Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard admits it would be fitting if the current squad were to take some inspiration from events surrounding this year’s 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
However, even with the Reds second in the league and firmly in the title race, the England midfielder stressed any success achieved on the pitch comes a distant second to the 96 victims’ families’ quest for justice.
The 33-year-old was speaking at a press conference to publicise next month’s Celebration of the 96 event, which will see a Liverpool team of ’home’ players managed by Kenny Dalglish take on a side of ex-Reds internationals led by Gerard Houllier.
Proceeds from the match at Anfield on Monday April 21 will be split between the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) and the Liverpool FC Foundation.
“I think the support we have had up and down the country has been phenomenal and I hope we get a decent turn-out,” said Gerrard, who earlier this year donated £96,000 to HFSG.
“It is important we keep it (the families’ fight for justice) on everyone’s minds and everyone continues to show the fantastic support they have done for so many years. It is really important the team is doing well but that is separate to this day and this occasion.
“After this occasion if the team can use that as a bit of inspiration to finish the season very strongly then let’s hope that happens as well.”
Dalglish, who was manager at the time of the 1989 tragedy and became the club’s figurehead in the aftermath as well as a source of support to the bereaved, said the event was a chance for the club and fans to pay tribute to the unstinting work of the families.
“This football club has loyal supporters and 25 years ago when they were in a bit of trouble it was our chance, as a club, to show our support for them,” he said.
“There was a special bond between the club and supporters before that but I think it increased after Hillsborough and in the immediate aftermath there were some very poignant moments and some things which will live in people’s memories forever. I think over the past 12 months or so it has been very positive news for the families and that must be hugely rewarding for them after the sacrifices they have made over the last 25 years.
“Closure for the families might mean different things but it is certainly positive and it is getting closer and you just want it to be finished. After 25 years it is the least they deserve.”
Margaret Aspinall, HFSG chairman, was keen for the match – which falls the week after Anfield hosts its annual memorial service to the 96 who died – to be a joyous occasion.
“We want to celebrate the lives of the 96,” said Aspinall, who earlier in the day had visited the grave of her son James, who was 18 when he died at Hillsborough and would have celebrated his birthday today.
“A lot of the people who are going there will probably be at the anniversary service so it will be a different atmosphere. The support we have had from the fans, survivors, the city itself and from all over the world has been fantastic and we can’t thank them enough and I just hope they just show their support on April 21.
“No-one knows what the future holds for us in the future but at least this will be a good day, not just for the families but for everyone. As long as everyone goes home having enjoyed the day it is something for them to remember and I am really looking forward to it.”
Names already confirmed for the game include John Barnes, Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Ian Rush, Luis Garcia, Dietmar Hamann, Jan Molby and Vladimir Smicer.