Heysel: Football remembers victims 30 years after tragedy

CNN  — 

It should have been a day of enjoyment and celebration – instead it was a day that ended with the death of 39 football fans.

Thirty years on from one of the most tragic stadium disasters in sporting history, Juventus is remembering its supporters who went to watch a football match and never came back.

Thirty-two supporters from Italy, four from Belgium, two from France and one from Northern Ireland were killed in a stampede prior to kick-off, with the youngest aged just 11 years old.

“May 29, 1985 should have been a day of joy and passion for football. Instead it became a tragedy caused by unprecedented violence that must never be allowed to happen again,” a Juventus statement read.

“Instead it became a tragedy caused by unprecedented violence that must never be allowed to happen again.”

The Italian club is paying its respects to the victims of the tragedy and their families by staging a holy mass in Turin’s Gran Madre di Dio church on the 30th anniversary.

The service will be attended by senior representatives from the club and some of those who played in the match 30 years ago, which Juventus went on to win 1-0 as they claimed their first ever European Cup.

Ian Rush, who played for both Liverpool and Juventus, will also attend the mass in Turin.

Meanwhile in England, members of Liverpool 1985 squad will attend a private service at the club’s Anfield stadium.

Juventus’ fans, meanwhile, offered their own tribute to the 39 during last week’s final home game of the season.

During the 39th minute of the 3-1 win against Napoli at the Juventus Stadium, supporters unfurled a large banner reading: “+39 respect.”

Another banner on display read: “Nobody really dies if they live forever in the hearts of those who remain,” while fans held aloft signs which featured the names of the victims.

Sector Z

There are close parallels between Heysel and the Hillsborough tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives during an FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest in 1989.

Both were disasters waiting to happen at two dilapidated stadiums, which hosted major games with poor ticketing arrangements and “negligent policing.”

Heysel Stadium’s Sector Z terrace had grass poking through the crumbling concrete, flimsy wire-netting separated the Liverpool and Juve fans, while a minimal police force battled to keep control of thousands of fans – a police force whose walkie-talkies had no batteries.

“I felt a lot of anger and bitterness towards UEFA that allowed such an important match to be played in an inadequate stadium,” Antonio Conti, who had taken his Juventus-supporting daughter Giusy to watch the final against Liverpool, told CNN.

“The curved sector where we were should not have been open to the public, because it wasn’t up to hosting 15,000 people. In that sector there were hooligans as well and the police weren’t able to keep order.”

With corpses lying in the stadium car park, UEFA ordered the game to go ahead for the sake of public safety. Juventus won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Michel Platini, who is now president of the European governing body.

“I was at home watching the match on television, but I had the feeling that something terrible had happened to my loved ones,” Rosalina Vannini Gonnelli, who lost her husband in the tragedy and whose 18-year-old daughter was injured, told CNN. “I spent the whole night at Pisa airport waiting for them to come back.”

“I spent the whole night at Pisa airport waiting for them to come back.”

When Conti recalls those 1985 events, it’s as if he has relived them every day over the intervening 30 years.

“It was 19:25 CET when everything happened,” Conti added. “When I woke up half an hour later I was among dead people, and at that moment I remembered where I was.

“I looked for my daughter until I saw a shoe under a blanket and I understood that she was dead.”

The right punishments?

In the aftermath of Heysel, then UEFA president Jacques Georges and general secretary Hans Bangerter were threatened with imprisonment, before being given conditional discharges.

Albert Roosens, the former secretary-general of the Belgian Football Union (BFU) and Johan Mahieu – who was in charge of policing the stands at Heysel despite having never supervised a football match before – were given six-month suspended prison sentences for negligence.

In the aftermath of Heysel, 25 Liverpool fans were subsequently extradited from the United Kingdom and, after a five-month trial, 14 were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in April 1989 – the same month of the Hillsborough disaster – with each of them serving a year in jail

English clubs were excluded from Europe for five years, with Liverpool handed an extra year’s ban.

“The anger at the hooligans of Liverpool is still very strong, unspoken, but very strong, both among the relatives of the victims – who know the history very well – and especially among the Juventus ‘ultras’ – who know it a little ‘less well,’ ” said Caremani, before adding: “but everyone knows very well UEFA and Belgian institutions’ responsibilities.”

Forgotten story?

Heysel is a story of “incompetence, violence, cover-up, shame and lies,” writes Professor John Foot – the author of the authoritative history of Italian football, “Calcio.”

“It’s also a story of forgetting,” adds Foot. “Many people have an interest in not remembering what happened that night: the players, many fans, the Belgian politicians and police forces.”

“There are dozens of points that are usually offered to explain the context, but the context does not begin to excuse anything,” writes Liverpool fan Tony Evans, football editor of British newspaper The Times.

“No amount of context could. That stampede might have been considered standard terrace fare, a token act of territorialism and intimidation, but it led innocent fans to flee in terror.

“Some tried to climb a wall to escape. The wall crumbled. Thirty-nine people were crushed to death. The world was appalled. Turin went into mourning. Liverpool and their supporters were left with the stigma and the stain.”

Despite a commemorative monument being unveiled in the main courtyard of the club’s headquarters shortly after the disaster, Juventus has often faced accusations of wanting to put a veil over Heysel to forget this page in its history.

The Serie A side’s then president Giampiero Boniperti also came under fire from some who felt he should have handed the European Cup back after the 1-0 win.

Juventus’ goal scorer on the night Platini, meanwhile, faced criticism following his celebration after scoring from the penalty spot – the Frenchman justified playing the game by arguing that if it had not gone ahead, it “would have been the end of football.”

“For too many years these 39 victims have been subject to scorn with the sole aim of attacking the black and white colours,” the Juventus statement added.

“This is a vile action that has no place in any stadium or sporting debate. This anniversary should also serve as a period of reflection, ensuring that such behaviour is not repeated.”