May 29, 1985, the Heysel tragedy. But it could even have been an Apocalypse

On 29 May 1985, at the Heysel in Brussels, Juventus-Liverpool was scheduled. The Champions League final, one of the best shows of the football season. That date, however, will be remembered forever not for Platini’s penalty, but for what happens in the stands. All hell, with thirty-nine deaths: thirty-two Italians, four Belgians, two French and a Northern Irishman die following the scuffles, while six hundred are injured.

Juventus are sixth in Serie A, while Liverpool are defending champions, after having beaten Roma twelve months earlier, at the Olimpico, with Grobelaar’s ballets. Heysel, on the other hand, is an old, dilapidated stadium, which hosted finals in 1958, 1966 and 1975, while at the 1972 European Championships there was a renovation not suitable for creating escape routes. The walls are old, the rubble is falling. There are sixty thousand tickets for the event, while the demand is much greater. Many Italians, with UEFA allocating sector Z to those who do not belong to organized groups: in times of ultras it is a suicidal move, the choice is contested by the clubs but whoever decides does not listen to reason.

Many fans enter Heysel without tickets, some Chelsea ultras who have infiltrated. At 7.20pm all hell breaks loose, the net dividing the English fans is inadequate, on the other side of sector Z – where the neutrals are – there is the wall. It’s an announced mousetrap, with the charges of the Liverpool ultras wanting to take the curve, while the police try to act as a separation cordon. So everyone is looking for escape routes. Impossible to get out from above, entering the field is not possible because the agents are using truncheons. So everyone crowds towards the row of sector Z, with someone jumping out. At a certain point, the wall no longer holds and collapses. Many are crushed and some die trampled by other fans. The police battalion arrived more than half an hour later, once the disaster was over.

On the pitch, the match was still played an hour and twenty-five minutes late. A bloody cup. Nobody wanted to play, but UEFA and the Belgian authorities forced both teams, because the opt-out effect would have led to further riots. Because whoever was on the other end of the system couldn’t perceive the problem. The risk of “an apocalypse”, as Boniperti later explained, would have been too great.