In a moving display, two young children – a girl wearing an Everton jersey with the number “9,” and a boy wearing a Liverpool jersey with the number “6” – stood together in silence before the crowd at Goodison Park.
As the Hollies’ song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” played over the stadium PA, a message was displayed to a rousing applause from the entire crowd: “Merseyside United.”
The Everton display was a remarkable considering that Goodison Park’s tenants have long been cross-town rivals of Liverpool. Yet both clubs were founded by the same gentlemen — John Houlding was the backer of both teams in the late 1890s — and all of England this week was moved by the release of a damning report on the Hillsborough disaster.
Clubs across Britain – from Celtic in Glasgow, Scotland, to tiny Tramere Rovers in Wirral — have held tributes to the 96 victims in the wake of the government’s apology for the actions of police following the 1989 disaster.
There has been widespread revulsion at the revelations contained in the report, with new inquests and prosecution being urged by the victim’s families. Even public pleas such as Sir Alex Ferguson’s calling for an end to the “sick chants” that reference the disaster at his own Old Trafford ground, were highly publicized across England.
Ferguson was one of the men at the game, and he was seen to stand and applaud the tribute Monday evening.
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre expressed his gratification on Liverpoolfc.com: "I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the staff and fans at Everton Football Club from everyone at Liverpool for the display of support you have shown the Hillsborough families tonight.
"We’ve always been great rivals on the pitch but off it, the two clubs have always supported each other. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Everton Football Club was there for us and that solidarity was on display again last week when the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings were revealed.
"At times like this, football rivalries take a back seat – something that makes this city unique and I think supporters of both clubs can be immensely proud of the way they have conducted themselves over the past days, weeks and years since the tragedy."
Toffees manager David Moyes also paid a glowing tribute to the Hillsborough Families in his pre-game notes.
Moyes wrote: "I and everyone at Everton stands alongside the Hillsborough families. I am a football supporter and a father and I applaud the families who continued to fight for the ones they loved.