Nemanja Vidic has called on Manchester United supporters to set an example at Anfield on Sunday by being on their best behaviour and paying respect to the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives at Hillsborough 23 years ago.
Referring to the Munich air disaster in 1958, as well as the Hillsborough tragedy, the United captain stressed "football is never more important than any life" and said it was time for both clubs to respect one another on what is sure to be a highly emotional occasion.
In the first match to be played at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published last week, Vidic and Steven Gerrard, the two captains, will release 96 red balloons before kick-off as a tribute to the victims. The report cleared Liverpool fans of any wrongdoing and exposed the full scale of the police cover-up that prevented the real reasons behind the disaster from coming out before.
Sir Alex Ferguson has empathised with the families and promised Liverpool unqualified support on Sunday, although with the rivalry between the two clubs so fierce and a minority of United supporters singing anti-Liverpool songs during last Saturday's game against Wigan Athletic, there have been fears that the enmity could resurface.
Vidic, however, is confident that will not be the case. "I am aware of the sensitivity of the day. Everybody is. There is a lot of talk in the papers and the media. I think our fans will respond well," he said. "The whole country is on test in this one. All over the world they will be watching this game. It is probably the biggest derby in the world and we have to show we are capable of keeping a good atmosphere and being a good example to the kids.
"There is a lot of history with these two clubs. I think we should respect each other because we are big clubs and clubs that are respected in the world. We have to be on top of the bad situation and behave well and, I would say, be an example.
"I've been here for seven years and I think our fans always behave well and I think they will do it again. It is difficult to control all the fans but I think most of them are aware of the responsibility. On the pitch we have to take responsibility and play football. After this game everyone should be talking about the football and that's all. I hope that will be the case."
Having grown up in war-torn Serbia, Vidic said that he knows the importance of keeping things in perspective. "Football is important but it is never more important than life, any life. It doesn't matter if it's in England or Serbia or any part of the world. I think most important is that we have to respect any life and I think that we will do it on that day. We have our history and we have some tragedies as well, and we love people to respect the players [that lost their lives in Munich]. Obviously people from Man United have had tragedy and I don't think it will be different for Liverpool fans."
In an unwanted sideshow to the Hillsborough tribute and the game itself, Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra will come face to face at the ground where the Liverpool striker was found guilty of racially abusing the United defender 10 months ago.
When they came up against each other at Old Trafford in February, Suárez was widely criticised after he refused to shake Evra's hand, although the early indications are that there will be no repeat of that snub at Anfield on Sunday.
"To be fair, I don't want to think about that," Vidic said. "Obviously we want to focus on the game. We have a theme, what happened in history about the fans and we have to respect that day. Obviously we cannot come with any other issues, we just come there play football.
"If they shake hands, they shake hands – I don't think it's the most important thing in the world. I think it's important to not do any stupid things in the game, to go there and play football – what we dream of, to play that derby and to be all about the football, not about the fighting or any other things."
Kenny Dalglish will return to Anfield on Sunday for the first time since being sacked as manager in a show of support for the 96 Liverpool supporters who died at Hillsborough and the families who fought for 23 years for the truth of what happened on 15 April 1989.
Dalglish was Liverpool manager at the time of the disaster and was closely involved in the club's response afterwards, attending many funerals with his wife, Marina. The emotional toll eventually led to him stepping down as manager in 1991.
The Anfield legend has not returned to the club since his departure in May but will be in the directors' box against Manchester United as Liverpool mark the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel with a mosaic around three sides of the stadium and recognition of the tireless work conducted by the campaign groups.
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