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O'Neill praises Anfield's fight for justice
SUNDERLAND are in discussions with Liverpool over how to mark this week's confirmation that the 23-year fight for justice for the families of the 96 fans who died at the Hillsborough disaster has finally uncovered the truth.
The Stadium of Light will be the venue for Liverpool's first match since an independent panel's report in to the tragedy unequivocally revealed a police cover-up had attempted to shift the blame on to the deaths of the victims.
A flood of apologies, tributes and respects have followed Wednesday's announcement from across the country and around the world and the Premier League fixture with Sunderland tomorrow evening looks set to be an emotional occasion.
The Black Cats were in contact with their Liverpool counterparts yesterday and that will continue, with the football family coming together over the last 48 hours to show their support for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.
An away following of 2,400 will be high in the North Stand and are expected to mark the occasion in their own way, with the Reds supporters known to be considering special ways to commemorate the fight for justice.
The Hillsborough disaster has touched the young and old, and fans from across the world over the years, and Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill himself has paid tribute to the families of the 96 fans who died that day in 1989.
"They pursued this for a long, long time and obviously they have been proved right," said O'Neill. "The families of those people who were lost, I would have kept fighting on if it was me. If the reports coming through blamed them for their own deaths, that was crazy ... You would have fought on until the very end.
"It's vindication for everyone at Liverpool. It's fantastic news for them, but the sadness is still there. Those people would rather have their families around them rather than burying them. That particular day did change the game. Even after 20 odd years it's great, great news for them."
O'Neill was a young coach trying to make his way in management with Grantham when news filtered through of the horrific events at Hillsborough.
As a former Nottingham Forest player who still had strong links to his former club, he remembers being immediately struck by the severity of what was going on inside Sheffield Wednesday's home ground that day.
"It was a tragedy unfolding at the time," said O'Neill. "I was involved in the game at the time, well down the leagues. Coming home to hear of the tragedy which had unfolded, I just remember that. It was almost unbelievable, you couldn't imagine it.
"What unfolded in the days after that has made it even more tragic. I can't really describe it, I don't remember it correctly. Following on from Heysel as well, where Liverpool had been involved, it seemed amazing that this club could be involved in such tragedy in just a couple of years.
"But the fans never gave it up, they never gave it up, and were thwarted at every single corner. I'm sorry I don't have any other words to describe it other than vindication. They kept going because they believed they were right and that that there had been a cover up."
Liverpool's visit to Wearside will be Sunderland's first Premier League home game of the season, following the postponement of the scheduled opening day fixture with Reading.
O'Neill said: "Liverpool will come here with great tradition. I know the word legendary is used at the throw of a dice these days but that club is legendary. It's a club of real proud traditions. It will be a really highly charged atmosphere.
"I'm never sure it is a good time or a bad time to play Liverpool, but it will be a very emotional occasion with Liverpool fans coming in their droves for the first game afterwards."