Hillsborough families, survivors and supporters completed a gruelling 96-mile trek from Sheffield to Liverpool as a way of saying thank-you for the support they have received over the last 25 years.

A group of around 35 walkers set off in the early hours of Saturday, April 19 from the memorial dedicated to the 96 outside Hillsborough stadium.

They walked continuously, through day and night, until they reached Anfield at 11am, some 36 hours later, outside the eternal flame on Sunday, April 20.

Overcoming numerous obstacles and unimaginable fatigue along the way, they walked proudly in the name of the 96 people who lost their lives, before a rose bearing each name was laid at the memorial.


They visited the football grounds of Huddersfield, Oldham, Manchester City, Bury, Bolton, Wigan and Everton en route, as a symbol of thanks to the wider public and football community.

Entitled 'We Never Walked Alone', the event was not a fundraiser. It was, as Steve Kelly, who lost his brother Michael at the disaster, had envisioned it - a way of saying thanks.

"We got an absolutely fantastic reception all the way along the route," said Steve. "There were people beeping their horns, waving and cheering, shouting 'good luck'.

"Some came out of their homes on the East Lancs Road towards the end to cheer us on and pat us on the back and to join in with the walk. It was fantastic. It was well worth the effort.

"People got what it was about - it wasn't about raising money. People understood that it was the city of Liverpool saying to everyone from Sheffield onwards, 'thanks for caring'.

"The response we received seemed to reflect that. We achieved what we set out to do and that was to let everybody know that the city of Liverpool doesn't just take - we give back.

"I lost my brother at Hillsborough and I'm very precious about how we represent not only the 96, but the survivors and the city itself. I couldn't have been prouder of the people involved.

"Everybody got stuck in and, in the end, I had nothing to be nervous about, because I was dealing with Liverpool people. They always come through."

It all began in the dark, early hours of Saturday morning outside Hillsborough stadium. At the memorial, the walkers gathered, sipping tea and chatting nervously, in preparation for what lay ahead.

The names of those lost at the tragedy were read to the group, along with Brian Nash's powerful poem, beautifully crafted, which gives a supporters' view of the disaster, entitled 'Why Do I Cry?'

"People went to have their own quiet time at the memorial," explained Cherie Brewster, the event's co-ordinator. "But by the time we left people were very positive. They were all ready for the walk.

"I think what we did at the memorial before we left helped that. There was one gentleman who had never been back to Hillsborough since April 1989 and he messaged me to say he would meet us halfway up the hill because he didn't feel up to returning to the stadium itself.

"But we didn't want him to be alone when he could be around plenty of people who were feeling the same thing and who could support him. And so in the end, he came - something which took a remarkable amount of courage."

After a poignant ceremony, the walk began; however, the participants were faced with a huge obstacle almost immediately when their bus broke down.

It meant the first leg of the journey to Huddersfield would be undertaken without the requisite support being on hand - but there were no complaints, just sheer determination.

"We'd decided to have the walk as a test of endurance, to almost replicate what Hillsborough has always been about," reflected Steve.

"Since Hillsborough, we've had massive hiccups over these last 25 years. And so in an almost fitting way, the walk also brought us one massive hiccup of its own, which was that the bus broke down.

"But fortunately, because of the tenacity of the people involved, and the fact that once again, everyone rallied around one another, we moved on from that initial problem. We were soon on our way again with a new bus."

The families, survivors and supporters spurred each other on - but they were not alone. Professionals in the form of medics, masseuses and caterers were there to lend a helping hand.

Nothing was too much trouble for the medics, Andy Johnston, Ian McGarrity and John Jones, who worked tirelessly lancing blisters and patching people up, while Glen Moore and his assistant Ben Gorry were there to make sure nobody went hungry.

Then there were two sports therapists, Roger O'Neill and Ritchie Hawitt, who volunteered their services at the last minute and linked up with the group at Oldham Athletic FC and later at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton, where anyone suffering with an injury was treated with ice and massages.

Oldham Athletic supporters offered a warm welcome to Boundary Park while Bolton Wanderers FC supporters did the same at Reebok stadium, where the adjoining hotel opened their doors in the early hours for the walkers to use facilities and freshen up.

At 10am on Sunday morning, they passed down the East Lancs Road and beyond the Showcase cinema, where crowds were waiting to greet them.

From there it was on to Goodison Park, the home of the Blues, where huge crowds, all eager to show their support, had convened ahead of Everton's match against Manchester United later that day.

And then came the final stretch of a phenomenal hike. The walkers arrived home to Anfield to a scene of hundreds more well-wishers and the poignant laying of the 96 roses could begin.

Linda Glover and Paul Hardaker of Norwegian Wood Florist in Liverpool donated the roses and they were on hand to oversee the placing of the blooms in the pot to form a beautiful display.

"Steve picked a rose and read a name out, passed it on to a member of the walking team; the drivers, medics, caterers, to lay at the memorial, before the remaining 95 flowers were handed, one by one, to a different child for them to place down," explained Cherie.

"It was symbolic - we had brought the 96 home. It was a simple gesture which made for a truly beautiful ceremony. Everybody loved it. It was raw emotion because the souls were home. The family members were so touched."

Steve, who insists he's already set the wheels in motion for next year's event, echoed Cherie's comments.

"The best part was at the end of the walk when we had the flower laying at the Anfield memorial. I think it was one of the nicest moments involved with Hillsborough," he explained.

"It was a family, passing on to a supporter, who gave the rose to a child and it shows just how we intend to carry on spreading the message about Hillsborough through the generations, so that it can never be forgotten.

"I want to thank everyone for their support. Not just over this weekend, but for all these years. We never had anything to worry about with you all there.

"We've already started to plan again for next year."

To see more brilliant pictures from the walk, visit Echo photographer, Gareth Jones' special Facebook gallery by clicking here