Tonight, the two Rugby League teams in Hull will square off in the sport's Super League. Fans of both clubs will doubtless spend time before and after the match drinking together, some will mingle and sit together during the game as banter and honour are exchanged and battled for. The rivalry between Hull KR and Hull FC splits families, it transcends friendships. It is a characteristic of my home city of which I am extremely proud, and is undoubtedly, Rugby League's answer to Liverpool and Everton.
In the past, the Hull derby has always been about the result. Victory was everything. It never mattered whether we won ugly, or fairly, just as long as we won. Time and age however, have changed my perspective on sporting rivalries. As a lifelong Liverpool fan, the last few days have been thought provoking and emotional. The club, the city of Liverpool, and football as a whole were rocked to their very cores by the tragic events of Hillsborough a quarter of a century ago, and it's fair to say that those events cast very long shadows. The fight for justice for the fallen 96 is by no means at an end. The horror of Hillsborough is sure to live on into the popular consciousness of our children, and grandchildren, as are the many lessons that we have learned over the last 25 long, ghoulish, and unjust years since that fateful day in Sheffield.
Many of the salient lessons coming from Hillsborough speak to the negative. They warn about the sinister tendencies of the right wing press, the dogma and the disdain shown for ordinary working people by those who occupy the seats of power, and they teach us authority and privilege will be ruthless in the art of self preservation. Looking to the positives displayed throughout, it is difficult not to be humbled at the selfless efforts made by many Liverpool fans to help those stricken in the aftermath of the Hillsborough crush. Many risked themselves to save others, and those images are as timeless as the more distasteful tabloid headlines that smeared an entire city. The positivity of human nature outshone the lies, and that is an enduring victory for the people of Liverpool. Also humbling, is the solidarity shown to Liverpool by their neighbours across Stanley Park. Everton were magnificent in their unswerving support for their rivals, and that support remains steadfast to this day. This comes from shared heritage, alongside the fact that, like the support of Hull KR and Hull FC, loyalties to each respective club exceed traditional geographical boundaries, and ignore the bloodlines of family history.
The mutual support between Liverpool and Everton, as well as their enduring rivalry, is an example to all sporting neighbours, and should be a lesson to the people of Hull, myself included, on how local rivalries are not just about bragging rights and banter. We stand alone in the sport of Rugby League as playing host to the only true derby, despite the best attempts of the Super League, and the RFL to suggest otherwise. We share a common struggle in the face of joblessness, poverty, and the industrial dereliction of successive governments. We share an undying pride in the dominance that our respective teams have enjoyed within the sport. We share a fierce pride in what is a sleeping giant of a city with a bright future, filled with a common decency, and a massive untapped resource of hardworking, determined people, desperate for a chance to excel. If our city were to ever to suffer a calamity such as Hillsborough, I am certain that the common decency I mentioned above would shine through, with the clubs standing shoulder to shoulder, just as Liverpool and Everton did in those dark days back in 1989.
The TV cameras will be focused on our city tonight, and for me, the result of tonight's match will still be very important, but I see it as a chance to show off the best of our city, and to show the rest of the sport that the epicentre of Rugby League is centred firmly on the north bank of the Humber. More to the point, given the proximity to the Hillsborough commemorations, it underlines the need for us all, be us Hull KR or Hull FC, to take a moment to value our rivals. We need each other, even though many of us would never dare admit it. Those shadows cast by Hillsborough are indeed long, as the legacies of the disaster are enduring. If we can learn from Liverpool and Everton about maintaining the positives of rivalry, mutual respect, and family, those legacies and shadows will have had positive influence. These occasions can be a great advert for the city we all love, as well as a rugby festival for our competitive family, and we'll all be more united, and better off as a result.