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By ESPN Staff
Apr 15, 2009

Thousands gather to remember Hillsborough

Liverpool fell silent to mourn their dead, and then roared their anger and demanded ''justice'' for the 96 fans who did not return home from the Hillsborough disaster.

An attendance of 28,000 flocked to Anfield on Wednesday for the 20th Hillsborough memorial service.

The city observed a two-minute silence, public transport stopped and the bells of both Anglican and Catholic cathedrals peeled out across Merseyside.

Liverpool heroes from the past and present, including Kenny Dalglish - manager at the time of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest - Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and current boss Rafael Benitez were greeted with roars of approval as they took their seats in the Kop for the service.

But anger, bitterness and frustration is never far from the surface in Liverpool when Hillsborough is discussed.

And when Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport took to the stand to address the crowd, that fury all but enveloped him.

Burnham, whose speech was a late addition to the running order, started by saying he was representing the Prime Minister and the Government, he talked of ''96 fans who will never be forgotten'' and of a ''man-made disaster'' and ''the memory of loss of life not diminished by time''.

But he got no further. The crowd rose as one to chant ''Justice for the 96''.

The Kop chant boomed around the stadium and Burnham, an Everton fan, was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling over the lack of accountability still from officialdom over the tragedy.

Eventually the noise subsided and Burnham continued his speech.

He said: ''I was an Everton fan at Villa Park for the other semi-final that day, and as news filtered through it was obvious there had been a major tragedy at the other semi-final.

''And when the final took place between Everton and Liverpool that year, 100,000 fans from Merseyside were unified in defiance.

''Those who died left their mark on this city and the country. The aftermath of the disaster challenged the perception of football fans.

''This great club has honoured the memory of those fans who died, and I want to pay tribute to the many fans there that day who fought so hard to keep many fellow supporters alive.''

Burnham paid tribute to past and present players for their efforts to aid the families of the victims.

But such was the outpouring of anger from the fans, Trevor Hicks - president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group - felt the need to apologise to Burnham for his treatment.

Burnham was applauded loudly by the Kop at the end of his speech, aware of his honest sentiments, but it is very clear that the campaign for justice will never go away.

Hicks said: ''If ever a Government needed proof of the need for justice, they only have to look around this stadium today to learn.

''We have borne the loss of our fellow fans frequently in the glare of hostile publicity. We have felt the need to defend our city and our fans, but we are still together after 20 years.

''We are still determined, still with dignity and still resolved that the truth will defeat the lies and propaganda.''

The strongest condemnation from Hicks was reserved for sections of the media who smeared Liverpool in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

He said: ''We all know of the lies, people talking about things they know nothing about. I have heard that the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police has accepted responsibility this week for what happened, at least has the balls to stand up and be counted.''

Thousands of fans were still pouring into the stadium as the service started.

The club had initially planned to open the Kop and lower tier of the Centenary stand, but soon the main stand was full with the Anfield Road end filling rapidly.

The arrival of a contingent from Celtic, carrying two massive banners onto the pitch, was greeted with a standing ovation.

But the roars that greeted the players and Dalglish sounded like a last-minute winner had been scored at the Kop end.

Dalglish, his familiar Glasgow tones echoing around the stadium, read a lesson, as did Margaret Aspinall, vice-chairman of HFSG, while the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, revealed a message from the Queen expressing her good wishes for the families of the victims.

The Bishop talked of a disaster that ''broke the hearts of a city but not its spirit''.

At the end of the service, Gerrard and Carragher presented the freedom of the city scroll to representatives of the victims' families, and Benitez and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Steve Rotheram, released 96 balloons on the pitch.

Fittingly, the ceremony was concluded with Gerry Marsden leading the fans in singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

And there was little doubt that the best-ever attendance at this memorial service in 20 years has re-awoken the country's awareness of the campaign for justice for the 96.

Burnham later told Sky News: ''There is obviously a strong sense of justice not done on Merseyside and I've said as such in the run-up to today, this emotional milestone.

''There are unresolved questions and the country perhaps has heard that more forcibly today than it has in recent times.

''There was also the sense early on that the conflicting stories and some of the misinformation put around about the supporters and their actions has really frustrated and upset people deeply down he years.

''I think today the country is finally seeing that the supporters and their families have been wronged very much.''

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