Heysel football disaster remembered 25 years on

By Katie Dawson
BBC News


On 29 May, 1985, 39 football fans died during violent clashes between Liverpool and Juventus supporters at the European Cup final in Brussels.

As a result of the disaster at Heysel Stadium, UEFA banned English clubs from taking part in European football for five years, with Liverpool serving an extra year.

For lifelong Liverpool fan Chris Rowland, the events of that night are as clear today as they were 25 years ago.

"I remember all of it," he said. "The memory has stayed crystal clear in my mind."

More than 60,000 Liverpool and Juventus fans were at the rundown stadium when violence erupted about an hour before kick-off.

A retaining wall separating the opposing fans collapsed as the Italian club's supporters tried to escape from Liverpool followers.

Thirty-two Italians, four Belgians, two French and a man from Northern Ireland died while hundreds of fans were injured.

Mr Rowland, who was not involved in the violence, was aged 28 at the time and regularly travelled with friends throughout Europe to support Liverpool.

"It started out like all the European trips," he said. "There was no reason to suspect it would be very different to any of the others."

But when Mr Rowland, now aged 53, arrived at the stadium half an hour before the match, it became clear that something was amiss.

"We saw people charging over the wall and charging towards us," he explained. "Our first thought was that they were attacking us.

"We saw chaos around the turnstiles and the shabby state of the ground."

He said he heard a sound similar to that of a heavy metal gate clanging - which he later realised must have been the wall falling.

image caption, A wall separating supporters fell and crushed a number of fans

Mr Rowland, who lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, became aware that someone had died later that evening.

But it was not until reading the morning newspapers the following day that he realised the real extent of what had happened.

"It was incredulous that something of that scale could have happened," Mr Rowland added.

"You cannot begin to understand the enormity of it. It was awful, absolutely awful."

Inside the stadium's dressing room waiting to play was Liverpool defender Gary Gillespie.

'Completely useless'

Mr Gillespie said he and his teammates had no idea what was happening.

"We we very much cocooned in that dressing room," he said. "We did not really know what the situation was outside.

"As we were getting changed in the dressing room there was the usual banter, obviously the usual nerves because it was such a big occasion, and then we got conflicting reports about what had happen."

Following the tragedy, there was widespread criticism of the Liverpool fans and English football supporters in general, who had gained a reputation for hooliganism in previous years.

UEFA imposed the ban on English clubs and in 1989, 14 Liverpool fans were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter at a five-month trial in Belgium.

They were given three-year sentences - although half the terms were suspended.

There has never been an official inquiry into the incident to find out exactly what happened.

Some people claimed Juventus supporters provoked Liverpool fans by hurling stones and other missiles, others blamed the lack of police presence, poor organisation and a decrepit stadium.

Italian journalist Giancarlo Galavotti, London correspondent for the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, was at the Heysel Stadium on 29 May, 1985.

He described the Belgian policing of the event as "completely useless".

"I could really tell, let's say 15 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour, before the fatal clash occurred that it was a very serious and dangerous situation that was developing," he said.

"Irrespective of what was the behaviour of some sections of the Liverpool fans, if Belgian police had been adept in policing the situation, like the Italian police were the year earlier in Rome, I do not think there would have been such a tragedy happening in Brussels in 1985."

Liverpool supporter Graham Agg, 48, from Netherton, Liverpool, also criticised the Belgian police and the state of the stadium.

image caption, Some claim Juventus fans provoked Liverpool fans by hurling missiles

"How they got permission to hold a European Cup final was beyond belief," he said. "It was falling down. There was no security.

"The terrace was crumbling - you could pick up bricks. It was a disgrace.

"In Liverpool's history it is one of the dark days, but a very small minority caused the trouble.

"Even when they did cause the trouble, they did not intend for people to die. If it had been held in a proper stadium it would never have happened."

The game eventually went ahead, despite objections from both managers, and Juventus won 1-0 with a second-half penalty.

The Heysel Stadium, built in 1930, was demolished and replaced by the all-seater Stade Roi Baudouin.

A plaque to remember the 39 people killed was unveiled at Liverpool's Anfield stadium on Wednesday.

A two minutes' silence was held at the city's town hall on Friday when the bells were rung 39 times - a gesture that is being repeated on Saturday.

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