LIVERPOOL -- Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has described the 96,000 pound donation he made to families of the Hillsborough victims as one of the proudest moments of his life.
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Gerrard, 33, who gave the money to the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) in January, is hoping that a charity match, to be held to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster, will help the families even further.
The England captain’s 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was one of the 96 Liverpool fans who died when attending an FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989.
A host of former Reds players, including Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes and Jan Molby, will play in a memorial match at Anfield on April 21. Ex-Liverpool managers Kenny Dalglish and Gerard Houllier will take charge of the two teams.
All money raised from the match will be split between the HFSG and the Liverpool FC Foundation -- the club’s charity, which supports local community projects.
And Gerrard said that the current Liverpool squad are fully aware of the significance of the Hillsborough disaster
“Anything we get asked to do to support the campaign or individuals with regard to Hillsborough, we always do and give it our best,” he said. “The personal touch that I gave to the Hillsborough group is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done.
“I’m sure all the players involved are going to try to put on a spectacle and give the fans stuff to cheer. We’re hoping for a celebratory atmosphere.”
For almost a quarter-of-a-century, the HFSG has campaigned for justice on behalf of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, who were crushed to death on an over-crowded section of terracing.
They had a significant breakthough in September 2012, when an report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel exonerated supporters of any blame for the tragedy, and highlighted the extent to which the police and emergency services attempted to cover up their own culpability.
That report led to the opening of two separate investigations into the conduct of the police and emergency services during and after the disaster, as well as the quashing of the original inquest verdicts of accidental death. Fresh inquests are set to open in Warrington, Cheshire, on March 31.
Margaret Aspinall, chair of the HFSG, said: “It’s not been easy for the families over the last 25 years, because we’ve been forward so many times on different cases and always been knocked back. The hardest thing for the families was not getting the inquest verdicts quashed.
“But when we got the truth on Sept. 12 and then got the inquest verdicts quashed in December of 2012, we thought that we needed to do something for the fans and the city. We hoped to do it for the 25th anniversary to celebrate the lives of the 96.
“We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve had no accountability, and nobody knows what’s going to happen through these inquests. We just think it’s a time to have a good day together and be united before we go back into the inquests, which will be adjourned for two weeks over Easter.
“Nobody knows what the future holds for us, and we don’t know what’s going to happen at the inquests, but this will be a good day, not just for the families, but for everybody who comes along.”
Dalglish, who was Liverpool’s manager at the time of the Hillsborough disaster and is now a club director, said that the progress towards justice for the families was vital.
“I think over the past 18 months or so, there’s been very positive news for the families,” he said. “That must be hugely rewarding for them after the sacrifices they’ve made over the past 25 years.
“But as Margaret said, there’s a bit to go yet for the families, and I hope whatever is raised here can help them towards that and make the final push towards closure.
“Closure might mean different things for different families, but it’s certainly positive, and it’s getting closer. You just want them to be successful in their plight. After 25 years, I think that’s the least they deserve.”
On the charity match, Dalglish added: “Everybody coming along to play wants to take part because they know the importance of Hillsborough to the football club, and it’s important for them as well.
“They might have put on a few inches, some of them might have lost a bit of pace, some of them never had any pace, so you might not notice the difference in them.
“But both sets of players have been brought up knowing how to win and wanting to win, and on the day, they’ll be trying their best not to embarrass themselves, because they want to put on a show for people to enjoy.”
And Gerrard added that he hopes the charity match will give help to the families of the Hillsborough victims in their search for justice.
“I think the last 18 months has been a huge boost, to see that small breakthrough we’ve had,” he said. “We just all keep our fingers crossed that it keeps progressing, and we finally get that justice for the families.”