Imagine going to a stadium for a match and never return. Thirty one years ago on May 29, thousands football fans travelled to Belgium for European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium. Thirty-nine of them never returned.
Francesco Caremani’s book ‘Heysel: The Truth’ deals head on with one of world football’s darkest, and the most forgotten, episode. The book highlights the issue in a manner which no one has dared to – laying bare the truth behind the ghastly incident with extensive research, detailed interviews and chronicling the events leading up to the incident that has largely been ignored by the football world.The match between Juventus and Liverpool was one for the ages, with both clubs boasting of some of the finest players the game has seen. There was a clamour for tickets as fans, not just of the two clubs but also the neutrals, hoped to watch these great players in flesh and blood.
Caremani’s book notes the concerns over the venue. The Heysel Stadium in Belgium wasn’t a preferred choice to host the final and both clubs were uncomfortable with its poor condition. The UEFA, European football’s governing body, still chose to go ahead as planned.
An hour before the kick-off, at around 7pm, trouble started to brew in Zone Z of the stadium. It was the neutral section of the terrace and was seperated from other areas only by a thin wire. Some Liverpool fans started to charge towards their Juventus counterparts in that stand after breaking through the fence.
The Juventus fans tried to escape but their way was blocked by a concrete wall at the side of the terrace. Not able to sustain the force, the wall collapsed, resulting in many fans getting crushed. Soon, the violence spread to other parts of the ground as Juventus fans in the opposite stand began to riot and confront the Liverpool supporters.
At the end of those ghastly couple of hours, 39 supporters had lost their lives and roughly 600 were injured. Despite the unimaginable tragedy that had just unfolded in the stands – and with the corpses still lying in the car park – the authorities decided to go ahead with the final. It is considered to be one of the most insensitive decisions in sport.
Among those who died in Heysel was Roberto Lorentini, then 31, a doctor from Arezzo, Tuscany. Roberto tried saving lives of those in the terrace but in bargain, sacrificed his own. His father Otello led a campaign demanding justice. And it was Otello who urged Caremani, who was 15 at the time of the Heysel tragedy, to write the book. Roberto and Caremani’s father worked together and had forged a very close relationship. Otello wanted Caremani, a journalist, to write the truth – and that is exactly what we get.
It’s an emotionally stirring read. Caremani carefully presents each aspect of the incident. But at the same time, the insensitivity and denial on the part of the organisers – and even at Juventus – is enraging. Caremani writes in his book that Otello never got over the way Juventus players, club officials and supporters celebrated their first European Cup win. “There are no excuses or sociological theories to support such behaviour; shame is the only fitting response,” he notes, while describing the celebration of Michel Platini’s goal and subsequent title as if nothing had happened.
It also highlights the awkward relationship between the club and relatives of those who died that evening. Juventus, one of the most decorated Italian clubs, does not like to speak about the it even though their supporters formed majority of those who died.
And even though there was reluctance on UEFA’s part to acknowledge what had happened that night, the incident – and the subsequent revelations of the truth via this book – forced them to put in place sufficient security and crowd management systems in place for the matches.
But lapses continue to exist – last week’s crowd trouble during the Euro 2016 match between Russia and England was an ugly reminder. In India’s context to, the book is of particular significance as crowd management and safety measures at sports venues remain a major concern. The book is important even in that sense.
As Caremani writes in the author’s note, “This is a book nobody should have to write.” Indeed. But this is an important piece of work. For, nobody should go to a stadium and not return.
Heysel: The Truth
Author: Francesco Caremani (Translated to English by Valentina Iacoponi)
Publisher: Bradipolibri Editore
Length: 220 pages
The paperback and kindle version of this book are available on Amazon