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1984 AND 1985 EUROPEAN CUP FINALS
END OF THE INNOCENCEFootballEditorofTheTimes—andlifelongRed—TonyEvanslooksatthetwoinfamousEuropeanCupfinalsthatchangedLiverpoolfansforever
IT had to happen one day, but no one was prepared for it on March 18, 2005. At the quarterfinal draw, Liverpool came out first and then Juventus.
Twenty years on from Heysel and the 39 deaths at that European Cup final, the two sides were facing each other for the first time.
How the teams could have failed to engineer a match before, to find some level of rapprochement, seems ludicrous but no one wanted to think about what happened in Brussels two decades earlier – not Uefa, the clubs or their fans.
The only people who kept what happened to the forefront of their minds were the families of the dead, who had been fighting for recognition and justice to no avail.
In 1985, there were a few attempts by the people of Liverpool to reach out to Turin. Peter Hooton was instrumental in bringing over a group of young Italians to the city, where they were treated to a cruise on the Mersey, with John Peel as disc jockey and The Farm performing live.
The crowd was emotional and keen to put the youngsters from Piedmont at ease. However, it was a night of outstanding drunkenness and featured the sort of shenanigans that sent Peel back to London shaking his head in amazement.
There was no violence, but the inebriated abandon probably confirmed every prejudice the Turin teenagers had against Scousers. Others tried to build bridges, too, but without the clubs involved, it was an uphill task.
Otello Lorentini, whose son Roberto died at Heysel, had long campaigned for the clubs to play a friendly match in tribute to those killed.
Roberto was a doctor and was giving one of the injured mouth-to-mouth
Riot police on the Heysel pitch, 1985
resuscitation when the wall collapsed and the tumble of brickwork and people came smashing down. Like the other 38, Roberto had been forgotten by the world at large.
Most of us had reached an accord with ourselves over the years. It was easy to rationalise for Liverpool supporters. The fault lay with Uefa for scheduling such a big game in a stadium that was so transparently ill-equipped to hold it. A wall collapsed.
If the wall had done its job, no one would be dead and the past 20 years would have been very different.
It had been said a million times on Merseyside and any debate ended with a shrug. The twentieth anniversary was due in May, at the end of Champions League final week, so there had been some stirrings of regret and remembrance, but it was hard to think too much about Heysel before April 15, when we had our own disaster to mourn.
Now the draw had left us with no choice. Heysel had emerged from a collective memory lapse but, if fate and Uefa had kept Liverpool and Juventus apart, most people would have been happy to ignore the issue for another 20 years.
It was time to face up to the past. But before we got to Brussels, or Turin, there was Rome. In this place of so many historic events, what happened to us in the Eternal City changed the nature of Liverpool’s support in Europe and had consequences that were still rumbling on in Istanbul.
Rome has never been a centre of football power. Before 1980, Lazio and AS Roma, the city’s largest clubs, had won the domestic title just once each.
So it was unfortunate that the
30 FAR FOREIGN LAND
Heysel Stadium, Brussels
European Cup final should be scheduled for Rome’s Olympic Stadium in 1984, the year after Roma won the league and qualified for the competition. Playing such a huge game at a team’s home stadium should not have been allowed to happen, but Uefa has never shown the greatest ability to apply common sense.
Even today, the risk of a similar situation occurring is taken almost every year. The inevitable happened in 1984 and Roma reached the final, along with Liverpool.
Uefa probably thought it was entirely in keeping with the city’s reputation for throwing people to the lions.
The headlines in the Roman papers said: ‘The Barbarians are coming,’ which was worrying. A riot when tickets went on sale at the Olympic stadium increased the sense of foreboding and barely more than 8,000 fans travelled to Italy to support Liverpool.
More than 25,000 had made their way to the city seven years earlier when it was a neutral venue and headed off home flushed with victory and the praise of the local police and politicians.
This was a special place for Liverpool fans, the stadium where the greatest feat in the history of the club had been achieved. All fondness for the city itself would evaporate on one terrifying night.
From the moment we landed at a small airport some way from the city it
“Often at away games there were expansive rumours of stabbings. But these came from the proto-hooligans. This time they came from reputable sources”
was clear that it was going to be a long and difficult day.
Paramilitary police in combat fatigues and riot gear met us and loaded us onto buses. Those who were hoping to see the Sistine Chapel complained until they saw the reception we got on the ring road.
Carloads of youths in cloth-topped Fiats shadowed the coaches, pulling alongside while an occupant popped up through the roof to fire a flare or hurl a brick at the bus – all at motorway speed.
Burgundy and yellow flags were everywhere in the blocks of flats that sit on the seven hills and there was a clear feeling that the result was a formality.
Liverpool could not win. We were taken to a disused funfair and kept there under armed guard for most of the afternoon.
So we sat and drank beer. Bored, we decided to see if it was possible to get away and see some of the sights. The carabinieri were surprisingly amenable to us leaving. ‘Wanna go the Vatican, mate,’ I said, blessing myself. The policeman pointed up the street.
After two steps, we were going no farther. In the direction the man had indicated stood a huge mob of Roma fans, who immediately became alert when we came into sight. We went back into the funfair. I blessed myself again, indicating that I was praising the Lord for seeing me through the valley of the shadow of death. The policeman smirked. He understood.
We arrived at the ground 90 minutes before kick-off and what we found in the streets around the stadium unsettled us even more. They were deserted. Only Scousers wandered about, but what they had to say was unpleasant.
There had been much trouble in the tourist areas, with gangs of locals on scooters chasing down small groups or stragglers among the Liverpool fans and slashing them as they passed.
Often, at away games, there were expansive rumours about stabbings and beatings but they almost always came from the proto-hooligans. Here, they were coming from reputable sources.
We found a bar, not far from the stadium and had a final drink in the beer garden. There, we relaxed.
Despite the pastoral setting, it was like the Yankee. As we walked in, ‘I am a Liverpudlian’ started. Hands on hearts, we joined the thrilling, discordant cacophony and the worries evaporated temporarily. Not everyone was happy though. A ‘Munich’ song began, mocking the 1958 air disaster that killed seven Manchester United players and a number of others after a botched takeoff in Bavaria.
A middle-aged man with a Lancashire accent came out of the bar and called all the singers ‘scum’ before quickly disappearing to catcalls.
It just made everyone laugh. The songs were funny, we thought, and we hated United.
That vignette sums up the era. The song, repugnant and offensive as it is, was chanted in a setting where it was extremely unlikely to lead to confrontation.
For those outside the small world of ordinary trains and the Yankee, it enhanced the image of violent, unpleasant hooliganism in action.
The singers liked to be viewed this way – outside the law, at odds with society. It felt good to be outlaws, even