Hillsborough tributes before Liverpool-Man Utd clash

Fans create a crowd mosaic displaying the word 'justice' during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester United. Photo / AP
Fans create a crowd mosaic displaying the word 'justice' during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester United. Photo / AP

Players and fans from Liverpool and their arch-rivals Manchester United paid an emotional tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster ahead of their clash on Sunday.

The words "The Truth", "Justice" and "96" were spelled out by spectators holding red and white cards in Liverpool's first home match since a report absolved their fans of blame for the 1989 disaster in which 96 supporters died.

The tone was set when Manchester United's players emerged on to the pitch at Anfield with "96" on the backs of their tracksuits, earning loud applause.

Then in the pre-match lineup, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez shook hands with United's Senegalese-born French defender Patrice Evra whom he racially abused in the equivalent fixture last season.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said before the game that a handshake between the two players "could be the key" to defusing any tensions.

In another gesture, Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton presented former Liverpool striker Ian Rush with a bouquet of red roses, and United captain Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons, one for each of the dead.

United manager Alex Ferguson and his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers appealed for calm ahead of the match amid fears the tensions which always accompany the meeting of England's two most successful teams would spill over.

Ferguson took the unusual step of writing to his club's fans ahead of the match saying their intense rivalry "should never be based on personal hatred".

The long-awaited independent probe into what happened at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium absolved Liverpool supporters of any responsibility for the disaster, and was heavily criticial of the police.

It found that the accounts of some officers had been changed in an attempt to deflect blame on to the Liverpool fans.

The report was the result of a long campaign for justice by relatives of the dead after the police at the time blamed drunken fans for causing the overcrowding which led to the disaster.

Gerrard's own cousin, 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest fan to die in the disaster at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Asked what he was like, Gerrard, 32, said: "Same as me - a Liverpool fan from a council estate, used to love his footie, used to love a kickaround in the street. Exactly the same as me, a year older."

Outside the stadium, flowers were laid at a memorial to the dead and one Manchester United supporter attached a United shirt to the railings. On it was written: "For the Hillsborough families. Justice at last."

In the wake of the damning report, the British government is examining the possibility of holding new inquests into the 96 deaths at Hillsborough which could lead to the prosecution of senior police officers.

- AFP

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