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Sunderland and Liverpool fans join forces over 'Justice for the 96'
HIGH in the North Stand at the Stadium of Light there were 2,400 football fans who had travelled to the North-East to watch their beloved Liverpool.
With their voices in full flow, the travelling supporters made their anger, feelings and frustrations known after the vindication in midweek of hearing their fight for 'Justice for the 96' was a worthwhile one.
There were messages painted on to giant banners to highlight the satisfaction of having the details of the Hillsborough independent panel's report made public and Sunderland flew flags at half mast as a show of support to those affected by the 1989 tragedy.
The Stadium of Light's two new big screens had their own 'You'll Never Walk Alone' message for the fans too, while Sunderland fans chose to hand over a banner to their Merseyside counterparts to unite the two sets of supporters on a special day.
There was also a game of football to be won in the Premier League. Both teams wanted their first Premier League victory of the season, but only once Liverpool's 11 players emerged from the tunnel wearing black tracksuits with two numbers on their back: Nine and six.
The Liverpool squad wanted to end an emotional week with a performance and result to help take the club in to a new era, with a chapter finally over even if the sense of loss will never go away.
"Stevie G(errard) always has words of inspiration for us before kick-off and he was like that again today but the boss was like that today too,” said Liverpool's 20-year-old midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.
“His message was "Do it for the Hillsborough fans. The 96 who died. That message was spelled out to us before the game in his team talk. What happened this week was an inspiration for us.
“The Liverpool fans fought for years to get that verdict and we wanted to come to a stadium like this in our first match since, and do it for them. There was no way we would allow ourselves to lose on a day like this.”
Shelvey was not born until three years after the Hillsborough disaster. Like so many of Liverpool's youthful squad, though, the last week has helped him understand what happened on that horrendous FA Cup semi-final day – and the tragedy of it all.
Rodgers, himself only 39, remembers it more and is keen to help the club move on together with its fans.
He said: “”It has been a big emotional ride and week as you can imagine in the week, the build-up to the decision, it was just the matter of all the evidence coming out and there was a lot of sadness and a lot of emotion.
“We used that as a lever and platform to bring into this game at Sunderland. That performance gives us great hope and the verdict in the week going forward for the city and the club.
“The families and people involved in the city are an integral part of the club, there is no running away from that, it is something we very much embrace ourselves because it is a big part of the history of the football club and it is my job as the leader of the football club to organise and help the families and supporters deal with it and the way we can is by putting on performances like we did here.”