FOR THE hundreds of thousands of fans passing through Liverpool’s Anfield stadium every season, the memories of the 96 supporters killed 20 years ago in the country’s worst football disaster are never far away.
By the Shankly Gates, floral tributes are replenished throughout the year and an eternal flame burns between the red marble tablets immortalising the men, women and children who were crushed to death on April 15, 1989 during an FA Cup semifinal match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
Survivors will join fans and current players on Wednesday afternoon at a 20th anniversary memorial service at Anfield. A two-minute period of silence will be held across Liverpool at 3:06 p.m. --- the time the match was abandoned --- and the port city's cathedral and church bells will be rung 96 times.
"It is essential that we don't forget," said Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who grew up in the city as an Everton fan. "It changed the face of football with the type of stadiums we have and the way people watch football now is probably down to the tragedy, which is a sad thing but hopefully it will never happen again because of those reasons."
Intertwined in the grieving process is the ongoing struggle to protect the reputations of the victims of Britain's worst sporting disaster. Behind the Kop, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign Shop is maintained and inside "Justice for the 96" banners are displayed prominently at every match.
Even at a club, now owned by Americans and filled with foreign players, the spectre of the events that irrevocably changed the face English football loom large. And not just on noteworthy anniversaries that reawaken the world to the horrors that developed on the Leppings Lane terraces behind high, wired-topped fences.
Even players not born before that day just need to glance across the dressing room and seek out their captain, whose career was inspired by Hillsborough and the tragedy. Steven Gerrard's cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest fatality at the age of 10. "Time has gone by, but the scars will never ever be healed," Gerrard said.
Gilhooley had joined the mass exodus of fans travelling east for the second successive season to witness Liverpool playing Nottingham Forest at the neutral home stadium of Sheffield Wednesday. Back in Liverpool --- before live TV coverage of major matches became commonplace in the overhaul of football following Hillsborough --- an 8-year-old Gerrard had readied himself by the radio to listen to the account of his heroes Alan Hansen, Ian Rush and John Barnes vying for a Wembley final.