They were young. They were old and innocent, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Federico Caremani’s account of the Heysel disaster is an uncomfortable read, one he admits that ‘nobody should have to write’, but it is a necessary one if we are to piece together the truth that unites supporters of all colours.
Through tears, autopsies, and post-mortems, Caremani returns to the scene of the crime, where a football game continued as hell unfolded in one section of a stadium that was never fit to host the European Cup.
It was agreed that allowing the game to play out was the right thing to do, with the fear being that had the game been abandoned, the magnitude of the tragedy would have been far worse. Michel Platini said: ‘At the circus, when the acrobat falls, the clowns enter the ring.’
It was the final that had no winners. The record books will say a penalty by Platini decided the game, but Juventus supporters are to this day ashamed that they can call the 1985 title theirs. Caremani writes: ‘There can’t be a trophy, a cup, or a victory with 39 lives lost.’
In truth, it belonged in the hands of the dark and distant past when fanatical, drunken hooliganism reigned across Europe, when guns, scissors, knives and rocket pistols accompanied keys and match tickets in morning memos.
Caremani wanted to remind us of an immense wound in his version of the events that fateful day on May 29, in his revised memoirs published earlier this month, 30 years after the Brussels tragedy.
The account is all the more poignant given Caremani’s family connection with Roberto Lorentini, the doctor who perished in the act of trying to save one of the 39 casualties in Block Z.
His father Othello, who Caremani describes as the book’s actual narrator, had been a close friend with his own, both of whom were present in Belgium.
After the tragedy, Lorentini became head and founder of the Association for the families of Brussels victims – and this is the only book on the tragedy that has received the full approval from the families affected.
As Andrea Lorentini, the son of Roberto, mentions in his introductory note, the book is designed not so much as a reminder of where the blame lies – of the lack of police intervention or solidarity found among non-Juventus supporters and the press both in England and Italy – as it is to ‘facilitate an awareness, so that tragedies, such as that in Brussels will not be repeated’.
The pocket of the now renamed King Baudouin stadium, the ‘fatal, lethal trap’ as Caremani recalls, was officially designated to Juventus supporters, gatecrashed by unruly Liverpool hooligans, which caused a crush as the bianconeri scampered for the narrow exits four feet wide; which caused the wall to fall, killing 39 and inflicting injuries on dozens more.
Reopening the wounds of one of football’s darkest days is not Caremani’s intention. The pain and suffering of the families who lost their loved ones at a football match is one that only those involved can truly quantify.
But, as with the Liverpudlian families of the Hillsborough disaster four years later have continued to fight for justice, their Italian counterparts are still looking for accountability, still searching for answers to a forgotten trial.
Why have only a handful of Liverpool perpetrators and only a select few of the Belgian authorities been brought to justice?
Why did UEFA persist with using a stadium for a cup final that would never have been able to house two of the biggest clubs in Europe?
Why were Liverpool allocated two thirds of the stadium?
These are questions that Caremani poses and attempts to answer through personal accounts over the course of 200-odd pages.
‘What happened was avoidable. It could have been avoided. It should have been avoided.’ The words in the opening paragraph to Roberto Beccantini’s foreword sets the tone to a moving, updated edition that is dedicated by Caremani to ‘the 39 who died at Heysel, to keep their memory alive.’
The first book was published in 2003, but despite the passing of years, Beccantini argues that nothing has changed: Italian football has stagnated while the rest of Europe has advanced, has moved both with technology and cultural nuances.
He uses the example of Mario Balotelli, the Liverpool and Italian striker, who struggles for national acceptance due to the colour of his skin, but the latest match fixing scandal lays testament to the slightly archaic landscape that scorches the country.
The quest for the truth is 30 years along a sullied path, neglected by sections of the media, and society at large, but this aims to spurn the indecent temptation to let bygones be bygones.
European success was something that bound the two clubs prior to Heysel. The tragedies since have only served to make these ties stronger, as shown by the goodwill in 2005 when the two met in a Champions League fixture.
Juventus will once more be in a Champions League final next week, as the Old Lady bid for more European glory against Barcelona in Berlin, at a state-of-the-art stadium in Germany’s capital fit for a World Cup final in 2006, and an apt setting for another game of high risk and high reward.
There is no romance in this tale, only suffering, but if solace can be found this week, it is in the knowledge that football has never been the same since that day in Heysel. The sport has been reshaped, as stadiums such as the one in Berlin were born out of the safety standards set by UEFA as a result of collective outrage.
‘Heysel, The Truth’ is an essential read for all football supporters either oblivious to a deliberate tragedy or manipulated by attempts to bury the past.
To truly appreciate the sport we all hold so dear to us, and that continues to represent a common thread that penetrates social boundaries, Caremani returns to the Belgian inefficiency, UEFA mismanagement and the vile opportunism that has tarnished the sport ever since.
Some people say that football died that day. Liverpool, and all English teams, were banned from European competition for five years after the horror, but the actions of those supporters who turned a football stadium into a slaughter house have left memories that are exercised in these pages, as Caremani chronicles the legal action taken by the victims and lights a candle for the young, old and innocent who perished thirty years ago.
‘Heysel: The Truth’ by Federico Caremani was published on May 12 2015 and is available on Amazon.co.uk