THE silence said it all.
On a day when the city celebrated its footballing prowess, it also paid a special tribute to the 96 who were left helpless at Hillsborough.
The prize for the winners on Saturday was a return to Wembley next month but regardless of allegiance, both sets of supporters will have been grateful that they entered a stadium without the dangers of 23 years ago.
This semi-final was as much about 1989 as it was progressing on to the May 5 final.
The silence said it all.
A first Merseyside derby at the national stadium since the darkest year in football, Everton and Liverpool came together in front of millions to show pride and dignity.
The city used the occasion not only to bask in the light of its two big clubs, but to remind anyone who dared forget about the fans who went to a game and never came home.
There is little doubt that some will have wanted the supporters to hit the self destruct button over the weekend.
With their goodwill stretched by insensitive kick-off times, illogical locations and segregation on the streets, the 70,000 who descended on London had more than police cameras trained upon them.
The eyes of a worldwide audience watched them, too.
Observing the minute’s silence in remembrance of the 96 was going to be make or break in how people evaluated Liverpool and Everton.
But, the silence said it all.
With only isolated exception, Wembley was mute for 60 seconds before kick-off.
It was a period of reflection and sorrow but the city will also have felt pride and unity away from home.
Posters urging people not to buy the Sun newspaper were found at both ends of the ground; held aloft in a display of unbreakable harmony.
Before the poignancy of the minute’s respect, the London air had been filled with the sounds of Merseyside. It was as though fans red and blue were bellowing songs to each other from either side of Stanley Park.
You’ll Never Walk Alone remains an anthem to evoke images of some phenomenal nights in English football. But typically, it was given short shrift by Evertonians.
Still, there is little doubt that these first exchanges lit the touch paper on a fearsome atmosphere before kick-off, though there was nothing snide or nasty about the to-and-fro of banter.
The boos which greeted opposition players to the pitch for the warm-ups is standard fare; the heckling of pantomime villains nothing new.
As kick-off neared, excitement grew alongside the tension and nerves. The songs became even louder as supporters grappled with the trepidation of a Merseyside derby in the only way they know how.
But rightly, there remained a thread of looking back.
The family of the late Gary Ablett were guests of the FA on Saturday but every person inside Wembley would have extended the invitation if necessary.
A heartfelt round of applause was offered up all round for the man who served both clubs with distinction. There is no doubt he would have been among the proudest people inside the national stadium on Saturday.
Ablett heard Evertonians belt out ‘It’s a Grand Old Team’ many a time – but rarely will it have been delivered with such conviction. And when Z-Cars came over the loud speaker, Everton had their inspirational call to arms...and their fans responded.
If we already had the sounds to match the occasion, we then had the sights too as the Blues bounced.
It felt like a final. If only....
There was no need to pump the stadium with another note before kick-off. Yet following You’ll Never Walk Alone and Z-Cars came London chart toppers Rizzle Kicks. Obvious really.
To the FA, the music was no doubt designed to build a sense of theatre but the stage had long been set by two sets of supporters.
All that was left to do was pay homage to the 96.
The teams came out, there was a roar but then quiet in the anticipation of the minute of respect.
The image of Liverpool fans holding red and white scarves above their heads was strikingly poignant.
Then the silence said it all.
When the game finally kicked off, expectation did the rounds until Nikica Jelavic showed calm in the heat of the semi-final sunshine.
Cue Blue bedlam.
Andy Carroll missed a glorious chance after the break and Liverpool fans held their heads in their hands. But then Luis Suarez equalised – and the Reds erupted.
Carroll atoned in the final minutes – and the balance of joy had shifted conclusively.
Some Evertonians left before the final whistle, so hurt were they by the imminent shattering of a dream. As their players slumped to Wembley’s lush green turf at the end, those in the stands felt their hearts slump too.
As Everton and their supporters felt the full force of exhaustion, Liverpool fed off the good vibrations of victory.
Today the emotions of a city are divided – but there can be little doubt the weekend showed them as dignified as ever.
In a competition which has lost it shine, the coming together of Liverpool and Everton can help restore the allure and romance of our domestic crown jewel.
With both sides no longer the leading lights in the English game, the weekend’s derby was always going to struggle to reach the halcyon days of the mid-80s. Days when the city was the centre of football in this country – and both clubs converged on the capital to tell people as much.
But Saturday’s drama certainly went some way rto eviving a fixture which had been in danger of losing sight of its roots and meaning.
After victors and valiant losers left Wembley on Saturday afternoon there was once again silence.
And that said it all.