On May 29 1985, 39 football fans died when a wall collapsed at the Heysel stadium in Belgium. What should have been one of the greatest nights in the club’s history turned into a nightmare.
Instead of Liverpool fans leaving Brussels having seen their team lift a fifth European Cup, Liverpool supporters travelled back to England having witnessed the deaths of 39 football fans including 32 Italian fans of Juventus, four Belgians, two from France and one man from Northern Ireland.
Liverpool had objected to the choice of ground to stage the final well before the friendly banter outside the stadium began to turn nasty inside. Aside from the fact that the stadium appeared to be crumbling, Liverpool’s main concern was that there was to be a neutral section of the ground set aside for football fans from Belgium. The club argued that only Liverpool and Juventus should be allocated tickets. Setting aside a neutral area would only lead to both sets of fans being able to buy tickets off Belgium touts thus creating a dangerous mixed area. As history has since proved, this neutral area was soon filled with Italian supporters.
As tempers became frayed inside the ground about an hour before kick off, both sets of fans baited each other through a segregating fence made from chicken wire. After a sustained period of missiles being thrown by both sets of supporters, some Liverpool fans charged at their Italian counterparts and, as chaos took over, Juventus fans fled only for a wall blocking their escape to collapse on top of them. Thirty-nine football supporters died where they fell.
Later that night, Juventus won the European Cup 1-nil. It’s a match nobody wants to remember.
Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s greatest ever player, will never forget what happened in Belgium though.
“The fact that fatalities might result wouldn’t have occurred to the Liverpool fans when they ran across.”
Dalglish admits that it wasn’t until the following morning that the Liverpool players finally realised exactly what had happened inside the stadium.
“We saw the Italian fans crying, and they were banging on the side of our bus when we left the hotel,” he recalls. “When we left Brussels, the Italians were angry, understandably so; 39 of their friends had died. I remember well one Italian man, who had his face right up against the window where I was sitting. He was crying and screaming. You feel for anybody who loses someone in those circumstances. You go along to watch a game. You don’t go along expecting that sort of ending, do you? Football’s not that important. No game of football is worth that. Everything else pales into insignificance.”
Almost 20 years after that terrible day, Liverpool and Juventus were drawn together again for the first time in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. It was if fate had brought the two teams together to join forces and honour those who had lost their lives at Heysel.
“There is a friendship between the two clubs and supporters,” Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry revealed after the draw had been announced. “As soon as the draw paired us together for the first time in 20 years, memories of the Heysel Stadium disaster were naturally in people’s minds, both in Turin and here on Merseyside. The two clubs built bridges and forged powerful links after Heysel. The bond between us remains strong, but we still want all Juventus fans to know that we are very sorry about the fact that 39 people lost their lives. We moved forward in a spirit of friendship after Heysel and the clubs continue to work together in a spirit of mutual respect.”
May 29th remains a day of remembrance for both Juventus and Liverpool supporters
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