After Heysel

An injured fan is led away by medical staff after the 1985 Heysel Disaster in Brussels. Marauding Liverpool fans caused the death of 39 peaceful Italian supporters during that Juventus vs Liverpool match.-

WELL, it has happened. Almost 20 years after the Heysel Disaster in Brussels, when marauding Liverpool fans caused the death of 39 peaceful Italian supporters, Juventus and Liverpool have been drawn together in the European Cup quarterfinals.

WELL, it has happened. Almost 20 years after the Heysel Disaster in Brussels, when marauding Liverpool fans caused the death of 39 peaceful Italian supporters, Juventus and Liverpool have been drawn together in the European Cup quarterfinals.

That horrific day was one on which the final result didn't matter at all, dwarfed as it was by the human disaster, but as one who alas was there, and one of seven journalists summoned next day to 10, Downing Street to talk to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about it, I have never ceased to believe that it should not have happened. True, you could hardly contradict Margaret Thatcher when she said how sad it was when one group of fans could not stand alongside another without being attacked. What happened, as we know, is that the Italians were driven by violent, often drunken, Liverpool supporters off the terraces behind one goal, to be appallingly crushed against a crumbling concrete wall.

The first thing, which has to be said is that the match should never have been played in the crumbling, decrepit Brussels stadium at all. Scandalously, when a UEFA delegation arrived to inspect the ground, on a very cold day, my information is that the members stayed in the warm and did not bother to look at the stadium. Had they done so, they would surely have seen how easy it would be for fans to crawl in under the surrounding wire. Which Liverpool fans, so many of whom had been lying around on the grass outside the stadium beforehand, helplessly drunk, did in abundance, thereby heavily overcrowding that fatal terrace.

Secondly, the Belgian football authorities should have realised that deciding to see tickets on that terrace — and bang next door to Liverpool's fans at that — meant that they could and would fall into the hands of Italian immigrant workers who would either use them for themselves or send them back to Italy. So it was that the Juventus supporters standing cheek by jowl with the Liverpool block were not the usual tifosi, the regular and even hardcore ultra fans, but for the most part peaceable families, parents with children, with no experience at all of the violence which characterised the English football terraces in those benighted days.

This meant that when the Liverpool fans charged them, they were unable to resist, but were driven passively and helplessly to their appalling fate. Those well-versed in the harsh ways to the English terraces in those days will tell you that there was no murderous intent in what the Liverpool hooligans did, however brutal; it was the kind of thing which all too often occurred at English grounds except that the opposing fans would be capable of standing firm and fighting back. As indeed would the Juventus supporters at the other end, which included their own violent element, would surely have done.

Next, one should go back a year in time to the previous European Cup Final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome in 1984. That evening, Liverpool beat Roma on penalty kicks, after extra time. As soon as the game was over, young Roma hooligans rushed to their cars, took out iron bars and other weapons, and set about the Liverpool supporters. Note that this wasn't just the result of the frustration and disappointment of losing like that.

As, to give them their due, the Roman newspapers reported the next day with outrage, these attacks had clearly been pre-planned. One of the most extraordinary sights was that of supporters of Lazio, Roma's eternal rivals, thrusting weapons into the hands of the besieged Liverpool supporters so that they could defend themselves.

I have never had any doubt, and Liverpool fans have confirmed it for me, that the memories of these disgraceful assaults provoked the violence of these charges at Heysel; however irrationally. For Rome is not Turin, where Juventus come from; as anyone who knows their Italy will tell you, they might as well be two different countries, cities whose denizens largely detest each other. But the distinction was too subtle for the Liverpool toughs to make.

Then there was the wretched cowardice of the Belgian police. Between the first charge by the Liverpool hordes and the second, there was a good quarter of an hour. The English police would, for all their faults, have stormed in at once, broken up the assault and in all probability have placed themselves between the two groups of fans as a buffer. Not the Belgian police. Oh, no. They stayed well away from the action, and when belatedly a little cock sparrow of a commander marched his troop of police into the stadium, after the disaster, what did he do but line them up in the centre circle and inspect them!

As we know, the Football Association grovelled to do excessive penance, readily assenting to a five-year ban on English clubs in Europe. But where was the logic and the justice of that? Ban Liverpool, yes, for 10 years if you like, but every English club? Remembering that just a week before Heysel, one had seen the fans of Everton, the other great Liverpool club, behave impeccably in Rotterdam on the occasion of the European Cup Winners Cup final, before the match won against Rapid Vienna.

Everton went on to win the English Championship and thus qualify for the next European Cup; only to find they had been banned, thanks to the excesses of their rival's fans! Yet the worst thing I saw an Everton fan do in Rotterdam was walk out of a cafe without paying the bill.

Needless to say, the effects on British football of this draconian ban were appalling, paving the way for costly isolationism, and the heresy of long ball football, espoused by the likes of Watford.