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Players, families remember Hillsborough

Liverpool - Liverpool stars joined relatives of the 96 Hillsborough stadium disaster victims on Tuesday as the club marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a solemn memorial service at Anfield.

Club captain Steven Gerrard and former manager Kenny Dalglish were among those in a crowd of around 25,000 who gathered to honour the Liverpool fans killed after a crush during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield in 1989.

The figure 96, made up of fans scarves, fills the centre circle before the Hillsborough 25th Anniversary Memorial Service at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool. (AP Photo/PA, Martin Rickett)Fans hold up scarves during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesA fan ties a scarf to the Shankly Gates at Anfield, Liverpool, England, before the Hillsborough 25th Anniversary Memorial Service. (AP Photo/PA, Martin Rickett)Fans stand by a flag before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesFans lay flowers by the Shankly gates before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesFans with shirts representing the 96 victims travel on a bus before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesMen put a scarf on the Shankly gates before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesA man holds up a picture of a victim during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesEverton manager Roberto Martinez is applauded after speaking during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesA balloon floats across the sky during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesLiverpool's captain Steven Gerrard (2nd R) and Everton Manager Roberto Matinez (L) react during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England. REUTERS/Darren StaplesA woman reads a programme during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesLiverpool's captain Steven Gerrard (C) reacts during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesA man weeps during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren StaplesPast and present players of Liverpool listen during a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield in Liverpool. REUTERS/Darren Staples

A minute's silence took place at 3:06 pm (1406 GMT), reflecting the precise moment at which the fateful game against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground was called off.

Beforehand, local religious leaders read out the names of those who had died, as Liverpool players past and present and family members of the victims looked on.

As they did so, the names of the victims were illuminated on the inside of a giant ring sculpture standing in front of the stadium's iconic Kop stand.

The number 96 was written on the pitch in large numerals made up of scarves donated by fans and various sporting institutions.

Scarves were also draped over 96 seats in the stadium that had been symbolically left empty, while supporters attached scarves to the Shankly Gates beside the Hillsborough memorial outside the ground.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and his Everton counterpart Roberto Martinez were among several figures to give readings, with both men expressing admiration for the victims' families.

“Without doubt the single biggest source of inspiration for me is every matchday here at Anfield, when I arrive at the ground and I see the Hillsborough memorial, where I see 96 names,” said Rodgers.

“Those who we lost, and for those of you who have fought and campaigned tirelessly on their behalf, and on behalf of the survivors, you are the real, true inspiration for us.”

Rodgers also paid tribute to his predecessor Dalglish, Liverpool's manager when the disaster occurred, who insisted on attending many of the victims' funerals. The crowd gave Dalglish a standing ovation.

After a long campaign by the victims' families, an independent report into the disaster concluded in 2012 that 41 of those who died would have had the “potential to survive” if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

As a result, fresh inquests into the 96 deaths opened recently, while two investigations into the police's handling of the disaster are also being carried out.

“How can anyone die watching the game you love?” asked Martinez, to resounding applause.

“That isn't right, that isn't fair. What happened after wasn't right or fair either. To have to fight for the good name of the ones you lost was appalling.”

Outside Anfield, church bells tolled across Liverpool and public transport services came to a halt at 3:06 pm, allowing the city to pause to remember the victims of Britain's worst sporting disaster.

Liverpool's city rivals Everton screened the memorial service at their Goodison Park ground, while there was also a small service at Hillsborough.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter called on all of his organisation's member associations to fly their flags at half-mast to mark the anniversary of the tragedy.

“Twenty-five years on from this dark day in the history of the game, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the 96 who so tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster,” he said in a letter sent to the Football Association.

UEFA president Michel Platini also issued a statement to mark the 25th anniversary, saying the “European football family” was thinking of the families.

British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that “my thoughts are with the families of the 96, the survivors and all those affected by the tragedy.”

As a mark of respect to the Hillsborough victims, all English professional matches that took place at the weekend kicked off seven minutes later than scheduled.

Sapa-AFP

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