Lane end was divided into five sections, which they called pens, appropriate for the way authorities of the time viewed football supporters as animals one and all. Properly managed, there was no reason why those five pens couldn’t hold the supporters who were trying to get in.
Standing up at a football match wasn’t for the faint-hearted, but never once in my whole life did I ever – even after Hillsborough – feel any danger in standing on the Anfield Kop. Somehow, I don’t even know how really, you could move yards forwards and backwards as the crowd moved, like waves hitting a beach, somehow almost always ending up back where you started. Well, near enough to where you started.
For most Anfield games we’d arrive at the ground well before kick-off, paying on the gate with cash, when the gate eventually opened what seemed hours after our arrival. It took an age for the Kop to fill, slowly but steadily, the buzz of the crowd growing in volume, but because it was one great big wide terrace, there was never really any kind of problem, no matter how full it got.
This can’t have been the case at Hillsborough. Those inhumane pens split the support into five – but there was nothing to control which of the five sections people would go into. At Anfield if too many people tried to jostle their way to the point behind the goal then the crowd would just effectively spread a little wider. But at Hillsborough everyone headed for the centre, without anyone counting or controlling the numbers. Part of the cause for this was the poor signage in the ground, it was unclear to anyone unfamiliar with the Hillsborough how the central tunnel wasn’t the only way to get to the terraces.
The problem was that despite the late arrival of fans the kick-off wasn’t delayed. Let’s face it, supporters weren’t customers, there to be looked after by those who took their money. Imagine a theatre knowing that thousands of its audience were stuck outside through no fault of their own as the curtain was due to go up, would they go ahead on time, or would they wait? Would it hurt to wait fifteen minutes, maybe thirty, to kick the match off?
This was before live TV had taken the game over. The only live FA Cup games shown on TV then were the final and any of its replays. The semis were both played at 3pm on Saturday, but what harm could have come from a short delay? It’s not like – for example – final league games of the season where an advantage might be gained by one side knowing how their rival’s game was going. Why didn’t they hold on a little longer?
It was described as having been a carnival atmosphere outside the ground, but that’s all well and good – people hadn’t travelled to stand outside the ground. And it sounded like things were getting started.
Police later tried to claim the crowd of supporters were predominately drunk, a claim strongly disputed by those there.
Twenty minutes before kick-off and the pens 3 and 4 were full. This had actually been spotted and commented on by the BBC’s match commentator for the recorded highlights that had been due to be shown. Chief Superintendent David Duckinfield also saw this, from the police control room.
In fact not only were the pens full, they were too full. Their stated capacity was later found by the HSE to be overstated, but nobody was counting, or controlling, the numbers entering those pens.
One police officer did ask for a delay to the kick-off to be announced, feeling that this would reduce the panic from those outside the ground fearing they would miss kick-off, but his request was refused.
People inside the ground were already struggling to breathe as the pens filled up beyond their capacities. The other pens were nowhere near full. People outside were also feeling the effects of poor crowd control by the police and stewards, fans were literally unable to control where they went, momentum carrying them forward to the ground, causing crushing outside the ground too.
The police outside the ground of course could not know what was happening inside the ground. But they could see the problems that were being caused by the volume of people being carried towards the ground. Superintendent Marshall was tasked with the overall control of the outside of the ground, and radioed to the control room for permission to open the exit gates. Marshall could see no other way to stop the crush outside. Duckinfield didn’t answer immediately, in fact the word he used in evidence later was “froze”, but then issued the order: “Open the gates.”
And in doing so he ensured that ninety-six Liverpool supporters would die.
When supporters were allowed through the gates, immediately in front of them was that tunnel to those pens, 3 and 4. Nothing told them of any problems with this, and so that’s the way most supporters went. It was later said in evidence that in previous years that police or stewards had blocked this tunnel when the central pens had been full, instead sending fans to the side pens. For no good reason this was not the case in 1989.
Quite how Duckinfield failed to see the potential problems of allowing unrestricted access to an area of the ground that was clearly full has never been satisfactorily explained.
An extract from the HJC’s website:
Logic would inform the average person that the volume outside would be replicated inside once entrance was allowed and that therefore swift monitoring and control would be necessary if a catastrophe was to be averted.
Logic however, does not seem to figure large in the consciousness of David Duckenfield. His response to seeing people spill out onto the perimeter track from the crushing in the pens was to call for reinforcements (including dog handlers) as he thought there was a pitch invasion!
This response of Duckenfield is even more obscene when it is realised that from his position in the control box he could clearly see the Leppings Lane end. Moreover, he had the advantage of CCTV with zoom facilities. His later testimony that he was unaware that people were suffering and dying becomes totally unbelievable to those who have visited that control box and know that it is possible see the colour of a person’s eyes in pens 3 and 4 such was the power of the zoom facilities on the cameras.
Inside the pens people were dead and dying. Faces were crushed up against the perimeter fencing, the vomit and blueness a clear sign of their condition. Fans were packed so tightly that many were dead standing up. Many still conscious were trying to break down the fencing with their hands. Those who had managed to climb over the fencing or escape when a perimeter gate was briefly opened also struggled to free their fellow fans. This was the sight that met the ‘reinforcements’ that had responded to Duckenfield’s call to stem the ‘pitch invasion’.
The response then from police was mixed. Some police did see the distress the supporters were in and did what they could to help get people out. Others ignored the unmistakeable signs of distress the fans were in, ignored the cries and screams for help, some even pushed fans back into the scenes of death when they had found a way out through the perimeter fencing.
This fencing was a normal site at football grounds, and at Anfield it had gaps in, certainly on the Kop, which would allow some kind of escape if needed. At Hillsborough the only gaps were protected by gates. The fencing was designed to keep the animal-like football fan inside his cage or at least that was the authorities’ perception. Fans were seen as hooligans, and that’s what many of the police there assumed was the case that day.
When browsing the website of a photo agency recently I came across a photo I’d not seen in some time. It had been on the front page of a national paper at the time, possibly “Today”, because I remember it was in colour. Two fans were up against the fence, one of them was so crushed up against the fence that the paint from the fence had actually come off onto this supporter’s face, the fence practically embedded into the mouth of a supporter so clearly in absolute agony. Seeing it again brought memories back of the moment you realised just what those all those words you’d read and all those reports you’d heard really meant.
People were dying as the game was being played. Fans couldn’t get the police to see what was happening. Eventually Bruce Grobbelaar realised and attracted the referee’s attention. The game was stopped at 3.06pm.
Liverpool fans had to take matters into their own hands. As they grabbed advertising hoardings to use as stretchers for the injured and dying, some of the police formed a line on the half-way line just in case any supporters decide to charge towards the opposition fans. From pen two some police officers climbed into pen three to try and help, some others tried to pull that lethal perimeter fence down.
Nobody was around to provide medical help. Some fans took a guess at how to resuscitate their fellow supporters, as others wandered around in a daze, in shock.
Some figures. 94 died that day, with 14-year-old Lee Nicol dying a few days later to become the 95th. His mother kept him going on a life support machine until the players had been to see him. Tony Bland became the 96th victim when his parents were finally granted the permission for his life support to be ended. He had been in a coma in a persistent vegetative state for four years.
The majority of the dead were males, under 30. Seven who died were female, the youngest of the victims just ten.
Officially 730 people were injured inside the ground, another 36 outside the ground. Those who died were declared as having done so from crush asphyxia.
The traumatisation of seeing and being near the events of that day hit thousands of fans, who continue to suffer to this day, and of those who were traumatised a number later committed suicide, with the cause linked to their experiences at Hillsborough.
Although live football was a rarity at the time, the BBC cameras were there and when it became clear what was happening provided continuing coverage of the disaster unfolding. Figures were flashed up as estimates were made of the dead.
I remember I had ended up sitting in a pub, and that’s where I saw what happened. I was with a blue at the time, and he said “What are your lot doing again?” But it wasn’t hooliganism. Some would say it was murder. It was so easily avoidable. Yet justice has still not been done.
The police lied to cover up their failings. The Taylor report would later attribute the disaster to a failure of police control, but on the day of the disaster itself, and shortly after, efforts were made to blame it on hooliganism.
The FA’s chief executive at the time was Graham Kelly. He was obviously concerned, perhaps thinking the same as my Evertonian mate had just done. He went to the police control room at 3.15 and was told by Duckinfield that the supporters forced or rushed the gate. He lied. He’d told his officers to open it. But Kelly took the word of someone who was not supposed to lie about such an error, and when he was interviewed by the BBC shortly afterwards he repeated what Duckinfield had told him. With the addition of those claims of fans being drunk, the word got out that the drunken Liverpool supporters had forced the gate open and caused the deaths of their own fans.
This myth grew yet more. Kelvin McKenzie was then editor of The Sun ‘newspaper’, and he was so desperate to attack the already suffering bereaved and survivors, and to sell papers, that he put a headline out that will never be forgotten. A series of lies, entitled “The Truth”. It accused fans of pick-pocketing from and urinating on the dead. Of being drunk and rushing the gate. Of assaulting the police and what ambulance staff were eventually allowed on. Of stealing equipment from the press. It all came from unnamed police officers. And it was all untrue.
Although the Sun wasn’t the only paper to report the story, it was the only one not to realise, or admit, that it had been lied to as part of a police attempt to deflect their blame from their manslaughter. To this day it remains a boycotted publication on Merseyside. 19 years of poor sales caused by one man’s decision to repeat another man’s lies. Lies that some still perpetrate many years later.
It took Sheffield Wednesday ten years to erect a memorial to the ninety-six innocent fans who had died at their ground. Ten years.
The inquest into the deaths was designed to provide anything but justice.
But not all the world were so uncaring. Anfield became a sea of flowers as well-wishers from the world over, supporters of other clubs or not even football supporters at all, came to leave their tributes. Walking around the outside of the Anfield pitch in a stadium normally so full of life, so full of joy, but now so quiet despite still great numbers of people present was something that was unique. The feeling was overwhelming. Memories feel like yesterday of a lady crying inconsolably some way away, her anguish echoing inside the ground. The air even felt strange, felt thicker than normal somehow, it’s extremely hard to describe. I saw my usual spot on the Kop, like most did who were regular Kopites at the time I suppose, and reflected on how lucky I was to be there. And how lucky I was not to be looking at the spot where someone I cared for would normally stand.
Before this I remember going back to work in fear of finding people I used to talk about the match with not being there. I remember people spotting me in work and looking at me realising I was okay, they must have wondered all weekend if I’d been there and been hurt. I later that first day back at work found out another lad the same age as I was had been killed. I’d barely spoken to him, barely knew him, but we’d exchanged comments a few times in passing as we both spotted each other’s Liverpool scarves. The way people had been with me, people I’d barely noticed in work before who had shown such obvious relief I was okay, my own parents who were showing me more attention than I’d noticed in a while, the phone had been busy that Saturday night apparently too, the college mates who’d been concerned but trying to show it a little less – elsewhere there were people not getting that sense of relief. Ninety-six people were dead or dying, and when I thought of how many people had been relieved at my safety, I started to think of just how many people were going through entirely different emotions.
That unforgettable tribute to the dead that filled the famous and sacred turf at Anfield contained souvenirs and memorabilia from clubs around the world. A lot of clubs made a lot of huge gestures over time, one that I only learned of recently was in Italy.
It was the Wednesday after, the 19th, and Real Madrid were playing in a European Cup semi-final against AC Milan at the San Siro. The referee blew the whistle after six minutes to stop the game. Six minutes in recognition of the point at which the referee had stopped our own fatal game. A minute’s silence began, but it didn’t stay silent for the whole minute. The Curva Sud started to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” An amazing gesture, unbelievably poignant to see. You may find it’s quite emotional to watch.
The players of Liverpool football club came in for deserved praise in the time that followed the disaster. There were nearly a hundred funerals to attend. And every single funeral had a representative of the squad at it.
John Barnes says he attended eight funerals, and that prior to this he’d never attended a funeral in his life. “After each funeral I attended, when another set of parents buried a beloved son or daughter, when another grieving family mourned a relative who died following Liverpool, I would come home and climb into bed with my eldest son, Jamie, just to hold him, just to hear him breathing. We slept curled up together, Jordan, my second son, was just a baby and I would cradle him in my arms. For months after Hillsborough, I couldn’t bear to be apart from my two sons. If one of them fell over, I ran across and hugged him, soothed him, showed him my love. Scarred into my mind was the image of those parents who could not hold their loved ones any more, who could not see them smile and grow up. That thought devastated me. So I hugged my children tight.”
John Aldridge can’t remember how many funerals he went to. He remembers how it hit players that something awful had taken place: “I was the Liverpool player furthest away from the Leppings Lane terrace when a fan decked out in Liverpool red approached Ray Houghton and shouted something at him. I assumed it was some kind of pitch invasion. The last action I could remember was Peter Beardsley hitting the crossbar with a fierce shot. But soon a policeman with a look of concern approached referee Ray Lewis and began talking to him. The game was brought to a halt. I remember Steve Nicol saying something to the referee, though I was too far away to hear anything. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. At six minutes past three, the players were ushered off the field and into the dressing-rooms. A lot of people suspected crowd trouble but even then, even before the full facts had emerged, there was a kind of eerie atmosphere that suggested something far worse had taken place. On our way into the dressing-rooms we had the first inkling that, far from crowd trouble being the reason for the delay, there had in fact been a tragedy. I overheard people talking of serious injuries to Liverpool fans and, worse still, deaths. Deaths? At a football match? I could not comprehend it. I was still convinced a barrier had collapsed and we’d only been taken off for fifteen minutes or so. If only that was true. I could not have been more wrong. This was fast developing into the worst disaster in English football history.”
Alan Hansen remembers going to a dozen funerals, and also the first victim that he saw: “The first person we were asked to see was a 14-year-old boy, who was on a life-support machine. There was no hope for him, but his mother requested that he be kept on the machine until we arrived. Though he was not conscious, we sat there talking to him for a few minutes. Then someone announced that he was dead and started putting a screen around his bed.
“At that point, I lost it completely, I cried my eyes out. I tried to say something to comfort the mother, but I almost felt that she was comforting me. She kept thanking me for coming to see him, and telling me how much he loved Liverpool – the strength she showed was incredible. Then I went into another ward, and reached a man’s bed just as he was regaining consciousness. He recognized me instantly, hand his first words to me were, ‘If you reach the Cup final, can you get me a ticket?’
“I did a lot of crying in the weeks ahead. I attended 12 funerals, but instead of becoming hardened to them, I found them increasingly difficult to handle. One of the problems for me was knowing what to say to the families and friends of the deceased. I thought I was supposed to be there to provide some form of counselling but I tended to get as upset as they did.”
Kenny Dalglish lost count of the funerals he went to, remembering he went to four in one day. He recalled one of the many moments that the enormity of what happened hit him: “One morning, before everyone was in, I went out on to the pitch and tied my children’s teddy bears around a goalpost at the Kop end. The goals, the pitch and the whole Kop were covered in flowers, scarves and tributes. I remember describing it as the ‘saddest and most beautiful sight’ I had ever seen. It really was like that. It was sad because of the reason why the tributes were there, but it was magnificent to see them. On the Friday night, after everybody had gone, I walked through the Kop with Kelly, Paul and Marina’s dad, Pat. Paul looked at all the tributes, the flowers, the scarves and said: ‘Why did it have to happen to us?’ Kelly, Paul and I stood at the back of the Kop with tears falling down our faces. Walking through the Kop was so emotional. A lot of tributes had been left by people in the place where their loved one had stood. People who had lost the person they stood next to to watch games would leave something special in remembrance. Seeing two oranges left beside one of the barriers really moved me. It was difficult not to weep on coming across little tributes like that. They were so insignificant and yet so full of meaning. Perhaps the two people took it in turn to bring oranges to matches, something to share at half-time. That really got to me. I wondered whether the person who laid the oranges ever returned to the Kop. I came across somebody’s boots, left there by his mourning family. Everywhere I walked there were endless messages, each of which embodied someone else’s grief. It was so difficult to pass through.”
Kenny’s days at Anfield came to an end a couple of years after Hillsborough, his leadership and strength had been called upon and relied upon as he helped families and survivors through those awful dark days. He cemented that place he has as a rare genuine legend, a word we overuse, but the burden of being a shoulder for so many to cry on took its toll and he left mid-season, to take a complete break from football.
The first game at Anfield after the disaster was quite some time later, with the fences removed almost ceremoniously by workmen beforehand. Prior to that the flowers and tributes had been taken from the pitch. There was a minute’s silence before the game. Again, an emotional memory.
We went on to win the FA Cup in the end, after we’d beaten Forest in the re-arranged semi-final. It was Everton we beat at Wembley, and it was probably fitting that they were our opponents given that so many of their own supporters were hit with the losses of friends and loved ones. Arsenal ended our chances of winning the double in the belated last game of the league season, needing to beat us 2-0 at Anfield to do so. They managed it, and although there was genuine disappointment at losing the game, afterwards it felt like it really didn’t matter. Football would never be the same again.
Whatever happens to the club during this period of troubles it now finds itself in, it can’t come close to what happened nineteen years ago. We’re lucky to be here to complain and worry about what’s happening to the club, we’re lucky to have seen all the good and all the bad those nineteen years of football have brought us.
For one day, at least, there needs to be cease-fire. There needs to be some unity at all levels. Those ninety-six people are who we should be thinking of today. And I’m sure for most of us that will be the case.
Ninety-six legends. They’ll never be forgotten. They’ll never walk alone.
Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Blackburn was a welcome but short-lived distraction from the hapenings off the field that have made the headlines far too much in this past few days.
Events at Anfield are coming to a head with various reports coming out of ultimatums having been issued by one unhappy member of Liverpool’s staff.
We had two weeks of relative peace following the breakdown of the brief talks in Dubai between Hicks Sports Group and Dubai International Capital. Supporters speculated on what might be happening behind the scenes but in truth very little was.
Then one Thursday night George Gillett came out of his cave to announce the end of his hibernation time. He growled a lot about his relationship with Tom Hicks, and the battle was back on. He also promised he’d be at the Emirates for the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Rick Parry followed this on the Sunday, saying that he was hoping to see some progress that week in the ownership situation.
On the Wednesday a story about the Hicks party taking 16 of the 20 tickets, and Gillett’s group taking the other four, saw a genuine chance that Rick Parry and David Moores would be unable to sit in their privileged seats at the Emirates. In the end the Hicks group gave some of their tickets back and the seats were made available. But not everyone in the total party of twenty sat down to eat together. And George Gillett didn’t appear anyway, claiming to have been snowed in back in Vail, Colorado, or Chicago, depending on which version of events was meant to be believed. His son Foster, who works out of the same office, did make the game, and rumours spread that Gillett hadn’t really got stuck back home at all.
Tom Hicks attended the Saturday league game, again at the Emirates, before heading back to the US for a big day out there that saw him criticised by some for not being in two places at once. His son Tom Jnr stayed behind. By Tuesday George Gillett had managed to beat the snow and after spending most of the day rebuking Liverpool staff on the day of his and his son’s first visit to Anfield this year he sat with Rick Parry – who had been with him in his earlier meetings – to watch the memorable second leg against Arsenal.
Wednesday was spent celebrating a memorable night, then all hell broke loose.
In short, a letter was sent to Rick Parry, requesting he resign. The news of the letter broke on Sky Sports News at 4pm, a good few hours after Parry’s secretary would have received the letter, which wasn’t only sent by snail mail. It was copied to the other board members too.
Parry claimed he knew nothing of the letter until after his family sent him a text about it at some point after 4pm. No explanation was given as to why his secretary hadn’t phoned him on his mobile – the one he got those claimed texts on – or if she had, why he’d not bothered to answer it.
Hicks was widely condemned for the letter, by Rick Parry claiming to be upset, and George Gillett claiming to have been upset and also not to have actually seen it. Mentions of not washing dirty linen in public were spat out as ever.
That was on Friday, and by the end of Friday the Echo website announced they had an exclusive interview planned for the following day with David Moores. It was the first time he’d spoken out about the problems since the first rumbling of discontent began, and it took something that upset Rick Parry to make him speak out.
On Sunday, today, we began with more details of what had been said in the letter, with Tom Hicks explaining what had happened from his point of view, along with a claim in the News of the World that Jurgen Klinsmann had warned what could only really be either Rick Parry or George Gillett about Tom Hicks sending details of a Rafa Benítez target to him by email. And it could only really be either Parry or Gillett who actually fed that story to the News of the World.
Then we had the game. And after the game Rafa had something to say on the record. He said: “Off the pitch, I am surprised at things I have read. I need some clarification about a meeting with a lot of people that I did not know about.” He was referring to the Klinsmann meeting. “I will talk with the board about this – as soon as possible, today or tomorrow. I need to resolve questions and I want some answers. I want to clarify things. I am really calm – but I want answers.”
We already knew of course that Jurgen Klinsmann was met by Tom Hicks and Rick Parry last November with a view to him becoming manager of LFC in place of the Spaniard. But Parry’s presence at the meeting had never been made public before. And that’s was Rafa said had upset him: “I need to talk to the board to clarify things. I was surprised about a meeting with another manager. What concerned me was the people who were in the meeting.”
Clearly it’s next to impossible for Rafa and Parry to remain at the same club long term, given the long list of differences between them. It’s believed that Rafa is sufficiently concerned that should his concerns not be addressed with more than just words that he may act himself.
Hyypia drops back to the bench and Carragher moves back to his preferred position in the centre of defence as Liverpool’s players try to get smiles back on fans’ faces after the heightened turmoil of the past few days’ off-field events.
There’s also a return to action for Lucas, back on in place of the suspended Mascherano and alongside Xabi Alonso. That front four of Crouch, Gerrard, Kuyt and Babel is back in place, with Peter Crouch injured.