Sir Alex Ferguson has called for calm ahead of Manchester United’s emotionally-charged clash against bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday. United manager Ferguson is well aware that the eyes of the football world will be on Anfield this weekend for the 186th installment of the English game’s most volatile grudge match.
The fixture marks Liverpool’s first home match since the publication of an explosive report into the Hillsborough disaster which saw 96 Reds fans killed due to crushing at an FA Cup semi-final in 1989. Hillsborough remains a hugely sensitive issue for Liverpool fans and feelings are still running high after the report proved that the authorities engaged in a cover-up in a bid to blame the tragedy on drunken supporters.
But United fans, who have often taunted their rivals about Hillsborough in the past, engaged in anti-Liverpool chants during last weekend’s win over Wigan, raising fears they could do the same at Anfield and potentially spark serious crowd disorder.
There is also the potential for another ugly meeting between Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra. Suarez served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a Premier League match at Anfield last October and the pair clashed again when the sides met at Old Trafford later in the season.
With such a tense build-up to the game, Ferguson has written a letter that will be distributed to all United fans at Anfield in which he warned them not to drag the club’s name through the mud. “Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top — a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long,” Ferguson wrote.
“It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred. Just 10 days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back.
“What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game. “Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.”