They will stand side-by-side today, an emphatic display of unity and defiance; and yet at the weekend they most likely willed on each other’s teams to lose.
On this most significant of days, officials, players and staff of Liverpool Football Club will join a memorial service to mark 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster. There will be readings from both the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, and his Everton counterpart Roberto Martinez.
The date – 15 April, 1989 – is now synonymous with the events of that dreadful day; the FA Cup semi-final game at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. A mere mention of the word ‘Hillsborough’ is likewise now a metonym for the hundreds of individual stories of untold tragedy that day.
I was just five years old when these horrifying events occurred but having grown up following football, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the accounts of this dark Saturday in April at the end of the 1980s. Because of this, I knew the word ‘Hillsborough’ to be referring to the events way before I recognised it was the name for the home of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.
A human crush saw 96 Liverpool fans killed and 766 injured after overcrowding. It remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history.
An official inquiry in 1990 said it resulted from a failure of police control.
Documents released five years ago showed Liverpool fans were not responsible for the deaths and that attempts had been made by the authorities to conceal what had happened that day.
It was meant to be a day of high sporting drama but it was instead hell on earth as supporters were carried away on advertising boards.
I regularly attend football games; it’s horrifying to think those 96 – as well as the hundreds of others left injured and traumatised – left home for 90 minutes of sport on a spring Saturday afternoon and instead endured six minutes of a game played while torment and agony unfolded on the sidelines and in the stands.
For many of those whose families were affected, the wounds are still fresh. In 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that 41 of the 96 fatalities might have been avoided if victims had promptly received medical treatment. Following on from that, fresh inquests began earlier this year and it’s into this fragile state that today’s events take place.
Today is also significant for another tragic reason.
A year ago today, two pressure cooker bombs exploded 12 seconds and 210 yards apart during the Boston Marathon, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuring an estimated 264.
Marathon participants were not running for victory but running from fear.
Later today – a year on – 3,000 people including the US vice-president Joe Biden will attend commemoration events close to the finish line of last year’s event.
For the people of Liverpool, club officials, players and supporters of both red and blue persuasion will put aside the default contempt they have for one another, listen to prayers and be united in their grief.
In Massachusetts, city dwellers not even present at the marathon last year will choose to gather with thousands of others they do not know to mark the deaths of those who were strangers to them.
But in both cities, despite the tragic losses, love will win.
People with a common bond – a common grief in fact – will interrupt their days to choose love over hatred. They will recognise the power of unity to address brokenness and to bring forth healing.
In Liverpool, the actions today of both Everton and Liverpool fans will proclaim that certain values are more important than personal convictions. That the art of remembrance and the practice of commemorating events does indeed have power. And this sense of unabashed sincerity and togetherness, is something which cannot be undone by terror. In their sadness, people see something greater.
I don’t like the thought of quoting a politician when writing about this, but the words seem too relevant not to. When David Cameron talked about the spirit of Britain seeing the country through better economic times, he was talking about the downright resilience of people in refusing to be cowed by circumstance or by supposed forces beyond their control.
Today is about remembering those whose lives were lost as a result of human failure or acts of unspeakable evil, but in recognising the power and love shown by collective remembrance, it also shows the world the sincerity in which people believe in a sense of justice and a notion of right and wrong; and more importantly of how a display of love and respect can conquer the most darkest of human sufferings.
And for those of us on the periphery of such events, it acts as a wake-up call as we go about our lives and contribute to our individual communities. To be determined that perspective is something that matters in our lives and that part of living life to the full requires us to walk and live side by side with others; that to be the people we are meant to be means to share our innate sense of value and justice with others.