Loved ones of those who died were joined at Liverpool FC’s home by players, club officials and ordinary fans among the 24,000 attending.
The 96 Liverpool fans died in the crush on the Leppings Lane terraces at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium after going to see their team play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989.
As the families of those who did not return home took their places in reserved seats on Anfield’s famous Spion Kop for the start of the service, the crowd got to their feet as one with a roar of approval from all four sides of the ground. There were also loud cheers and clapping for the gathering of Anfield greats, past and present, including current club captain Steven Gerrard, right, Kenny Dalglish, manager at the time of the disaster, Ian Rush, Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen.
More recent stars like Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were also in attendance, along with Howard Kendall, Everton’s manager in 1989, and current Everton boss Roberto Martinez, who gave a reading. Martinez said he was 15 at the time of the disaster, a football-mad kid in a football-mad family, when he heard the news.
He said: “We could not believe the pain and horror that the families would get by receiving the news that their loved ones would not be coming home. How can you die by watching a football match? That was not right or fair what happened and afterwards was not right or fair either.” Martinez added: “The authorities took on the wrong city if they thought they were going to get away with it.”
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers gave a reading before addressing the Hillsborough families themselves.
Rodgers said his biggest inspiration as manager was each time he came to Anfield and seeing the names of the 96 on the Hillsborough Memorial.
He said: “You are the real inspiration for us. Your courage, fortitude, resilience and love for the people you lost, it’s what inspires me, every day, as manager of Liverpool. Thank you for the inspiration you give us all. You’ll never walk alone.”
On the pitch, thousands of football scarves were laid out in the shape of “96”, donated from fans and clubs across England and beyond after an appeal from Liverpool FC for scarves to show a symbol of unity.
Some of those present at yesterday’s memorial are witnesses in the new inquest into Britain’s worst sporting disaster, which began last month and resumes next week. The original accidental deaths verdicts in 1991 were quashed in England’s High Court in 2012.
At 3.06pm, the exact moment the match was abandoned while the tragedy unfolded, a minute’s silence began and the city fell silent. The minute’s silence ended with a round of applause, as bells tolled 96 times at churches and civic buildings.
* FIFA asked for all its member associations to fly flags at half-mast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.