On May 29 1985, 59,00 people attended the European Cup Final at Heysel Stadium, Brussels which had previously hosted six European finals and was Belgium’s National Stadium since its inauguration in 1930.
39 of those fans never returned home.
The events of that dreadful night live long in the memory of those who witnessed the horror unfold either at the stadium or watching live on television. While other stadium disasters receive high levels of coverage and are writ large in the general conscience, Heysel is almost the forgotten tragedy.
Events leading up to that final are well documented. Following Liverpool’s victory in the same competition a year earlier, defeating Roma in Rome, much fighting broke out in the Italian capital, with large numbers of Liverpool fans requiring treatment for wounds caused in wide-spread knife attacks.
After this, club rivalries in England were forgotten as many “firms” joined together and headed for Belgium, Juventus would receive the revenge of the English hooligan elite.
Before the 1985 final, it was announced that this would be the last match held at the condemned stadium, built some 60 years earlier, with very little segregation and even less security measures in place the ground simply was not fit for a game of such magnitude, especially when even the most casual fan could see the potential powder-keg.
As a result a large “neutral zone” was designated at the side of the ground, but tickets were freely available outside the ground and it was quickly apparent that this supposed neutral area actually contained fans from both clubs.
A group of Liverpool fans charged across the terraces of this section, causing the Juventus fans to retreat. With no exit, the Juve fans moved towards the perimeter wall, which some tried to climb over. Many escaped, but the wall could not withstand the force of the fleeing supporters and collapsed. It was at this point that the majority of the deaths occurred — 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured.
The absolute horror only became apparent when the names of the dead were released. Far from being Juventus Ultra, families, even children were killed. An 11 year old boy and two women were among those who simply went to watch a game of football and never returned home.
The game, the repercussions for English football, the new measures introduced after Hillsborough to reduce the chances of a repeat all pale in complete insignificance with that one simple truth.
May they always be remembered