By Walter Broeckx
I remember the day that Belgium had it’s greatest tragedy in football history very well. I know it was a very bright and sunny day. As I worked in the office of an industrial laundry at that time and we had a lot of hotels in Brussels as clients we had a busy period in business.
Our truck drivers went out early as the police had warned of a lot of traffic problems in and around Brussels and the football stadium. When they came back they told me lot of story’s about how the streets were full of football fans of both teams and that with the lovely weather and the sunshine it all looked rather very friendly.
At some of our clients hotels there were fans from both teams who sat together, eat and drank together. Nothing pointed at the tragedy that was about to happen.
So when I came home after work I was rather interested on how the game would go. Our TV stations had been building it up and at that time Liverpool – Juventus was what Arsenal – Barcelona is today for the neutral football fan.
So I sat in front of my TV as the news began and right after the news they would go to the Heysel stadium to give live coverage of the game. From the moment the news started you could see at the journalists face that there was something wrong. Now you must know that in those days live coverage was not the same as it is now. An average PL game has now maybe over 10 camera’s but in those days communication was not what it is now. So the first thing they said was that there was some trouble inside the stadium.
They didn’t know just what was wrong but it seemed that the Liverpool fans had attacked a zone where there should have been neutral fans. But as Belgium has many people from Italian origin the neutral zone was full with ItaloBelges as they are called in Brussels. The real Italian fans where situated on the other side of the stadium.
So in the neutral fan zone there were a lot of fathers with their sons to enjoy what should have been a great evening off football between the biggest club in England at that time and the biggest club in Italy at that time. To make the point, the fans in that zone only came to see some football and when they were attacked by the Liverpool fans they did what fathers do when they want to protect their children : they ran away from the fighting.
That natural reflex became a disaster because all those thousands of people ran in to each other, they crushed each other to death and when the side wall of the stand collapsed under the pressure of thousands scared people fighting for survival the Heysel tragedy was born.
I have seen different TV programs where they have investigated what went wrong, who was to blame. I have seen the horror unfold many times on my TV and I must say I always sleep bad after such a programme.
What is the general conclusion after all this and who was responsible for the tragedy? I will try to give an answer on how people looked at it in Belgium. The general conclusion over here is that there were many responsible and I will try to sum them up, not in order of more or less guilty but in random order:
- The Belgian FA and Uefa: They had planned the final in an older stadium that was not fit for a final. Also they had not thought deeply about the zones they had given to each club and certainly not about a “neutral zone” near one of the real fan zones.
- The Belgian FA and our Ministry of Internal affairs (responsible for public safety): They also had not thought about the fact that many ItaloBelges would come to this game and would be located right next to the Liverpool fans. Hooliganism was a real issue still in those days so they should have thought about the danger of getting two sets of fans next to each other with only a thin wire fence between.
- The Ministry of Internal affairs and the police at the Heysel stadium: From the moment that it was clear that there would be a lot of ItaloBelges right next to the Liverpool fans they should have acted and should have put policeman in the ground between those fans. There was a massive police force outside the stadium but only a few between the neutral zone and the Liverpool fans. This was a terrible mistake. The police should have prevented the attack by standing between the 2 zones.
- The Liverpool fans : why oh why do you have to attack other fans ? I’m not the person to blame every Liverpool fan for this but I really hope that some of those who attacked that neutral fan zone later died in the Hillsborough disaster and died the same dreadful death they gave those people in the Heysel stadium. Those who know me a bit, know that in the Emirates I shout, I scream, I yell, I do what any passionate fan does but when it comes to attacking someone I say : NO, NEVER! This is a line no decent fan should ever cross. If you get attacked and you defend yourself, okay to me but you do not attack other people just for the fun of it.
That day will remain a black day in football history in Europe and in Belgium. My father for example didn’t bother to look at live football any more after that. He completely lost interest in the game because of that dreadful evening in the Heysel.
As a result the English clubs got banned from European football for some years and Belgium was not allowed to organise another European final. This period only ended with the organisation of the EC in 2000 in fact.
Maybe the Belgian authorities were fooled by the excellent behaviour from the Arsenal fans a few years earlier when the played the European Cup final in the same stadium and lost after penalties. We showed in that game how to support your team without attacking other fans, we even took defeat with some class. Hard to swallow but with dignity and giving the club a reason to be proud of their fans.
Who could have predicted that only some 5 years later that same Heysel stadium would change into a tomb for so many innocent football fans. There is still blood on the hands of some organisations, some public persons and some fans. Most of them went on with their lives unpunished. People who lost beloved ones will suffer from their incompetence and from some persons violent behaviour.
May the deadly victims rest in peace and may the responsible persons be haunted and feel guilty until their last day. It will be the only punishment they have to face in this live.