25 years ago today, 39 people perished when a wall separating Liverpool and Juventus supporters collapsed at Brussels’ Heysel Stadium just prior to the start of the 1985 European Cup Final. In the aftermath of the match — won by Juve on a Michael Plantini penalty kick — English clubs were banned from UEFA competitions for 5 years. Though Liverpool have long acknowledged their fans’ role in the disaster (events were held to commemorate the event on Merseyside earlier this week), When Saturday Comes’ Matthew Barker writes, “Juventus always appeared a touch uneasy remembering the tragedy.”
Juventus have always played down any calls that the club should return the 1985 trophy in deference to the dead. Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome and ex-leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, has written a theatrical monologue, recently published as a book. When the Acrobat Falls, Enter the Clowns takes its name from Platini’s acerbic phrase, used as explanation to journalists after the game for his celebrations on scoring from the penalty spot, and the team’s lap of honour at the final whistle. Arguing about the past, or moral point-scoring over Juve’s lack of judgement in treating the tragedy as little more than an unfortunate backdrop to their first European Cup win, is irrelevant now. In the words of Veltroni, such quarrels are “sterile and stupid… the problem isn’t the cup, but the memory of that night, which we need to conserve to avoid repeating”.
The anniversary comes at a time when the much-maligned tessera ID card for travelling away supporters has once again stirred up controversy, with Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi forced to apologise after suggesting that the police should also be subject to similar scrutiny and control. The lingering bitter irony, that English football was quick to learn the lessons of Heysel, while the game in Italy remains troubled and in a confused state of flux, will hang heavy over today’s ceremonies.