To understand the Heysel tragedy, it is important to keep in mind the division of the fans in the stadium. That Juventus player had been concentrated in the curve on the right with respect to the central grandstand. It was divided into three sectors called O, M and N. Same division for the other curve but different concentrations. English and Liverpool fans had been put in sectors Y and X, of course, but also some Headhunters, Chelsea’s head hunters, a particularly violent hooligan fringe.
In the last sector, to complete the curve, a kind of neutral zone, sector Z. The tickets were not part of the organized cheering package, they were available to those who managed to buy them. Friends, parents and children, emigrant relatives from many countries, simple tourists of the great football, found themselves in this sector weak due to construction. The game was scheduled at 8.15pm. It was a day like these in late May, when the days are the longest of the year. There was good air around and a sky that never turned into night.
Everything happened less clearly than it seemed later, when the tragedy became cold and covered every emotion. I was in a place in the press gallery located between the penalty area and the midfield, on the left side of the stadium, about thirty meters from the sector Z that made the corner with our grandstand. Between us and them an empty segment, an open space as a border between the two sectors. It was around 7.20pm when we began to see turmoil in the English corners. They attached themselves to the barrier nets and pushed to throw them down. It was in general distraction, between the chatter of a normal stadium before a big game. There is always a fight. There is always a madman. If they exaggerate, the police will arrive. So everyone continued his wait. At Heysel there were three of the same newspaper, me, Gianni Brera and Fabrizio Bocca, correspondents from Republic. Fabrizio and I, as young colleagues, had just finished arranging Brera’s workplace. And we started looking around. What struck us was the anger, the violence of the British in wanting to break through the barriers. It was not clear why, what was the purpose, only the search for a wrong fight.
Before Heysel (and after). When football is no longer a game: 12 stadium tragedies
Before Heysel (and after)
That wasn’t a Juventus curve, it was a mostly Italian curve, but full of people who worked abroad and met in Brussels, in an inexpensive place in that stadium. Normal people, amazed boys, fathers and uncles proud to amaze them. After about ten minutes the nets began to give way, the British fans expanded into sector Z and invaded him strongly. This forced his small people to look for a precipitous, already desperate, escape route. Many tried to break through the fences that closed the field, barbed wires above steel gates. Do you see dozens pushed from behind that were going to open the chest on the thorns of the fence.
Fabrizio and I began to understand, but most people looked at it as if it were cinema. She didn’t realize, it was a confused, foreign battle, we rejected her out of habit to live it. Then we saw the wall that closed the Zeta sector give way. Hundreds of people had come up against him like a wave too strong. Dozens of them fell against the wall, one on top of the other, in an emptiness of about twenty meters. From the stadium I saw that cluster of bodies disappear into thin air, we didn’t understand the consequences. But even at that moment, I swear, it still looked like a stadium stunt. We were so used to the brawls and sacredness of the event that everything still seemed marginal. Fabrizio Bocca made the first check. He was and remains an old big boy, a sure soldier. But when he returned to my seat he had a green face. He had counted over thirty deaths.
I called the newspaper, it wasn’t easy. Cell phones did not exist and the lines were clogging. I spoke to the central editor, his name was Franco Magagnini, he was a tough Livorno, born for moments like that. He told me Boja d, Sconcertino, don’t worry and take a good look at the stadium. Let’s look at it together. Are you sure of what you say? I am closing the newspaper, I don’t want youthful emotions to break my balls. I just tell you, breathe, check and call me back as soon as you can. Go back to look at the field. From the O-M-N curves the Juventus fans had seen and understood by now. They were entering as they could on the field to take revenge on the British.
Suddenly the Belgian police horse battalion stationed one kilometer from the stadium entered the field. The all against all began. There were unreal, timeless clashes between flags and uniforms, spearmen and pedestrians, unknown, improper opponents. Many in the stands continued to watch the clock. It was what told the gravity of the evening. It was eight o’clock, fifteen minutes left before the game started and there hadn’t been a minimum of preparation, no warm-up of the teams, nor a clue of ceremonial. So it was all true. We were experiencing a tragedy.
I called Magagnini back, this time he was satisfied. It made me feel comfortable. Don’t worry, I redo the newspaper, organize as many pieces as you can, you have the first six pages of the leaflet. Normal today. Back then, thirty-five years ago, Culture was still on the third page. In all this Brera had remained in his impassive place. Too much. I had known him for years. When he didn’t move a muscle, he was undergoing his thoughts. He too was shaken. We were more than live, it was happening too. I asked him what piece he wanted to do. He told me he had come to write the game and that he would do. I said, Gianni, maybe they don’t even play the game and very bad things have happened. We need you. Navarro replied, sorry, but I am writing the game. If they don’t play it, I don’t write. It was absurd, I closed there.
It was the first and last time that Brera let me down. The loudspeaker announced that the game would begin a few minutes later and that no one could move from their seat nor leave the stadium. The times and ways to leave would have been dictated by the authorities after the end of the game. I remember my throat closed. I didn’t want obligations, they suffocated me. In the afternoon, going out of the room, I was locked in the elevator for twenty minutes with a Swedish journalist. I had panicked. I remember that while I had my eyes fixed on the field and the head that frightened itself, a colleague, perhaps Beccantini, asked me for a cigarette. I think changing my gesture saved me, the bad light went out. I went back into the stadium.
ZDF, German television, stopped broadcasting. ORF, Austrian television, sent the game with this inscription underneath: This one we are broadcasting not a sporting event, but a broadcast aimed at avoiding massacres. We were all amazed when we really saw the teams enter the field. Nobody had been warned of anything. There was a smell of death and lies, but we were all convinced that the best thing was to get away from Heysel as soon as possible and without arguing with anyone. We watch the game and run away from here. We also knew that the players knew little about what had happened. There was never anything really clear in that hour.
Reality also seemed fake, like a cinema hit. Bruno Pizzul warned the viewers that he would make a commentary without sports emphasis. Boniek was put one meter off Liverpool’s penalty area in the second half. Platini scored a penalty that was not there. There were stifled signs of enthusiasm. The long controversy over the cup that was dripping blood begins. Boniperti was immediately the most realistic. We paid for it, we won it. our. I think in summary he was right. But there was no game. Seeing her now takes away the doubt. The rhythms, the tackles, were those of an Alpine friendly. In the end, Juventus players celebrated with sector M, the heart of their curve at Heysel. Boniek then said that he didn’t want to play and gave up the game prize. Tardelli apologized publicly. Brera wrote twenty lines about the race. Eighteen days later, UEFA decided to indefinitely disqualify the English teams from the European Cups. They were readmitted only in 1990. English and Italian fans returned to shake hands in the summer of that same year, in Bari, during the final for third place in the World Cup. In 2000, at the Europeans played in the Netherlands, we played twice at Heysel, now renamed King Baudouin Stadium. Italy was prevented from playing with mourning in the arm. Maldini as captain and Conte as Juventus player, wore a crown under the old sector Zeta. Each blue took the field to listen to the hymn with a flower in his hand.
39 people died at Heysel: 32 Italians, 4 Belgians, 2 French and one Irish. Andrea Casula of Cagliari was ten years old.
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