It is always right to remember the lives of those who have gone before us, and to honour their memory. Liverpool FC and its supporters do this with great dignity in relation to the deaths of their fans in Sheffield.
But I fear that in Britain, the country where I live, we do treat disasters and deaths involving our own citizens differently from the deaths that our citizens cause on those from other countries – and it is something that I personally always find disturbing. Perhaps it happens everywhere – but if so, that does not make it any more acceptable.
So I personally feel that it is right to remember the Heysel Stadium riot and indeed not to sanitise it by calling it the Heysel Disaster as is often the case. The events resulted in the death of 39 people with a further 600 injured. Most were fans of Juventus.
This is not an Arsenal issue of course, but I hope you will forgive me if I comment on Heysel, because I know that while so many sites in the UK commented on Hillsborough, few will even notice that it is the anniversary of Heysel.
The riot occured before the 1985 European Cup Final held in the Heysel Stadium, Brussels. As Wikipedia says, quite rightly, it was “one of the worst cases of football hooliganism in European and world football.”
An hour before the start of the game a group of Liverpool supporters climbed a fence and charged at and then attacked the Juve fans. The Juventus fans retreated, and the resultant crush of fearful people on a retaining wall led to the deaths and injuries.
The game was then played – UEFA’s later explanation for this being that they feared further trouble if they canceled the match.
English clubs were subsequently forced to withdraw from European football by the British government (something which UEFA later rubber stamped), and UEFA banned Liverpool from all European competitions for what some authorities note as “a further one year” but which I recall as “three years”. Either way it is academic. When the ban was lifted by the British government, Liverpool appealed against their extra ban, and it was never imposed.
It is clear that the Liverpool supporters were to blame for starting the stampede, just as it is clear that UEFA should never have used such an old stadium for a game involving an English club at a time when the supporters of some clubs in England were notorious across Europe. That the UEFA officials who made the decision were allowed to continue in their posts after the riot reveals the corruption and utter disregard for all human values within that organisation. That Liverpool as a club were never punished beyond the punishment handed out to all English teams speaks volumes about the vision of football in England.
In some areas we have progressed. The problems we find in grounds now are small and are generally dealt with quickly – the Everton match was the only one I have seen at the Ems that had much by way of a problem, and that was very minor indeed compared to what we saw 20 years or more ago.
But in some areas – such as the organisation of international football affairs there has been little or no progress. In this regard UEFA will always be held in as much contempt as those Liverpool supporters involved in the riot.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
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