You'll never walk alone

The whole football family was united in this grief — Liverpool’s grief, Merseyside’s grief, England’s grief. The 96 will never be forgotten, the world will remember them.

A wreath is placed on the side of the pitch in memory of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster during a Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1.   -  Getty Images

A woman walks past a Hillsborough tribute banner outside Anfield.   -  Getty Images

April 15, 1989, the day will forever haunt me. The tragic Hillsborough disaster, where 96 innocent Liverpool supporters lost their lives, still casts a spell of doom over every football lover in the world.

 

Initially, at the ground, I think, nobody really knew what was happening. It was a scene of utter chaos. But then the realisation eventually dawned on us, and it was difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy. It was upsetting beyond belief. Ardent fans went to a football game and 96 of them never came home.

It was a surreal experience for all of us and it all went like a blur. It took time for the news to sink in and it affected us in a way that words can’t describe. It was a difficult moment as a player. All of us deal with sorrow in different ways and many of us sought refuge in family and our own personal space to find solace. But, as a group, we stuck together and lent on each other for the support that was needed and to draw strength.

Under very trying circumstances we played the re-match a month later. We were all very determined to take the field and play for those beloved supporters and their families and show as much solidarity as possible.

The Liverpool Football Club was fantastic in lending every kind of support possible, to at least try and alleviate some of the pain that those families were experiencing, which was unimaginable. For us — the players — we just did what was natural and that was to give as much help as required to the families and the community.

We won the semifinal against Nottingham Forest and faced archrival Everton in the FA Cup final at Wembley. It was very fitting as the whole Merseyside was united that day. There were no rivals, but all of us were a team, united by the shared grief. We were united by emotion.

I will never forget the atmosphere at Wembley that day. Usually the stands are visibly divided by colour — red and blue when we play Everton. But on that day it was all red and blue throughout every stand, a compelling testament to those who so tragically lost their lives.

The whole football family was united in this grief — Liverpool’s grief, Merseyside’s grief, England’s grief. The 96 will never be forgotten, the world will remember them.

Liverpudlians are all about passion and determination, which saw them through the tough times. They fought for justice for their lost friends. For 27 years they never gave up.

In Liverpool, we say, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” And to my friends, who lost their all on April 15, I say again: “My friends, you’ll never walk alone.”

Welcome Pep, but fair warning

Moving back to the Premier League season, which has been a hell of a rollercoaster ride, I must take this opportunity to congratulate the newly crowned champion, Leicester. As I had written earlier, the challenges for the club start now, as teams will look to find answers to counter it, both on and off the pitch. Claudio Raineri will find it tough to hold on to his prized assets during the summer transfer window.

 

The big boys of English club football, smarting from the gobsmacking result, will do their best to turn the tide. This season, the League was very loose and very open, but I think for the next season things will surely go back to what we are used to.

The arrival of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City bodes well for the club.

At Bayern, where expectations are always high, Guardiola did admirably well, winning three Bundesliga titles in three seasons. He has already proved his credentials and is blessed with excellent man-management and organisation skills.

His Barcelona team was very different to his Bayern Munich team, particularly defensively. Barcelona, under Pep, was more attacking whereas Bayern showed amazing discipline in every part of the field. The difference in play shows his flexibility as a manager.

At Man City, Guardiola is going into a team that already possesses the attacking style of football that suits him. I don’t think he will need to or want to change much with regard to City’s style of play.

But the EPL is always the hardest test for any manager. The intensity of the League takes everyone by surprise. In terms of competitiveness it is the toughest league in the world and managers sometimes have a hard time trying to adapt to this pressure. Like all other managers, Guardiola, too, will find this extremely challenging.

> Also read: The San Siro beckons