The preamble to Liverpool v Man City at Anfield will be a ceremony commemorating the impending 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death due to police negligence. Among the 96 was a nephew of Steven Gerrard’s, Liverpool’s captain and talisman. The nephew was only nine when he died. Many more fans would have died were it not for the Liverpool players, and others present, who mobilized to arrest this disaster and prevent it from getting worse. That the players present at Hillsborough never recovered emotionally is part of Liverpool lore. A year ago I watched Alan Hansen, a legendary defender who was present that day, not be able to complete a recollection as he teared up, still overcome with emotion twenty-four years later. Kenny Dalglish, the manager then, resigned at the end of the 1990 season, after winning what turned out to be the last league championship. Dalglish had attended every single one of the 96 funerals and, by his own account, was emotionally exhausted.
After Hillsborough, Liverpool gradually declined through the 90’s and the 00’s, despite the occasional moment of glory, such as when they beat AC Milan to win their fifth European Cup, the most won by any British team. Admired for generations for an attacking style of play, Dalglish’s successors as manager had Liverpool playing in different styles. Apparently, in the Anfield home team dressing room, there’s a quote that says, I paraphrase, “I choose Liverpool as my team to follow because they play my kind of football.” Diego Maradona said it. Since 1990, The team not only lost its style of play, but also it’s way, and eventually it even fell prey to a rapacious ownership by Texans.
Tomorrow, thousands of people around the world will gather to watch Liverpool play Man City in a game that will most likely decide the winner of this year’s title. It is fortuitous that Liverpool should be challenging again for the title, and be playing the most important league game in 24 years, two days before the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough. A year after Alex Ferguson’s retirement, Liverpool are challenging for the title, playing mesmerizing, attacking football, guided by Brendan Rodgers, a Northern Irishman. Perhaps it is no coincidence that it has taken a young British manager, schooled in the modern ways of the game, to set this club on a winning path again.
One cannot understate the emotion that will engulf Anfield tomorrow. Immense grief and hope will be given voice in the crowd’s roar when Gerrard leads the team onto the field, at the end of the minute of silence in honor of the 96, and throughout every single minute of the 90. Good luck Reds.