Fagan steps down after Heysel tragedy

Fagan steps down after Heysel tragedy29 May 1985

No-one will ever forget the tragic events at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels on May 29, 1985.

Liverpool were playing Juventus in the European Cup final and what should have been one of the greatest nights in the club's history turned into the lowest.

Instead of leaving Brussels having seen our team lift a fifth European Cup, Liverpool supporters travelled back to England having witnessed the deaths of 38 Italians and one Belgian.

For everyone connected with the club on that tragic night it's a subject, which evokes sombre memories…

Phil Neal (LFC player 1974-85 & club captain at Heysel): "I couldn't wait to play my fifth European Cup Final for Liverpool Football Club and it turned out to be such a tragedy. It’s sickening really."

Peter Hooton (LFC fan & former lead singer of The Farm): "The reason that disaster happened was simply because of the inadequacies of the authorities."

Les Lawson (LFC fan & secretary of the Official LFC Supporters Club): "Peter Robinson had told UEFA prior to the final that the segregation wasn’t good enough, the ground wasn’t up to standard, but they didn’t listen. Basically, I feel so, so sorry for the families of the Italians who lost their lives, but it was something that could have been avoided if UEFA would have listened to Peter Robinson."

Phil Neal: "The club was in no way at fault and neither were Juventus. I often reflect and say, there was no enquiry really. I want to know who was to blame for choosing that inept, dilapidated stadium for two massive clubs playing in a European Cup final. Surely, Barcelona was available and the Bernabeu, it could've been held anywhere really but not a rundown athletics stadium?"

Liverpool had objected to the choice of ground to stage the final well before the friendly banter outside the stadium began to turn nasty inside. Aside from the fact that the stadium appeared to be crumbling, Liverpool's main concern was that there was to be a neutral section of the ground set aside for football fans from Belgium. The club argued that only Liverpool and Juventus should be allocated tickets. Setting aside a neutral area would only lead to both sets of fans being able to buy tickets off Belgium touts thus creating a dangerous mixed area. As history has since proved, this neutral area was soon filled with Italian supporters.

Peter Hooton: "Arsenal had been there a few years before and on the grapevine we'd heard from their fans that it was a dump. So everybody knew, even when we got our tickets at Anfield and we saw the X-Section crossed out, we were thinking ‘what’s that for’? I remember vividly getting my ticket – I've still got the complete ticket at home. It's got the sections X, Y, Z on it and the X-Section is felt-tip penned out. Then the rumour went around that Juventus had got half of our end. That was the first rumour, but as it transpired Juventus had a third of the end. The authorities said this section was for neutrals, but everybody knew that Brussels had a massive Italian community and that these tickets were going to end up in the hands of Juventus fans."

Phil Neal: "We had 11,000 tickets, that’s the thing that still rankles. Joe Fagan should have been given a glorious send-off, just as Bob Paisley was, with a winning climate because we were going to do our utmost to send him off in the right way. It wasn't to be, but it still hurts that underneath it all, somebody was responsible for that."

Les Lawson: "It was one of those days when, you know when you get an uneasy feeling outside the ground that something is not right? And it’s the first time ever that I've been to a match and got that feeling. Again it was a nice, hot, sunny day and I think we’d gone for a couple of days and stayed at a hotel. We left the hotel and got to the ground. We were just lying on the grass and all of a sudden you got the impression, I can’t describe the feeling, it’s like you got a shiver down your spine and basically things weren’t right that day."

Peter Hooton: "We were disgusted by the organisation, even before anything ever happened on the terracing. We were saying to people, “What’s going on? Where’s the queue?” and it was literally every person for themselves you know, you were literally having to go in, even if you had a ticket, and as you got in, you were hit with a truncheon for no apparent reason."

Les Lawson: "We felt very uneasy sitting outside the ground, as did my mates and we decided that basically, for safety, we would go into the ground. We weren’t in the main end with the Liverpool supporters, we were at the side. When we got into the ground, we expected to be able to relax because we’d be amongst Liverpool supporters. We got our tickets from Anfield, we’d travelled on the official trip with the development association and we were actually surrounded by Juventus supporters, which made us even more uneasy."

Peter Hooton: "I mean everyone I think was so wound up by the attitude of the police. I mean the lad with me, he got in and he had a gun pulled on him by one of the police! He had a ticket, but because he ducked away from being hit with over the head with the truncheon that happened. I think they were totally inexperienced, they’d had this image of English hooligans, they didn’t know how to deal with the crowd and the presumption was that everyone from England was a hooligan."

About an hour before the scheduled kick-off time tempers became frayed inside the ground, both sets of fans baited each other through a segregating fence made from chicken wire. After a sustained period of missiles raining down on the Reds end, some Liverpool fans charged at their Italian counterparts and as chaos took over, Juventus fans fled and a crush ensued. A wall blocking their escape collapsed on top of them and thirty-nine football supporters died where they fell.

Les Lawson: "I took my camera with me, which had a telephoto lens, I just intended to take some shots and I had it around my neck. I just remember panning around the ground and a kids' football match had gone on before kick off as pre-match entertainment and there was a very hostile atmosphere in there. It seemed there were more Juventus fans in the ground than Liverpool supporters. After this kids' football match had finished, I was sitting down and just panning around the ground, and I just happened to have my telephoto lens in focus on the area where the wall collapsed. I didn’t know what it was at the time and all or a sudden I just saw the puff of dust."

Peter Hooton: "I was in the section on the opposite section to the curve that collapsed, where the wall collapsed, so I wasn’t particularly an eyewitness to what started it. It just seemed to be minor scuffle and minor skirmishes, you’d seen it a hundred times before in every ground in every country. I’ll tell you what, 20 police from the Anfield Road would have sorted that out in 30 seconds and I know that for a fact."

Kenny Dalglish (LFC player 1977-90): "I can't condone the action of some Liverpool fans but it is difficult not to react when the opposing supporters are throwing missiles at you. The fact that fatalities might result wouldn't have occurred to the Liverpool fans when they ran across. If you have been pelted by stones the year before, and suffered badly, you are not going to accept it again. That's how the trouble started."

For Liverpool manager Joe Fagan, who was set to step down as Anfield boss at the end of the season, this was a nightmare end to a glorious career with the Reds.

Phil Neal: "Joe Fagan had gone to address the fans and they suggested that I did as well, so about an hour later I made my way to the podium with a body guard at my side, being spat on. I had to walk up to the tannoy which was up the other end where the Italians were and it wasn’t the best of passages to make your way through, particularly when you’ve got a Liverpool tracksuit on. I remember the UEFA official handing me a statement and telling me to read it. I looked at it and thought 'Nah, I’m not having that, I’m going to say what I feel from the heart.' So I did do, I screwed it up and threw it on the floor and just appealed to our fans for calm."

Later that night, Juventus won the European Cup 1-0, courtesy of a debatable penalty by Michel Platini. Not that anyone really cared. It was a match nobody wants to remember.

Peter Hooton: "Even after the wall collapsed, and the match was being played, it was surreal because there were still horses charging round the outer perimeter of the pitch and the Juventus fans came from the other end. When you see footage of Heysel you always see the Juventus fans and that was at the other end, with poles and various objects, and they tried to charge up towards the Liverpool fans. God only knows what would have happened if they were successful and got to the Liverpool end; there probably would have been more fatalities but I remember thinking, 'we're at the European Cup final and this is a joke'. Even though we didn’t think and we didn’t know anyone had died I just thought, 'this is a shambles'.

Ian Rush (LFC player 1980-86 & 1988-96): "After what had happened the match was always going to be a non-event. I think we had a definite penalty when Ronnie Whelan got brought down and they scored a penalty, which was outside the box. But that’s all irrelevant really to what happened over there. Ask who played in that game, even speak to the Juventus players who played in that game - it wasn’t like a Cup final, it was just a game. It was like 'Let's get it over with and see that our families are okay and that everyone else is okay'."

Phil Neal: "We were told we had to play but I think on reflection, it would have been better to call the game off. Even if you null and void the winners, I don’t care, I think it would have been a better decision to have called that game completely off."

It was not until the next morning that the true extent of the tragedy really hit home.

Kenny Dalglish: "We saw the Italian fans crying, and they were banging on the side of our bus when we left the hotel. When we left Brussels, the Italians were angry, understandably so – 39 of their friends had died. We needed a lot of police to protect the bus. I remember one Italian man, who had his face right up against the window where I was sitting. He was crying and screaming. You feel for anybody who loses someone in those circumstances."

Peter Robinson (LFC Chief Executive at the time): "It's a horror story that one has to live with."

Les Lawson: "I just wish it had never happened. All you can say is that you feel so, so sorry for the people who lost their lives and their families that they left behind."

Ian Rush: "We've got to remember these things, we've got to learn from them and make sure that they never happen again."

Kenny Dalglish: "You go along to watch a game. You don't go along expecting that sort of ending, do you? Football's not that important. No game of football is worth that. Everything else pales into insignificance. Juventus fans should not have been throwing stones. Liverpool fans should not have reacted the way they did. Yet neither set of supporters could have anticipated the terrible outcome. If they had foreseen the dreadful consequences, or thought what terrible things might unfold, I'm sure the stones would never have been thrown by the Italians and that the English retaliation would never have occurred. Every single one of them, both Italian and English, must have regretted it. I'm sure they still do now."

May 29 will forever be a day of remembrance for both Juventus and Liverpool supporters. Think for a minute about those who lost their lives at Heysel and pray it never happens again.