John Henry flew from the US to join the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright at Anfield yesterday in addressing the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. It was a very poignant 24th anniversary of the tragedy, the first memorial since these 96 dead football fans were cleared of any wrong doing by the Independent Panel.
For a man missing from Merseyside in recent times, Henry behaved with the proper decorum in travelling to Liverpool, but did not know he was leaving behind another scene of senseless human loss in his adopted home town of Boston.
Born in Illinois, Henry is somewhat unique in owning two of professional sport's gilded names in Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox. Despite the obvious attraction, football, baseball or any other sport you care to mention, are utterly devoid of meaning when visited by evil in the form of two strategically placed bombs built to kill and maim.
The explosions at the finishing line of the world's oldest marathon will scar that city as much as the 96 innocent victims who perished at Hillsborough continue to gnaw at the soul of the proud people of Liverpool almost a quarter of a century on from the club’s fateful FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest. Premeditated or not, the sting of losing a loved one has no equal.
"I’ve been awed and humbled by the dignity and persistence of the families in their search for truth and justice," said Henry to the thousands gathered at Anfield. Truth and justice are a distant land from Boston.
For the days, weeks, months and years to come, Boston's community will be in a state of shock. It will wonder why this had to happen in their city to over 120 (at the last count) innocent men, women and children whose only crime was attending a marathon? Three dead, many seriously wounded. The numbers are not yet in on that one.
When people think of Boston sport, its Irish heritage springs to mind. They think of the Red Sox and the Boston Celtics in basketball. They think of the magical Fenway Park. Now it will be recalled for a marathon that saw a finishing line splattered with the blood of victims who did nothing more than turn up to run or watch the end of a famous race. Tens of thousands of people visited Boston for the marathon. Some won't be leaving.
It will surely have been difficult for men like Henry to think about his football team or baseball franchise when news of the attacks on Boston broke. Sport is of no significance amid moments that remind us of how fragile human life is.
Arsenal fans will of course hope their side can continue a push for Champions League football against Everton at the Emirates tonight, but football seems such an irrelevance when you hear that an eight-year-old boy has died in Boston for no other reason than being in the wrong location at the wrong time.
It is difficult to justify devoting this column to any sort of football fodder when you turn on the box to see two explosions going off, people screaming and a bloke shrieking with a sense of disbelief: "Oh my god, they’re dead..."
But there is also something to take out of everything in life, good or bad. If sport, and particularly British football, wants to heed the warning from the Boston atrocities, it is that while England’s leading stadiums are some of the finest in the world, they remain very visible and obvious targets for such an "event" as they were describing it in America last night. Big crowds in enclosed environments always seems ripe for such a horrific prospect.
While the scenes of explosions have yet to visit a football stadium here, that doesn't mean they can't or won't. There is no room to be complacent.
Death and destruction are not the sole preserve of Boston. We know that from New York in 2001 and London four years later. As we watch in horror and heartfelt sympathy from across the Atlantic, we should all be thankful to drink in the moment of being alive.
Arsenal and Everton fans should rejoice in tonight's match whatever the score. Just be glad to be able to enjoy it.
Human life is a fragile enough thing. Boston reminds us we should never take any sense of well-being for granted.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Back in the 70s and 80s we used to have the reputation that this happened time and time again. If anything, what the weekend does show is that the moment you take your eye off it, it pretty quickly reappears. You never entirely put the lid on all of this. But from what I've heard, it's a sort of alcohol-inspired, warm day and that's what's done it." - Sports Minister Hugh Robertson reflects upon a weekend of football violence involving Millwall and Newcastle United fans.
Arsenal host Everton in the Premier League as Arsene Wenger's side continue their quest for a top-four spot. We have that LIVE at 7.45pm.
- Sports & Recreation