Sport : Football

Suarez and Evra shake hands

23rd September 2012, 06:10pm

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Suarez and Evra shake hands at Anfield

Suarez and Evra shake hands at Anfield

Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra shook hands before an emotional meeting between great rivals Liverpool and Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday.

It had been hoped the pair would make the gesture in a show of unity, as Liverpool played their first game at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel absolved Reds supporters of any blame in their findings on the 1989 stadium disaster, which took the lives of 96 fans.

Liverpool forward Suarez refused to shake United defender Evra's hand in the league meeting between the sides at Old Trafford in February, having previously been found guilty of racially abusing Evra in the corresponding fixture at Anfield last season.

Evra said after the game: "The most important thing today was respect. It was a game between two big clubs.

"There was a big tragedy. People were talking about a handshake but the stories of the clubs is bigger than that. If I hadn't shaken Suarez's hand, I would not be respecting the stories of the clubs.

"In the end I am glad this time he shook my hand. More importantly, it was important to respect the families. It was not an easy day."

Sunday's handshakes were part of a well co-ordinated series of pre-match events aimed at ensuring the first Liverpool home game since that damning judgement on the Hillsborough tragedy was delivered passed off peacefully.

Both teams emerged wearing tracksuits bearing the number 96, while United legend Sir Bobby Charlton presented flowers to Liverpool counterpart Ian Rush before respective skippers Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons.

A mosaic was also displayed around three sides of the ground during the traditional playing of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Although fears had been expressed about the behaviour of United's fans ahead of the game, early signs were encouraging.

While some sang anti-Liverpool songs on their way into the stadium, none made any reference to Hillsborough. In addition, their supporters applauded when a tribute to the Hillsborough families was read out prior to kick-off.

Charlton was greeted with warm applause on his arrival at the stadium, while fellow 1968 European Cup winner Paddy Crerand chatted with home fans.

And, while Sir Alex Ferguson, Robin van Persie and Evra, who had been overlooked for the captaincy in the absence of Nemanja Vidic, were booed as they made their way off the team coach, the reaction was half-hearted.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said the "fight will go on" even though he admitted not hearing the chanting that ended up scarring the game.

Aside from one chant of "Where's your Munich song?" early in their side's 2-1 win at Anfield, the Manchester United fans had been on their best behaviour throughout the afternoon.

However, some time after the final whistle, when most of the Liverpool fans had left, a couple of home supporters ran across the main stand to the far corner, where the visiting contingent remained on police orders, and started making aeroplane signals.

It was an obvious reference to the Munich air disaster in 1958, in which eight United players were amongst 21 people who lost their lives.

United fans responded immediately by chanting 'Always the Victims' and 'Murderers' in a reminder of the Merseyside club's own recent tragedies - Hillsborough and Heysel.

Social networking sites were flooded with responses as the bitterness spilled over, even if Rodgers could shed little light on what happened.

All the Liverpool manager could say was that the battle against those who let both clubs down will go on.

"What was done at the end I cannot comment on as I didn't hear or see anything," he said. "There is an intense rivalry here and you don't want that to end because that is all a part of what makes this the biggest game in British football.

"But it is on the field where competition should be and everything else, songs from Liverpool or Manchester supporters, any of us that have any human decency don't like to hear that.

"The fight will go on if there is a continuation of that but certainly at this club the work that has gone on in the last couple of weeks is something I am very proud of and the tributes were fantastic."

Indeed, Rodgers was keen to praise the fans of both clubs, noting United supporters applauding prior to the game when a tribute of thanks was read out for the Hillsborough families whose campaign to discover the truth of what happened in Sheffield 23 years ago has now been fully vindicated.

"I think the supporters were absolutely phenomenal," he said.

"It was a significant day and the respect which was shown both teams, and with everyone shaking hands, and just moving forward is important.

"People who value human decency and humanity will have been proud today because it is important we move on from a lot of the negative stuff.

"As two massive clubs we have an obligation to society and to football to show respect because we are at the leading edge of the game.

"People will look into this today and go away with great hope."

United were unavailable to make an immediate comment on the post-match difficulties. However, without being asked about them, Ferguson said he felt the day had gone well.

"Liverpool FC have done a fantastic job," he said.

"The fans were terrific. Our fans paid back that respect. I don't think anybody could have any complaints about that part.

"It was a nice touch both captains letting off the 96 balloons. It was a beautiful touch Sir Bobby giving Ian Rush the bouquet.

"It demonstrates that two great clubs can unite and do these things and then get on with the game of football with both teams trying to win.

"It was ferocious and intense. The supporters got behind their teams in the right ways which was great to know. It has been a day for football.

"Both clubs don't deserve anything else. We have to put up with some things when we've come here but Liverpool are nowhere near as bad as some other clubs with this aeroplane stuff.

"We have had to endure that for years and years. It is a sick part of society but it is only a minority from every club. They all have an element who can disgrace their club."

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