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Heysel: May 29th 1985




What became known as the Horror of Heysel arose partly from events that occurred in Rome. Before and after the triumphant European Cup Final, Liverpool fans suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of Italian fans. Our supporters were attacked in alleys. People I had left tickets for at Rome's Olympic Stadium said they had been hammered with stones. Coaches were ambushed by Roma fans tossing bricks at them. The police were escorting buses but they still didn't get much protection. A year later, the seeds of chaos bore fruit. Some of those Liverpool fans in Brussels would have been in Rome the year before. When Italian fans started throwing rocks and stones again at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, the Liverpool supporters would have remembered Rome.

We learned afterwards that some Juventus fans at the unsegregated send had been throwing stones at Liverpool supporters, which was why some of our fans ran at them on that terrace in Heysel. Liverpool fans were blamed for killing the Italians but people forget the circumstances. On previous away trips, Liverpool fans had behaved themselves as well as anyone. So why was Heysel different? The stadium, the organisation and the attacks on Liverpool fans in Rome were factors in the Heysel disaster.

Peter Robinson (Liverpool Chairman) went over before the final to see the stadium. He was concerned about many things to do with Heysel Stadium, which was clearly unsuited to holding two sets of supporters who were bound to be emotionally charged for such a big game. Peter told the Belgium authorities and UEFA that he was very apprehensive about ticket allocation.

Peter was also worried that they had kept a section of the ground for the use of Belgian people. He suggested that only Liverpool and Juventus should receive tickets. Allowing a third party access to tickets would inevitably mean a dangerous mixed area, with English and Italian supporters having got tickets off any Belgian wanting to make a few bob for himself. It was a very frustrating situation. Liverpool seemed to be the only ones fearful about what could happen.

Liverpool made it public that they were concerned about the condition of the stadium, but UEFA said they must continue, so the ill-fated final went ahead and unfortunately everybody knows the consequences. Liverpool were so concerned that they put up information booths outside the ground in an attempt to keep our fans out of the unsegregated area. Liverpool did that, not UEFA. It angers me that Liverpool did all the warning, Liverpool made every effort to prevent trouble and when the worst happened Liverpool received all the blame.

There was no hint of trouble when we entered Heysel. As normal, we walked out on to the pitch, still wearing our civvies, about an hour and half before kick-off. We strolled behind one of the goals. The terrace there was split in two, but the only thing dividing the sections was a flimsy barrier of what looked like chicken wire. The half supposedly kept for Belgians keen to see a final on their doorstep was where the ticket allocation had gone terribly wrong. Most of the people in that neutral Belgian section were Juventus fans. The other section behind the goal contained our people. As we walked behind the goal, one of the Liverpool fans threw us a ball. The players just kicked it around and occasionally volleyed it back into the crowd. The Liverpool fans kicked it back and so it went on. Everything was amicable. There was no indication of any bother, but seemingly while all this was happening, Juventus fans were throwing stones at the Liverpool fans. Remembering the dreadful treatment they had encountered in Rome, our supporters inevitably acted angrily.

I can't condone the action of some Liverpool fans but it is difficult not to react when the opposing supporters are throwing missiles at you. The fact that fatalities might result wouldn't have occurred to the Liverpool fans when they ran across. If you have been pelted with stones the year before, and suffered badly, you are not going to accept it again. That's how the trouble started. UEFA must shoulder much of the blame.

The choice of Heysel was so obviously wrong. The Belgians had no idea how to stage a match of this magnitude. There wasn't a great deal of security; thousands of people got into the ground with the stub still on their ticket. The worst mistake the Belgians and UEFA made was in allocating tickets to people not from the two clubs involved. That was a recipe for disaster. Of course it's sad when two sets of people cannot go and enjoy a game, cannot behave themselves, but you've got to be realistic. You've got to recognise the potential for trouble and do everything in your power to prevent any problems occurring. UEFA didn't do that.

Some people said Liverpool's players were hit by stones and that our fans reacted angrily to that. I don't recall anything being thrown at us. It's the type of thing you would remember. Besides, we were inside getting changed when the real trouble started. Someone in the dressing-room hinted there had been a bit of trouble but I never listen to unsubstantiated stories. I nearly missed Heysel because I was struggling with flu. I had taken Lemsip to try to get the bug out of my system and I just lay on the massage bench, preserving my strength until the call came to go out and play. In fact, I fell asleep, so I didn't know much about what was going on. Apparently there were various stories coming in and out of the dressing-room but nothing could be confirmed. Personally, I never saw any trouble.

We were all dressed and ready to go when a UEFA representative came in. 'You can't go,' he told Joe, 'there's been a bit of trouble.' When something like that happens, chaos takes over. No one really knew what was going on. In situations like these, the people who have least information are the players. We are cocooned from everything, just told to wait until someone decides something. Some of the lads were popping in and out, but nobody really knew what was going on. Chaos hid the truth. Even people watching did not appreciate what they were witnessing.

Friends of mine who were at Heysel told me afterwards they never knew that had been fatalities. They knew there had been trouble but not to what extent. When you are in a foreign country, it's difficult to find out what's going on. I don't even know how informative the PA system was. Confusion reigned.

We didn't know anybody had died, not officially. All we heard were rumours. Football's a game of huge gossip, which I just switch off from. When Phil Neal, our captain, went out to talk to the Liverpool supporters, I don't think he was informed of the severity of the situation. He was only asked to go out to speak to the, to calm them down. I don't think he, nor Scirea, Juventus's captain, were told there were any fatalities. Phil Neal wrote in his autobiography that I knew about the deaths before we played the game. I categorically did not. I had fallen asleep and didn't know that there had been fatalities. If UEFA had told the players that people had died, I don't think that the players would have wanted to go on.

But what did we know? I was never outside so I never knew the extent of the trouble. We knew something serious had happened, because the game had been delayed by an hour and a half, but it's very difficult to decide what's true and what's false. Probably the people watching on television in Britain and in Italy and around the world, and the media present, knew a lot more about it than we did. If the people who were running the show could not tell us what was happening, what chance had we got?

Eventually, when everything had been calmed down, UEFA decided to start the final. Amid all the confusion, the one thing that was right was the decision to play the game. If the final had not been played, there was the possibility of further trouble. Another match would not have been a very clever thought either, given the circumstances. That would have been set up for more trouble. Walking out on the pitch, both sets of players immediately became aware of the altered atmosphere. I honestly didn't notice the rubble piled up in one corner, where the supporters had died in that terrible crush. Most of the players surmised there was something seriously wrong because there were huge gaps at the end. It's easy to understand why so many people left. If I had been a supporter in that corner, and thought people had died, I would not have stayed on to watch a football match. Some people thought it would have been a mark of respect to those who died not to play the game. But UEFA decided it had to be played for fear of even greater trouble. The decision taken at the time was understandable.

If I had known about the fatalities, I would not have wanted to play. 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. Juventus fans should not have been throwing stones. Liverpool fans should not have reacted the way they did. Yet neither set of supporters could have anticipated the terrible outcome. If they had forseen the dreadful consequences, or thought what terrible things might unfold, I'm sure the stones would never have been thrown by the Italians and that the English retaliation would never have occurred. Every single one of them, both Italian and English, must have regretted it. I'm sure they still do now.

When we went for dinner after the match, some of the wives said they had seen bodies piled up under the stand. It must have been pretty harrowing for them. They were sitting in the directors' box while fans were running wild across the stand. They felt very threatened. For the players, we were still trying to piece together what had happened. I only really became aware the following morning, when we watched BBC television in the hotel. Then we saw the Italian fans crying, and they were banging on the side of our bus as we left the hotel. When we left Brussels, the Italians were angry, understandably so; 39 of their friends had died. We needed a lot of police to protect the bus. 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.

These Juventus fans felt that Liverpool were responsible for the deaths of their friends. How could we be? We had been the ones warning IEFA and the Belgians. It was our supporters who had been attacked the previous year by Italians and were determined not to be ambushed again. I could understand Juventus' emotions because they felt the team represented those who had been involved in the trouble, but they could have directed some of their anger towards UEFA and the Belgian authorities. It was wrong that Liverpool took all the blame. Margaret Thatcher said Liverpool should be banned from Europe, and that our fans were hooligans. What did she know? She never knew many of the facts. Partly as a consequence of Margaret Thatcher not understanding the situation, and condemning Liverpool so quickly, English clubs were subsequently suspended for five years.

Within football, I don't think there was any resentment towards Liverpool because English clubs were banned from Europe. I think there was resentment towards Margaret Thatcher, who mouthed off before FIFA had made their decision. When the Prime Minister of a country is critical of a club, it is easy for the governing body of football to go along with it. A little bit more thought from Margaret Thatcher, and a little bit more time to get the real information, might have been more helpful. She certainly could have waited. Someone in her position should have known how much weight her words carried.








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