A Celebration of the Ninety Six
Last Monday fans and first team players at a sold out Anfield were treated to a thoroughly entertaining encounter between a team of Local Legends and a team of International Legends. I was lucky enough to be invited into the Press Box for the game and also took over the Anfield Index Twitter account for the game.
Walking up to the ground before kick off you could sense a certain buzz around Anfield with everyone in attendance in high spirits with people lining the streets waiting for their former heroes to arrive. Seeing all the scarfs, shirts and flowers tied to the Shankly Gates surrounding the Hillsborough Memorial was a sight to behold, showing that the whole footballing community had come together to celebrate and remember those ninety six Liverpool fans who went to a football match and never returned home.
The legends were welcomed by rapturous applause as Peter McDowell read out the names of each participant one by one as they emerged from the tunnel. Abel Xavier providing a comedy moment as the subs were not ready to come out, Peter McDowell took this in his stride though which added to the good spirit of this event; 2pm struck and Referee Anthony Taylor blew his whistle and the crowd responded with a minute’s applause for the 96.
International Legends’ captain Sami Hyypia won the toss and opted for his side to kick towards the Anfield Road end for the first half therefore gaining Kop advantage in the second. Fowler and Owen kick the game off for the Local Legends, with Owen receiving a frosty reception from the crowd due to his spell at Manchester United, although it was all in good spirits and he was later cheered. The game provided the perfect opportunity for fans to remind the legends of their reputation, with songs old and new echoing around the ground.
The first half was mainly dominated by the Local Legends who went into the break 1-0 up after Robbie Fowler added to his Liverpool goal scoring record taking the ball past Sander Westerveld before slotting the ball into the empty net.
Half time saw a special penalty shoot-out where 5 celebrities, Claire Balding, John Bishop, Andy Brown, Colin Murray and Russell Howard all took 2 penalties against Liverpool FC mascot Mighty Red in front of The Kop. Balding, Bishop and Howard all beat Mighty Red twice from the spot with Brown and Murray both missing their second spot kicks.
With the half time tomato soup down me, the second half started with the International Legends kicking off towards to Kop. Rush, Wark, Thompson, Whelan and Aldridge deputised for the Local Legends whilst Diao, Xavier and Heggam came on for the International Legends. In a game of two halves the International Legends dominated much of the second half with some great play between their midfield and front men and it wasn’t long before Vladimir Smicer found the back of the net with the ball taking a deflection of Michael Thomas before resting in the goal. Probably an own goal by Thomas but since it’s for charity I’d like to think Smicer should be awarded with the goal.
The Internationals’ dominance continued and it wasn’t long before they were 2-1 to the good as John Bishop – all the way from Runcorn – was denied his moment of glory in front of The Kop, when his right footed drive cannoned off the post before Bruno Cheyrou made up for an earlier miss driving a left footed shot into the right corner past David James. The drama continued as Burrows brought down Kvarme with a late challenge in the box, and Anthony Taylor awarded the penalty. Anfield chanted Bishops name and after scoring his two penalties at half time he stepped up to take it. However, David James provided a much sterner test than Mighty Red and saved Bishop’s penalty. The final five minutes seemed like the game was going the way of the Internationals, before Kenny Dalglish started to take his track-suit off ready to come on, as Robbie Fowler went down in the box and Taylor awarded a penalty. The crowd noticed Dalglish had his kit on ready to make his way to field and roared for the King to come on and level the game. Dalglish was pictured laughing on the bench and despite the pleas from the crowd for him to come and take the penalty he passed responsibility to Robbie Fowler who put the spot kick passed Sander Westerveld to score his second of the game. Anthony Taylor blew the full time whistle shortly after with the scores level at 2-2.
A draw was a fitting end to a fantastic day at Anfield as both Captains Sami Hyypia and Ronnie Whelan collected the specially made wooden trophy from Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall. Margaret then addressed the crowd thanking all the players for taking their time to come and play in the match as well as the fans for their support today and over the past 25 years today.
“The sun is shining down on us once again and Liverpool for the league.” Great words from a truly inspirational lady.
Following are some pictures from the day in the press box: