Brussels: Family members and fans gathered at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels on Friday in a solemn and emotional tribute to the 39 football fans who died in the disaster there 30 years ago.
Wreaths were laid and balloons released into the air in memory of those who perished in a crush ahead of the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool on May 29, 1985. A deadly cocktail of drunken Liverpool fans on the rampage, bad policing and a dilapidated stadium led to the deaths of the 39 mostly Juventus supporters after a wall collapsed on them.
"It's very important to be here in memory of all of the victims, but especially my father," said Rebecca Elsens, a Belgian woman whose father Jacques FranÃ§ois was killed in the disaster. "We are reliving very difficult moments. Time passes but we don't forget," she said.
The Italian and British ambassadors to Belgium laid floral wreaths by a plaque with the victims' names on the Z stand of the stadium, which has since been renamed the Roi Baudoin stadium.
A minute's silence was then observed before the deputy mayor of Brussels, Alain Courtois, read out the names of the dead and launched white balloons into the cloudy sky of the Belgian capital. Black and white banners of the Turin side were also laid out at the stadium while several family members were in tears. "I feel the same emotion that I did 30 years ago in 1985," former Juventus player Sergio Brio told AFP at the ceremony.
"We must honour the memory of the 39 victims, think of their families, their friends. That's why this date will always be commemorated." - 'Never again' - The match had been billed as the "final of the century" between two of the great European sides of the Eighties but it ended in tragedy after Liverpool fans rioted.
Fourteen Liverpool supporters were eventually found guilty of manslaughter and were sentenced to three years jail after the disaster, while English football clubs were banned from European football for years afterwards.
The deadly crush also raised questions about why the match had been played at the dilapidated stadium, where piles of rubble had been left that were later used by the hooligans. However it has sometimes been described as football's "forgotten tragedy" because of the more well-known Hillsborough disaster four years later in which 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death.
UEFA president Michel Platini, the former French midfielder who was playing in the Juventus side, said he was still haunted by memories of the day at Heysel. "Thirty years ago, I played in a European Champion Clubs' Cup final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
And I continue to play in that final," the 59-year-old said in a statement "It hasn't left me, just like it hasn't left anyone else who was there that night. It remains with all those who lost a loved one, for whom everything changed in a few terrible minutes." Platini's second-half penalty sealed Juventus' 1-0 victory, but the result was completely overshadowed by the disaster.
Platini said that in his UEFA role he was now working to "ensure that that we will never again experience the horror of such a night." Elsens, the Belgian woman whose father was killed, warned however that the scourge of football hooliganism had not yet been eliminated. "It's not that you should ban football, it's what's around it that is the problem.
We must emphasise prevention. Efforts have been made. Unfortunately there is still some way to go," she said. Heysel itself faces a movement for its demolition and the construction of a new stadium nearby. "I will always have terrible memories.
For several years I couldn't go back to the stadium," added Dominico di Bernardi, a Juve supporter who was in the stands for the match, as he fixed a sign saying "Lest we forget" to the stadium railings. "But the love of football and The Old Lady (the nickname for Juventus) is so important for me," he added, clearly moved.