The message rang out loud & clear yesterday. Justice denied was, as over 30,000 people emphatically reminded Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, merely justice delayed:
By the time I got off the bus & started to walk up County Road, past Everton's Goodison Park stadium, it was clear that this was going to be no ordinary act of remembrance. The streams of people donning replica shirts (some wonderful retro 60s shirts among them) & scarves made it feel like old times, back to the days when you'd have to start queuing for a spot on the Kop around midday.
Arriving at the Hillsborough Memorial around 1.30, it was clear that both the stewards & the police had a major job on their hands in allowing people to congregate outside the memorial while keeping Anfield Road open to traffic. The city council really should have anticipated that one & closed the road altogether for the day.
Making my way round to Walton Breck Road, the scene almost resembled that of match day. The Hillsborough Justice shop was doing brisk business (http://www.contrast.org/hillsborough/shop.shtm ), as were the fast food outlets & The Albert pub. A few familiar faces could be picked out from the throngs of people on Walton Breck Road, greetings were exchanged, mention was made of Tuesday's gallant heroics (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/7977038.stm ), but nobody was really in the mood to make too much conversation.
It wasn't until the Kop had filled up that the size of this year's turnout really became apparent. With the Paddock Enclosure given over to TV camera crews from the world's media, the Main Stand soon filled up. Netting normally used for crowd segregation purposes were initially moved further along the Lower Centenary Stand, then removed altogether as both it & the Lower Anfield Road Stand rapidly filled up.
This was part memorial service, part justice rally. The crowd's spontaneous explosion of barely suppressed emotion & rage when Burnham referred to the lack of justice for the families was both emotionally overwhelming & awe-inspiring.
Many fans later questioned why a government minister was present. I wasn't opposed to Burnham's presence per se, but I can't help feeling it made little sense for the families to invite him when he had no specific pledge to reopen the case so that the government could start to deliver the justice so cruelly & callously denied for 20 smear-filled years.
The service's denouement was suitably affecting (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR2pYxsKp6s ).
Thanks, too, to the Celtic fans who presented the banners on the pitch prior to the service.
In The Arkles pub on the corner of Anfield Road & Arkles Lane afterwards, the mood was respectfully sombre. However, some of the normal banter began to return. I got talking to a fellow fan from Cornwall, the same age as me. Like me, he, too, decided to turn left when entering the Leppings Lane terrace that day. Reminiscences were shared, tears were shed & rounds were stood at the bar. Contact details were also exchanged.
If the families of the 96 wondered prior to yesterday about the continued level of support they command, they were surely left in no doubt by both the attendance & the response of the crowd.