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Liverpool v Everton: A footballing tribute to the 96

Ben Blackmore April 12, 2012

In what is a huge weekend for Merseyside, Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final with Everton is live on ESPN this Saturday. Click here for details on how you can tune in to the exclusive coverage

As two footballing institutions prepare to lock horns at Wembley on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, we look back to 1989 when the two clubs came together to produce a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives.

Gerry Marsden. Quite simply, Gerry Marsden. Everybody has their own private memories of the emotion-charged, pain-filled homage that became the 1989 FA Cup final, but for this observer it was Gerry Marsden.

You'll Never Walk Alone has become Liverpool's iconic anthem over the years, at times sung as an act of inspiration, others as a show of unity and pride, and on more special occasions (like at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final) as a desperate prayer. But on May 20, 1989, through the broken voice of Marsden, it was a message from those hurting in the Wembley stands to those on the eternal Kop in heaven that they will never be alone.

Coming just five weeks after the horrors of Hillsborough, nobody would have argued with Liverpool or Everton had they decided not to play the FA Cup final. As representatives of the tight-knit community on Merseyside, where bonds among neighbours and family are arguably as strong as anywhere in the country, the disaster that ultimately led to the loss of 96 cherished lives was devastating - soul depriving even.

Kenny Dalglish, as Liverpool player-manager, had been to more funerals than most would experience in several lifetimes, while other individuals - notably John Aldridge - had struggled with the idea of ever returning to football. The role of Everton Football Club should never be forgotten either, with footballing allegiances discarded as the Merseyside people nursed each other back to health.

By the time the two sets of players emerged from the Wembley tunnel in front of a mass of red and blue, many fans intertwined as a show of unity, it was time for a footballing celebration of those who could not be there. And Marsden set the tone.

Liverpool had what is largely recognised as the best team ever assembled at Anfield. Denied the chance to prove it in Europe by the ban placed on English clubs, Dalglish nevertheless had blended the names of John Barnes, Ian Rush, John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton all in one team. The football produced was as Barcelona-like as Liverpool have ever played.

Everton, having finished second to Liverpool in the league when the teams contested the FA Cup final in 1986, had lost their way a little and - on form alone - were distinct underdogs. After four minutes Liverpool showed why.

Gerry Marsden led the crowd in a rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone © Getty Images
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Aldridge, starting ahead of the recently returned Rush - who went on to become the Reds' record goalscorer, stroked beautifully into the top corner to complete a flowing Liverpool move involving Steve McMahon. Just a year after his infamous missed penalty in the FA Cup final against Wimbledon, which Liverpool lost 1-0, Aldridge had not only handed his team the dream start but also exorcised the ghosts of 12 months previous.

The villain against Wimbledon, it looked like Aldridge would prove the hero as the match progressed to the 90th minute, with his goal still the decider. However, just as Dalglish and Co on the sidelines began to limber up for the walk up the Wembley steps, Everton snatched a dramatic equaliser - Stuart McCall bundling home to force extra-time.

By this time Rush was on, and having scored a brace in the '86 cup final, he was about to repeat the feat. Everton's rearguard should have known better - their goalkeeper and skipper were Rush's Wales colleagues Neville Southall and Kevin Ratcliffe. However, when Ratcliffe stayed touch-tight to Rush inside the area five minutes into extra-time, the Liverpool goal-poacher swivelled on the proverbial six-pence to volley into Southall's top corner.

Everton, having spent the best part of 90 minutes dragging themselves back into the game in normal time, were now surely beaten after relinquishing parity five minutes into the added period. Not so. Back they came and once again it was that man McCall - who had netted just once all season prior to the final - chesting and volleying from 20 yards to unleash the blue roar for a second time.

Both teams had given everything and represented their clubs in glowing manner, just as they had throughout the traumas of the previous five weeks. But the game deserved a winner, and it seemed fitting - destined even - that it be Liverpool who got it.

John Barnes, the idol of so many in red due to his meandering brilliance down the left flank, received the ball close to his favoured touchline. With a hint of side-spin and no little shape on the ball he arced an inviting ball towards the six-yard box, where the predator Rush limboed into a position where he could steer the cross wide of Southall for the clincher.

The cup belonged to Liverpool and the fans, who were so desperate to share their joy with the players that the pitch invasion began before the full-time whistle. After a period of such heartache and loss, it perhaps seemed right on this one occasion for the supporters to be with their heroes, on a day when everybody was bound by 96 very common causes.

What happened next?
Having achieved the first part of a League and FA Cup Double, Liverpool were expected to complete the job by topping the First Division table. Needing to simply avoid a two-goal defeat from Arsenal at Anfield, the Reds were on course for glory when the Gunners only led 1-0 heading into the final minute. However, a fortunate break of the ball fell the way of Arsenal midfielder Michael Thomas, who scythed through the heart of the Liverpool defence to clinch arguably the most dramatic league title triumph in history. Liverpool fans, deflated after an emotionally draining year, still stayed in their numbers to applaud Arsenal as they lifted the trophy.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk