The Horror of Heysel

Posted by Rushian on May 29, 2004, 07:07:56 PM

On the 19th anniversary of the death of 39 fans at the 1985 European Cup Final at Heysel we have gathered together some eye witness accounts from Reds who were there on that fateful day.

May the 39 fans who died at Heysel rest in peace

Homesick writes: The Horror of Heysel

Strange to think that a few hours earlier we had been playing footy with the Juventus fans in the road outside the stadium. A few hours later we were pulling the bodies of Juventus fans out from under that wall.

I didn’t realise how heavy cement and brick could be. But when a piece of wall is lying across the chest of middle aged man you get an extra strength. You can lift in a way you could never do in any other circumstance.

I couldn’t understand a word his mate said but he was crying and he was leaning on me and sobbing in great chunks of raw emotion. We didn’t know what the hell was happening.

I was at the ground as a radio reporter for a Liverpool radio station covering the match from the terraces. I was picked because I was also a Liverpool fan. My job was to add atmosphere pieces to the commentary from my colleagues in the box high above the pitch.

I had travelled on the train with the rest of the Liverpool fans. I had my carrier bag with clean underwear, a toothbrush and some chocolate and some beer.

We got there early. We played footy in that big dual carriageway outside the ground. The Juventus fans were great fun, we felt close to them in that unique way only European football can create.

For some reason they let us in early - so very early. I think it was about half four in the afternoon when we climbed the crumbling concrete steps to stand on the decaying open terrace that was the Liverpool end of the Heysel Stadium.

It was hot in the uncovered end. And although it is always fun waiting for a match to start, three hours was far, far, far too long.

There was a chicken wire fence separating the Liverpool fans and the Juventus fans in the XYZ section. They had the small bit. Most of their fans, including the dreaded Ultra Force, were behind the other goal on the far side. We sang our hearts out and got through the whole repertoire before the atmosphere changed.

Rockets, the type you get on bonfire night, were fired into the Liverpool fans. Next to me was a typical Liverpool granny with a knitted bobble hat, a shopping bag with a flask of tea and a dolly dressed in Liverpool’s colours and pinned to her red coat.

She meant no harm yet she was a target. The fireworks rained in on us. Some panicked. The terracing was poor, the concrete was crumbling, the crush barriers too far and few between. I wanted to protect her. But we were tumbling forward and I lost contact.

The only thing separating us from the Juventus fans was a thin strip of what could only be described as wire netting. The fans got restless, partly through the heat, partly through boredom and partly because they were fed up of being sitting ducks for the fireworks raining down on them. Then the abuse started. The Juventus fans behind the chicken wire chanting, the Liverpool fans responding.

And all would have been fine had it not been for the police. The rubbish Belgian police who were armed to the teeth but had no bottle.

I was standing next to an undercover Merseyside police officer who I had got to know in those terrible moments as the disaster unfolded. In those seconds he told me that six Liverpool bobbies could have held the crowd back by linking arms.

Instead the Belgian police with riot gear and clubs ran away from the fans. Yes they actually ran away from the Liverpool fans! What sort of policing is that? You charge the fans with your riot shields, helmets, visors and clubs and then you leg it when the fans turn on you? So what happens then? What happened when a bunch of fans push forward and the police run away? Well it is not bloody rocket science! What happens is the fans keep pushing forward. And what happens when thousands of fans push forward and the only thing separating them from the Juventus fans is chicken wire? Well obviously the chicken wire falls down. And what happens then is that the Juve fans run, the wall falls, people die and the authorities wade in and start to blame.

Nobody wanted death. Nobody wanted to see an Italian hurt. Why oh why did it have to happen? It unfolded like a preordained chapter in a particularly nasty Steven King novel. There was no stopping the event. Looking back it feels like it was slow motion. It was chilling, cold, gut wrenchingly awful. It was a horror movie acted out in slow motion but the difference was that the blood and pain were real.

My dad had died a few months earlier. My wife to be was back home watching it on the TV but, as was the custom, had the sound turned down and the local radio station on for the commentary.

The commentators, my mates, said they had a reporter in the XYZ section but that they hadn’t heard from him. They hoped he would be ok but there was no way I could confirm that. My broadcasting equipment was wrecked and anyway I was too busy helping out.

I crossed the fence and, along with many of the soon to be maligned Liverpool fans, tried to help.

We tore away at concrete, cement and brick with our bare hands. We helped the paramedics drag bodies out of the debris. I had to hug an hysterical Italian woman who had lost a loved one. I had to keep moving, acting, instinctive animal reactions responding to an unfolding nightmare.

And then I was outside by an ambulance and we were walking on to that dual carriageway where we had played footy with the Juventus fans and danced the conga hours earlier.

And as the ambulance drove off the police descended. I saw them running at me. They had long sticks like large bamboo canes. They waded in. They didn’t want to hear what had happened. They wanted to hit and hit hard.

I still have an indentation at the top of my legs where the cane came down. I fell to the ground that the police trampled me under foot.

I had no idea what was going on in the ground. I didn’t care whether the match took place or not. I wanted to make sure all the Italian fans were rescued and that the Liverpool fans were safe.

Then the Ultra Force descended. They were masked with bicycle chains. We ran. An elderly woman wanted my help getting away. We found a railway station, I think it was called Jetta. I seem to remember there was a train to Ostend. It pulled in and left. Dozens of fans got on. I stayed where I was.

More fans arrived, dazed, frightened and traumatized. I got on the next train with them. It was a silent journey. I can remember no more. I can’t remember how I got home, I can’t remember the journey.

I remember a bar in Ostend and someone telling me Juventus had beaten Liverpool 1-0 in the European cup final. I didn’t give a toss.

YNWA Liverpool, YNWA Juventus

john_mac writes: May 1985

I have never really written much about Heysel, usually what I have written has been a defence of Liverpool fans in a tragedy that has never really been fully investigated or understood by the authorities or media, never mind the masses. It is now an event that many choose to forget or dismiss as what was a part of footballs murky past, before the days of McDonald sponsored stands, and two kits a season. Anyhow what I have tried to do is write down my recollections of the days leading up to Heysel and the events which followed. It is an honest recollection and not one that is designed to exonerate the role of Liverpool fans in the disaster, some people may disbelieve my account or disagree with my conclusions but for many who were there, I think, and hope, that some of it strikes a chord:

1985, God it seems a long time ago now. It was a bank holiday Monday, so we had plenty of time to set out for the game on the Wednesday, Trans-Alpino from Victoria, four young lads from Kirkby without a ticket between them. Seems weird now, but it was the norm in those days to go to games without a ticket, whether the game was all ticket or not- Never mind tickets, Dennis never even had a passport!

Down in London by early morning, we went for a bevy round Victoria with a gang of lads from Huyton then on the boat-train down to Dover. In those days Trans-alpino was the way to travel to euro aways- planes were very expensive, the train was £25 return, valid from Victoria and all round Belgium for five days. A lot of the lads had headed for Zebrugge and Blankenburg, but we decided that Ostend was the best bet, then on to Brugge or Brussels. Dennis was gonna follow us over the next morning once he got a one-year passport, soft c*nt hadn’t thought about the post-office being shut for the bank holiday, until we noticed a office where they issued 60 hour passes to get in and out the country, sort of temporary passports, 10 mins later he was ready to go with us. It really was that easy to get in and out the country in those days.

The ferry crossing was a bit wild with the usual mix of alcohol induced scuffles and pilfering, I think that we were a bit lucky, coz some later ferries refused to carry fans. Again that seems unusual now, but wasn’t then. It was an era when football was a working class sport, when travelling away meant everything and when having no money to go, meant very little. Belgium was the gateway to Europe for many, and very easily accessible.

There were plenty of Scousers already in Ostend, and the party was in full swing in many of the bars, we soon found a cheap dive to get our heads down, four in a room of course, and after the exploits of the day and night were quickly snoring. Up early, at least before our hosts could see us, we were soon on our way and jumped the train to Brugge. We found a little ken to stay in by the river and headed out for a bev. It was before twelve but there were already plenty of reds in the town, and some obviously well on the way. A game of footy in the cathedral grounds did nothing to endear the travelling Scousers to the local constabulary, and a couple of the lads were nicked for having a draw.

Around the main square in the afternoon was a ball. Hundreds and hundreds of Scousers with loads of bars and everyone enjoying themselves. As it wore on into the early evening the bizzies started to become a bit heavy handed as the lads became a bit worse for wear, some of the arrests were totally unnecessary, but overall the atmosphere remained good, even in the bars and clubs. Still ticket-less, as were most of those there with us, we decided for an early start the next morning and head up to the ground, as soon as.

Out the room by 7am our plans were soon thwarted as we got collared for the room money, shit. Still one out of two aint bad, and it hadn’t cost us much, so it was on the train and up to Brussels, were we soon ran into mates on an organised trip, our bags were in their room and we were on the metro up to the ground by 9am, to see if there were any tickets knockin’ about.

At the ground we couldn’t believe it, the morning of the European Cup final and we just strolled right into the main corridor of the stadium into a room full of all sorts of trophies. On the wall there were pictures of athletes, when we checked the trophies were actually for athletics not footy. Nobody knew who played at the stadium but after talking to an Arsenal fan, who had been there a few years earlier for Arsenal v Valencia, it turned out to be a Belgium 2nd division side, hardly the stuff of European dreams. It had been thirty minutes before anybody stopped and questioned us, certainly not what I’d call top class security. I never really understood what the Arsenal fan was doing there, he’d travelled from London for the game, didn’t have a ticket, and was on his own, not with Liverpool fan mates or anything.

We walked around the stadium, to see how the land lay, and they were putting up wire fencing for security, it was quite high but I’m not really sure what it was designed to do, perhaps keep those going to the match away from locals. It certainly wasn’t the type of fencing that would stop anybody from doing what they wanted to do, more likely to be used for “channelling” than anything else. The perimeter fencing of the stadium looked like old fashioned concrete base panels, with holes where the ticket collectors would stand, no turnstiles, this looked more like Kirkby Town than a stadium for the European Cup Final. Our previous finals had been held in Rome, Wembley and Paris - this ground was poorer than Walsall or Carlisle.

Between the four of us we soon decided that anyone could easily ‘bunk in’ the ground, ticket or not. Near the metro station we were approached by touts offering us tickets for the Juve end for about £30 - we weren’t interested, but they was the first of many, many touts we saw that day, at a time when it was unusual to be openly touting tickets at Liverpool matches. We headed back into Brussels for something to eat and a bevy.

The day took the usual format for such a big game, perhaps a bit more thieving and the like going on than is common now, but it was generally sound, everyone enjoying themselves, the atmosphere in the town, especially the main square, where everyone was having a ball. In the middle of this square were plenty of touts, openly spivving wads of tickets. As a group of young wags got around one such tout, a smartly dressed Belgian wearing a suit and tie, one of the lads through the ruck, grabbed a handful and was away like Davey Fairclough with a sight of goal. I think the Belgian tout was a bit shocked as he moved away and a few others followed him. There were quite a few scuffles with touts that afternoon, and generally I don’t think they did as well as they thought they would have.

Anyhow the lad who had captured the tickets soon passed them out, to our shock and dismay, not only were the tickets for the Liverpool end, they had been issued from Anfield and bore the red Liverbird stamp on the reverse in the corner. It’s something that does get me down, people from within the club, and especially players, passing tickets on to touts. In this case they had probably gone through third parties to end up in the hands of Belgian touts, but whoever had passed them on knew only too well they were taking the money out of the hands of ordinary Liverpool fans.

We had a few bevs, probably too many for the youngsters that we were, and headed up to the ground. This was still a couple of hours before the kick off, and the Metro was probably the first that we had come into contact with any amount of Italian fans, generally all was amicable. Outside the ground, even at the Juve end, it was mainly reds mulling around some looking for tickets many not bothered, some bevvied many not.

We got to the ground dead early, which is very unusual for me, and couldn’t believe the police presence. They were pathetic- more interested in whether fans had banners than if they had tickets. I doubt that there was not anyone who did not get in, ticket or not. No turnstiles, nobody bothering to collect tickets, simply taking sticks out of flags and throwing them in a corner, a complete joke. I still have my complete ticket.

We stood very near the flimsy partition between sections XY, where the Liverpool tickets were for, and Z, the section apparently set aside for neutrals. Inside the ground there was tension, and loads and loads of references to the trouble outside the ground in Rome, a year earlier. The Juve end of the ground was already full and there was loads of things going on between the Y and Z sections at the Liverpool end. It immediately became apparent that the Z section was mainly populated with Italians, reds with tickets for other parts of the ground had headed for the Liverpool section, which was far more overcrowded than other parts of the ground.

The ground was old, outdated and decaying, the steps on the terracing below your feet were not defined as such, they were more like rubble on a mound. The ground was the least fit I had ever seen; for it to hold a major event such as this was beyond comprehension. I know that Liverpool had expressed concerns over the state of the stadium, but this was beyond anyone’s imagination. Bits of rocks from the terracing were soon being launched across the flimsy divide between sections Y and Z, and soon enough the ‘chicken wire’ dividing the sections came down, as Liverpool fans spilled across the divide. The Italian fans had nowhere to go and they were faced with a wall, designed to keep people in, at the far side of the terrace, as pressure built on this wall, it eventually collapsed, causing the death of 39 football fans.

I did hear at the time, and since, that there were Liverpool fans in the Z section being attacked by Juve supporters but cannot say that I actually saw it. The Liverpool fans ran into the section and were aggressive, as hoards of Italians headed for the right hand side of the terrace. To be honest, I never saw much fighting, and I’m not sure how much actually occurred, soon the Belgian police were on the scene and tried to push the Liverpool fans back across the divide. The Police never really stood up for themselves and despite being armed with guns and batons, retreated to the front of the terrace, where they stood in front of the caged fences. Droves of Liverpool fans spread across the terrace into the Z section, mostly unaware of the death of Italians beneath the decaying rubble at the far right hand side of the terracing. It appeared that both those fans in block Z and the police had panicked, the fighting was not really any worse than most football fans had seen quite regularly at the time. That may be more of an indictment of the time than anything that happened on the night, but it is how I saw it.

At the Juve end of the ground, a huge banner was unfurled which read “Reds Animals” and people started to spill onto the pitch. Some Liverpool fans were even playing football in the goalmouth at the Liverpool end. Some Italians were obviously irate, and one pulled out what later transpired to be a phoney gun, as he made his way down the side of the pitch.

By the time Phil Neal came on to the microphone, appealing for calm, I think most people had given up hope of the match taking place and had consigned themselves to it being abandoned. By now there were rumours starting to circulate that people had died but I never believed them, and when the players came out onto the pitch I totally discounted it. The game was played, not surprisingly, in as stale an atmosphere as you were ever likely to find, I find it amazing now that it actually took place. I watched the game from the Z section of the terracing, just the other side of where the divide had once stood. I later found out that Graeme Souness, then playing in Italy, had attacked Liverpool fans on the TV, I have always found his uninformed and small minded comments objectionable, but to do at a time when nobody had any real comprehension of what was actually going on was nothing short of disgraceful.

As we left the stadium the rumours began to grow and eventually it became clear they were more than rumours. We immediately tried to contact home to let everyone know that we were OK. Imagine our surprise as we arrived at the hotel to see our bags in the street outside. We had already decided that we would get off, but this made it clear we were being tarred. It wasn’t long before a cattle truck arrived to take us to Ostend. Most reds were either keen to get out or were being thrown out of Brussels. Everyone, without exception, just wanted to get home.

As we got off the boat another cattle-truck was waiting to take us to Victoria, packed to the rafters. Some lads had newspapers, they did not make nice reading. Painted as the scum of the earth by everybody who had anything to say, there was no real understanding of what had gone on, I don’t think there is to this day. John Smith had told reporters that he believed the trouble to be the fault of ‘Chelsea fans’ - it was nonsense, clutching at straws. There had been fans of other clubs there, there always is in major cup finals, but not in any significant numbers. As we went up the escalator at Victoria, a woman spat in my face and called me scum, as she travelled on her way in the opposite direction. It hurt. I would normally have gone for a bevy in London but I think just about everybody headed off on their journey home that day.

The months that followed were weird, with the British media on a witch-hunt for specific Liverpudlians that the police had identified. It was disgraceful exercise that never attempted to actually examine the problems that had led to the disaster.

Heysel along with Hillsborough were defining moments in the history of Liverpool football club, painful moments which have defined the way in we watch football forever. The twenty six Liverpool fans charged over Heysel were scapegoats, pawns in a game of political chess.

The faults of Heysel run deep, with a corrupt UEFA choosing a stadium based on political expediency and backhanders, a stadium that was so dilapidated it was not fit to host a game of schoolgirl netball never mind a European Cup Final. They lie with the Belgian authorities whose corruption allowed a national stadium to deteriorate into such a state of disrepair yet never did anything to discourage such major events. They more than anyone knew that Heysel was a time-bomb waiting to explode, yet continued to exploit the situation for personal and national financial gain. It lies with the Belgian police whose professional ineptitude meant that there were little if any proper security measures in place at the stadium, who panicked faced with a manageable crowd control problem. It also lies, to a degree, with football fans and a tribal rivalry which meant that some Liverpool fans blamed their Italian counterparts for the events of twelve months earlier at an Italian stadium. They were not going to let that happen again. The Italian fans were not blameless in their role either, and had the events which took place inside the ground never happened, there would still have been trouble between English and Italian fans that night. Some blame for this has to fall on a society that did little to discourage the culture of football hooliganism amongst youngsters, and helped create an atmosphere in which nationalistic fervour could thrive.

Like Hillsborough, it is unlikely that Heysel would ever occurred in a safe stadium, properly Policed where the question of ticket allocation was properly and fairly examined. Also like Hillsborough the events of that evening have never been fully and properly examined in a fair and accurate public enquiry - they never will be. The final area of similarity is in the media’s desire to blame events on those easiest to identify, the fans, rather than those most culpable, bureaucratic organisations hiding behind corporate identities.

The faults of Heysel run much deeper than many would realise and certainly are far more complex than the morons who stand on the Park End singing “Murderers” would ever understand. Sadly, it did take the death of thirty nine Juventus and later ninety-six Liverpool fans for some people to take a good look at how the game is governed and administered, and hopefully they have now learned that the lives of these fans, of you and me, is far more important than the game.

Most Liverpool fans had travelled to Belgium, like myself, with a sense of expectation, going to show the footballing world that we were still top of the tree. Everton had taken the title and the Cup Winners Cup, but we were going to win the one that mattered. Nobody would take that away from us, it was going to be ours for keeps. Nobody travelled expecting what was to follow, certainly nobody wanted it to happen, the vultures in the British press apart, maybe. That sense of expectation, joy and laughter turned to disaster that night in Brussels, in what was a disaster for football more than it ever was the triumph for football hooliganism some in the gutter press would have you believe. Nobody that was there will ever forget it, nor the events which followed that night.

It can only be hoped and prayed that the lessons have been learned, that life is more important than the greed and corruption which still lies at the heart of most of the problems related to both football and society in general.

RIP
You’ll Never Walk Alone

Eddie writes: That fateful day

Cunny and I had gone over to Belguim on spec without a ticket, like so many. We sold our scarfs to two "crazy red" Belgian lads outside the ground at around 5pm for only two quid each. It was Cunny's idea. We then bought two twelve packs of beer from the supermarket over the road and sat on the wall outside, drinking in the sun and singing every Liverpool song we knew with hundreds of others. We were near what seemed like the only main bar by Heysel, on the main road, opposite the supermarket, meeting and greeting all the "Juve" coaches from Turin as they arrived.

The atmosphere in the streets was generally great and good humoured. But there was the odd one or two reds who were banging on the bus windows "spoiling for it" and well pissed up. I remember one fella shouting "Remember Rome!" - a reference to the season before where some of us were bricked and slashed outside the ground by Roma fans (does anything ever change?). But the odd kick-off merchants were restrained by mates who quickly put a stop to it.

So it all seemed very friendly to me. I can remember laughing until it hurt as a great seething red mass piled out the pub everytime a Juve coach passed to wave flags banners and scarfs at them. It was hilarious because the closer to kick off time it got, the more Italian coaches arrived, and the boy's in the bar were doing a version of the "Hokey Cokey" every 20 seconds trying to keep it up. It was pathetically brilliant and so funny to see, and I remember thinking and saying to my mate "this is as good as it gets being a football fan". Like everyone else, we couldn't wait for the game to start.

We watched other Reds drift into the ground early to soak up the atmosphere but we waited until about an hour before kick off and entered just as the first chicken wire incidents happened between the sets of fans. We had bought forgeries outside but there was no need to because the stadium was a complete crumbling mess of perished concrete and holes in the six foot fence where you could enter.

I remember being angry that the police were allowing firework attacks over the flimsy separating fence and when Liverpool fans charged I remember saying to my mate "Well they'll get what they deserve". Little did anyone know that the wall was about to collapse. If you'd ever travelled away with the Reds at that time, you could honestly say that previous to Heysel we were deemed the best behaved supporters in the land (we even had a song about it). That's not to say Liverpudlians weren't involved in fighting, they were, but that's because they came under missile attack from Juve fans and by that time the bizzies (who were the biggest cowards I've ever seen) had completely lost all control.

All our section were getting agitated by what was becoming a late kick off and by the incompetence of the Belgian police. We weren't to know until after the game that anyone had died to our right. Where I was standing you couldn't hear any of the PA announcements they were that garbled. The trouble seemed to get worse after that first rush by Liverpool fans. All we could see was the Italians at the other end rioting and charging down at us and delaying the game even more, with the Belguim police doing nothing.

It was at this time that a few fed up "hotheads" in my section filed down to the perimiter track and started to scale the fence to the pitch as we were all now coming under missile attack from about 100 Juve fans who had charged down the pitch. The other 500 -1000 Juve fans who had come onto the pitch stayed around the half way line supplying their fellow fans with missiles. It was turning really nasty as about 20 hardcore Reds fans fought with them around the atheltics steeplechase pit for what seemed like an eternity. Then a mounted police charge sent the Italians back over the half way line and finally up to the other end.

I just remember being so angry at them for spoiling my special day. None of us in our section had a clue to what had happened with the perimeter wall. Eventually the match went ahead. It had to, the whole poorly informed ground would have rioted had it not. Not knowing the full story, Liverpool fans around me were really angry and going to "kick off" if the game had been cancelled. They'd paid hundreds of pound to be there and could only see these Italians at the far end of the ground ruining their 'once in a lifetime' experience. Little did they know.

We got back to the coach after the meaningless match and our driver said there had been six fatalities. I remember everyone laughing at him in sheer disbelief. Then he turned the radio on and we all sat there in shock for what seemed like ages until someone at the back of the bus shouted to the driver to fuck off back to the hotel in Holland. The same shock and quietness from all of us was still there at breakfast the next morning. The hotel staff's attitude was very abrupt and curt. A complete turn around from the afternoon before (and understandable in a way).

When we left the hotel under a Dutch police escort for Ostende we were treated like vermin. We swopped police escorts three times that day. Dutch, Belguim and finally Kent police. None of us were involved and we quietly took the abuse without reply, probably out of shame. I've always thought how sorry and guilty I felt about my initial feelings on that day when so many people died. Still embarrassed about it today but it was born out of not knowing the full facts at the time.

In the aftermath of the game there was much hand-winging and accusations. Jacque George of UEFA accused Liverpool fans of being savages; he was ably assisted by Thatcher and a Tory government that had it in for football fans in general (guilty or not) and the City of Liverpool and our fans. She denigrated us with relish. The Liverpool Chairman John Smith commented on the number of London accents and England fans at the game. Those fans were all over Europe a week later rioting at England matches. There had been  a volatile mix of unknowns at the game with England flags.

In the stadium I recall putting my foot on the edge of a terrace step in the ground and it crumbled away beneath me. Jacque George should have known what was coming to UEFA for holding the game in such a dilapidated stadium with no segregation, black market tickets and a useless police force. He was doing cartwheels to shift the blame onto us as there was absolutely no segregation in that section with Juve fans and Belgians and us mixed together in our 'supposed' end. He never did answer why so many Juve fans were in our section.

At the time I was bitter and angry that the real culprits.UEFA, the Belguim police and both governments(British and Belguim) had collectively washed their hands of any responsibilty whilst ramming the "English Disease" cliche own our throats at every available opportunity. A responsibility that they were all warned about umpteen times before the game by our club (proper segregation and a ground with a safety certificate(!) were the complaints, and warnings about the Roma attacks the year before). In my humble opinion, our city has never recovered it's reputation and the "visit me car radio" and "Scouser in a suit" jokes were born out of Heysel and it's aftermath.

It seems quite ironic and very sad now that pre-Heysel we were regarded as the best behaved supporters in Britain.We had a reputation much like the Tartan Army have now. Then suddenly post Heysel, we were the scum of the earth. Our hooligan notoriaty was born out of a crumbling ground and the incompetence of the above mentioned authorities. But what can any of us expect from career politicians.

Afterwards, there were moves from fans to initiate friendship exchanges after the official enquiry rightly blamed Uefa and the Belgium police for their part in the tragedy as well as both sets of fans. Some fans were extradited to Brussels to stand trial over the following three years for hooligan offences. Not one Juve fan was I think ( but I stand to be corrected on that one) and I think Liverpudlians were given suspended sentences. Some of them serving about a month in Belgium after their initial arrest at the game

In the aftermath Peter Hooton made contact with Juventus supporters clubs and organised a friendship exchange. Juve fans staying in Scouse homes and vice-versa when the same happened in Turin

Having spoken to Hooto about it just the other year, he was damning in his criticism of Liverpool FC at for not helping at the time in such a scheme (perhaps they were afraid of Thatcher and the implications if it went wrong, after all this wasn't officially sanctioned at any time during its inception).

Hooto was full of praise for Everton though, who laid on a meal at the 500 Club and a tour of Goodison and also donated some money towards a 'do' for the Italians, along with Liverpool City Council and believe it or not Derek Hatton.

To this day the links between Liverpool and Juve have been superb, cemented by Rushie's move and the work of a bunch of Liverpool Youth Workers taking the initiative straight after Heysel. To this day both sets of fans commemorate the dead of Heysel and from a terrible event and the actions taken in the aftermath by Liverpudlians and Juve fans. The relationship between the two clubs and their fanbase are the strongest of any Anglo-Italian clubs today.

As a consequence of Heysel I never went to another game for three years. I consoled myself playing football for a tenner a game in the County Combination Divison 2 with Rainford North End on Saturdays. I kidded myself that if I was getting paid I must be a bit useful so was a footballer not a football supporter (which of course, I wasn't). Really, looking back in hindsight, any amateur shrink could have analysed me and said it was my way of dealing with the subconcious strain of it all. Who'd have thought that such a warm sunny brilliant day would turn out to affect so many of us for years after.

YNWA and RIP the 39

CoachKab writes: My blackest day

I can recall my blackest day like it was yesterday. It was a sunny day in Brussels, in May, 1985.

The day before, me and the lads had just crossed the Channel via ferry and arrived in Ostend, Belgium. We were absolutely legless from the cans of Stella Artois and were looking for a place to eat. We found an Italian restaurant just opening along the beachfront of this old Belgian seaside town. I never dug into a spaghetti bolognaise so quick, but it did the trick to get me sober for a walk.

Along the sand we were confronted by some photographers who wanted to take pictures of us with the Union Jack and Liverpool emblazoned on the front. We got together and sang our hearts out for the Reds as the photographers clicked away. Before they left, they said to buy tomorrow's paper "Het Laaste Nieuws" which was the Belgian equivalent to The Guardian or The Times.

After checking into our hotel, we went on a pub crawl and played pool for hours. We had the best laugh some lads from Liverpool could ever had. All on the dole, legless, kicking empty cans in the street pretending to be Kenny Dalglish with the game winner, singing our hearts out, smiling at the local girls. All was brilliant until we were cornered by one paddy wagon. Out jumped some young Belgian riot Brigade with mad dogs and truncheons. We were set upon by the dogs, put up against the wall and beaten by those truncheons. If you have never experienced a truncheon whipping your back or shoulder, I do not recommend the feeling. It lives with you forever.

Our crime? Singing in the streets with beer in our hands.

I remember the young Belgian bizzy's words in my ear (in broken English):

BB:" You have ticket, you have ticket?"

Me: "Yeah, yeah, in me pocket."

BB: "I take it. You don't see game."

Me: "No, no, look mate no trouble."

BB: "Go to hotel. I remember you. I see you I take ticket."

With that, he hit me on my back and went on his way. Pure brutal intimidation tactics.

Some history: The year before, some Tottenham fan had been shot in Brussels standing on a bar table after the Anderlecht vs Spurs UEFA Cup match. In 1980, English fans rioted and fought with Belgium fans at the Italian European Championships. So there was a history of tension (and even hate) between English and Belgian fans that exists to this day.

Yet, for 21 consecutive years there had been little trouble at Liverpool matches in Europe, home and away. In 1984, in Rome, coming out of the Olympic Stadium, some Roman thugs on scooters threw bricks and stones at us but we soon got by them. In fact, on our return to our hotel, the locals (mainly Lazio fans) held a banquet in our honour for defeating Roma on their pitch. So, you see, we were often loved abroad.

But the air in Ostend that night turned cold very quickly.

The next morning, we made the coach trip to Brussels. All was very quiet and serene as we arrived near the ground. The streets were filled with fans of both teams mixing and having a laugh. Some were kicking a ball around, but most just soaked up the atmosphere with so many hours before the evening kick-off.

It was hard getting to the bar and carrying the rounds with all the bars jammed packed. I had enough of the drink by lunchtime and decided to have a good walk around and see what the place was about.

Wherever we went, we met many familiar Kopites. Took photos of each other and the Italians. Even found that paper and guess what, they only put our picture on the front page with the words (translated for us) "British fans take over white sands of Ostende"

My first thought was, what if the dole office got a load of that? We'd have it.

Anyway, the day drew on and we were getting anxious for the match. So we decided to go in early and find a good spot to stand on, similar to our spot on the Kop (slightly to the left of the goal).

As we reached the gates, the place looked spookily like the outside of a prison, all fenced in and stone cold walls surrounding the hills it was based upon. The only glimmering thing about it was the massive futuristic silver balls that were towered high above the Heysel Stadium. I never did find out what they were about.

Well, at the entrance, we pulled out our tickets. There were no turnstiles, just a large opening (gate) with a couple of riot police standing by it. I showed one of them my ticket and he didn't even look at it. He just wanted my aerosol horn and flag. He pulled the canister off it and dumped it in a bin and handed back the plastic horn end. I just threw that away. Then he pulled my chequered red flag of it's mast and put the plastic mast on a pile of hundreds. It was crazy. A grand European Final with the 2 biggest clubs in Europe and we could not wave a flag or blow a horn in a standing enclosure. Yet, way off in the distance were flags of black and white from Juventus. When I tried to complain the riot bizzy just blew me off with a wave of his arm.

He was not the slightest bit interested in my ticket and who I was, just wanted my flag pole and canister. Unbelievable.

So we made our way down the "steps". The first thing that struck me was:

1. These steps crumbled under our feet.
2. The left and right side of our terraces were already packed. The only room was down the middle and to the right.

The pitch was surrounded by running track and had open terraces at both ends with covered seats along the sidelines. Our end had perimeter fencing at the track level, and brick walls built along the sides of the terraces. Some crash barriers were built up and down the terraces and some sections were split by wire fencing.

The Juventus end opposite was completely filled and swaying.

Within an hour of kick off, can't remember exactly, it was ridiculous. We were getting jammed up left, right and centre. There was a pretty girl in front of me and I wouldn't normally have minded being pressed up against her, but I was sweating my bollocks off. When I looked to my right, you could see about 8,000 dull looking heads all packed in. Who were they? I thought. They had neither Red or Black colours on and so we had no idea who they were. But some clever jimmy saw that there was about 20 yards of terracing empty and nobody guarding it. So some lads scaled the flimsy fence and jumped into the area.

Within minutes, we saw about 20 or so lads do the same and more by the second.

I remember how we had seen torn up National Front leaflets outside the ground and the rumour was some Chelsea boys had come down to cause trouble. Real Reds stay out of that rubbish and were not impressed. However, we always have an impressionable few. Before we knew it, there were words exchanged between the lads in the open terrace block and the dull looking "neutrals". Then some things were thrown both ways. Most of the 20,000 Liverpool fans stood their ground, quiet and just waiting for the match. But these few lads weren't interested. They got into it.

The next minute, about 150 scaled the fence where the 8,000 stood and it collapsed. There was a massive surge from left to right of this block of "neutrals" and I saw them rushing for the perimeter fence down below and the wall to their side. Some climbed the back wall (which was over 40 foot high) and just jumped off the ledge. Others climbed the perimeter fence and sidewalls to escape the crush of people panicking to get away from 150 idiots.

They obviously thought (looking above heads) that 20,000 "hooligans" were after them and got spooked to run. "Crowd mentality"

The first shocking noise was the sound of the perimeter fence collapsing under the pressure and the fans spilling on to the track. Seconds later, the sidewall collapsed and hundreds spilled over it. Obviously crushing all those under them.

While all this took place in less than a minute or two, some of the 150 came back and stood among the 20,000. While a handful of others still threw things and swung kicks at the odd "neutral" left with nowhere to run. I saw one riot police officer just watch it all happen and even get hit by debris but he just wanted to get out of the way of it all.

At the other end, fireworks and bangers were lit as the Juve fans were agitated by the pitch invasion and the word soon spread that there were Italians among those neutrals. They wanted some action and began to climb the perimeter fence on their end.

In just minutes the entire right block of the terrace was empty. People were all over the place on the track, the pitch and sideline. All you could see was panic, shock and hundreds of belongings trashed on the terrace steps.

The next phase of this was horrific. As I saw riot police move in with medical people, I saw flags being draped around bodies lying on pieces of fence (being used for stretchers). The flags were not blankets of warmth for shock, but covers for the faces of the dead.

The word spread quickly that people were lying dead down there. I could not believe it. What was first just a climb for space to breathe, ended as a crush of death because of some mindless idiots who had nothing to do with the club, even if some were from the city of Liverpool.

This was not football. I was ready to leave as I thought about those that died. How could they play this match now? Who were those that died? Why did this happen? What were they doing in their hundreds in the Liverpool end of the ground? Where the police to secure the area? How many had tickets that got in?

All these thoughts raced through my head as I saw hundreds of riot police march in to the stadium, surround the pitch at the Liverpool end, horses trot down the track, ambulance men carry lifeless bodies from the rubble, and helicopters fly overhead like a scene from Apocalypse Now.

Voices came over the tannoy but we could not make them out. The rumours were the match was going to be played but that we had to calm down. Calm down? 20,000 had been standing quietly in the crush while 150 idiots ruined the reputation of Liverpool FC forever. Joe Fagan came out and he looked a wreck. This was serious and now it was scary. What were the repercussions of this? We were stoned in Rome, so what will the Juve dans  do in Heysel? There was no way they could play this match.

Juve fans poured onto the track on the other side and lit flares, waved baseball bats, one had a flare gun and fired at the riot police, but they just stood there and watched them vent their anger toward us. How did they get those bats into the stadium when we couldn't even get an air canister for a horn?

One banner read "Reds Animals".

While Liverpool fans were chased and beaten on the pitch, the riot police stood and watched and when the beating was done, they laid into the Liverpool fans too and took them away. It was us against the world.

To top it off, they decided to go ahead with the match which was played in a surreal atmosphere. Juventus won but it didn't matter. We didn't hang around for the proceedings but we could hear Italians celebrating their win, unaware of the true extent of what exactly had happened.

We ran for the coaches and rushed out of Brussels like no tomorrow. Back in Ostend, every bar and restaurant was locked up. No food, no drink anywhere. All we got was "Murderers, go home!"

That's it then. All 20,000 of us labelled for life for a crime we did not commit.

The next morning, we were escorted by police onto the ferries home. In the papers, the reality of what occurred hit home. The pictures of the dead, some 30 or so, were flashed across pages of reports. The faces of those that died were like some horror film of zombies. I was chilled.

But what I saw next lives with me until this day. The Belgian national paper, "Het Laaste Nieuws" had a horrific picture of the victims with the headlines "Murderers!"

From the previous day, all who saw our picture on the beach would think we killed those poor innocent souls. I was branded for life. "They Came, They Saw, They Slaughtered!"

On arrival home, the bus driver asked how it all happened? I just said, you don't want to know, mate. It's the end of football for Liverpool. We'll never play in Europe again, and you know what, who will care? It will never be the same. All who went to Heysel that day will live in shame.

I did for 2 weeks. I never left the house or answered the phone. I decided I would never go to Anfield again and I would leave England. I did, for a number of years. I carried the guilt of that night. The guilt of that riot police officer the night before, and the guilt of the 150 who rioted toward those 8,000 people, who just came to watch a football match.

Todays fans cannot understand those events and experiences. Liverpool was a passage to the world. We learned about life away from Liverpool through football and met so many wonderful people along the way. But it was all taken from us that night. That way of life died that night.

Dortmund 2001 rekindled some of that old magic. But even still, it was never the same as Rome, Paris, and Wembley.

But thank God, it was never a repeat of Heysel. I am sorry for those at Hillsborough. I was out of the country then. I could not have survived 2 disasters.

I hope the Hillsborough families get their justice and some form of closure. I know there will never be closure for me for Heysel. Even in 1995, when I returned there after 10 years to see if I could get it out of my system. I saw the place being rebuilt. But there was a feeling in the air that this place should be left alone.

I have never forgotten Heysel. I never will. I still have the matchday ticket, not torn, and the Belgian newspapers with those pictures and headlines.

RIP

Alan Hansen (taken from his autobiography):

Whenever I think of Heysel, the first image that springs to mind is the expression on Joe Fagan’s face as the terrifying scenes of crowd violence escalated to the point where the game that had been his whole life no longer meant anything. Following the announcement the day before that the European Cup final against Juventus would be his last as Liverpool manager, Joe deserved good memories of the occasion, no matter what the result. But, at the end, he looked a broken man.

Of all the men at Liverpool who went through the ordeal of Heysel, Joe, who was then in his mid-sixties and had decided to retire, was the one for whom I felt most sorry. In one way, though, he was lucky: at least he was not subjected to the nightmare of Hillsborough. It says much about the inner turmoil experienced by people at Liverpool FC that Kenny Dalglish inevitably the focal point of Liverpool’s attempts to bring some measure of comfort to the mourning families, brought he Liverpool career to an end two years later and took a complete break from the game.

It affected everybody.

It is incongruous to attempt to draw a parallel between the two disasters, given that the cause of Heysel was hooliganism and that Liverpool supporters were the perpetrators. At Hillsborough, they were the innocent victims. However, if there was one common denominator, it concerned the inadequate crowd arrangements.

I would not dream of attempting to condone the conduct of the Liverpool fans whose war-like charge towards the Juventus followers’ section resulted in many Italians being crushed under a crumbling wall. However, I would suggest that whoever was responsible for putting two sets of supporters within such easy reach of each other, separated only by a flimsy wire fence, was failing in his duty. Because of the poor security arrangements, and the dilapidated, outdated Heysel Stadium, Liverpool had been edgy about the match for some weeks.

About 10 days earlier, I remember bumping into Jim Kennefick, who handled the club’s travel, as he was leaving the ground following a meeting with the directors. ‘They are paranoid upstairs about the Liverpool and Juventus supporters being together,’ he told me. Even outside the stadium, the security system - or lack of it - was crazy.

During the 1998 World Cup finals in France, police ensured that no-one without a ticket could get within a mile of the stadiums on match days. There was no such security blanket in operation for the Liverpool-Juventus European Cup final. Indeed, from what I can make out, there was no security blanket at all. It did not matter if anyone turned up without a ticket; it seemed that everyone got in and could go to whatever part of the stadium he wished.

The first I knew of the tension building among the two sets of fans was about an hour and a half before the kick-off, when we - the Liverpool players - came out to look at the pitch. We could not get onto it because of a boys’ match was taking place, so we decided to stretch our legs with a walk around the running track, towards the section where most of the fans were situated. As we approached, the Juventus followers started throwing what I took to be bricks. I remarked to Alan Kennedy, ‘This is unusual - you don’t often find supporters taking bricks into a stadium.’

‘They’re not throwing bricks,’ he replied, ‘They’re throwing the stadium at us.’ We were indeed being pelted with bits of concrete from the crumbling terraces. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? This was the showpiece match of the season in Europe, and it was being staged in a stadium that was not far short of a ruin.

When we were back in the dressing room, we were unaware for some time of the extent to which the trouble had escalated. We kept getting reports of what was going on, but none were official and they were contradictory. Inevitably, our first thoughts were for the safety of friends and families. My own group at the match were Janet and her family, my father and uncle, all whom seemed to me to be too far away from the madness to be swept up in it.

We were getting so many conflicting reports that it was difficult for us to put the football in its proper context: it sounds terrible to say it, but my overriding anxiety was that we had a European Cup final to play, and I had to get myself ready for it. I succeeded in getting myself so psyched up for the match that what was happening on the terraces was pushed into the background.

Eventually, a UEFA official came into the dressing room to ask our captain, Phil Neal, to go over to the Liverpool fans to try to calm them down. When Phil came back, he said, ‘People have died out there.’ But even at that point, neither he nor anyone else in our dressing room could say how bad the trouble had been. There was further confusion when the kick-off was delayed, amid deliberations about whether the match should be postponed or cancelled. Here again, the players were too isolated from the trouble to be able to take it in - so much so that during this waiting period Alan Kennedy and I passed the time with a game of cards.

By the time the decision was taken to play the game, on the premise that to cancel or postpone it would have been to invite further mayhem, I don’t think anyone really cared about it. The memory of it, and the result - a 1-0 win for Juventus through a goal by Michel Platini - will always be overshadowed by the events that scarred the image of English football off the field.

For me personally, the nightmare of Heysel was prolonged by the experience of my in-laws, who had been seated above the area where the Italian fans lost their lives and saw everything that happened. For months afterwards my mother-in-law could not sleep. The experience was no less traumatic for the girlfriend of striker Paul Walsh, who was seized by a group of Italians and dragged off to look at the pile of dead bodies after the medical team had failed to revive them.

For most people, the reaction to Heysel was one of shame a well as sadness.

© RAWK 2004

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