On Planet, “The Heysel Tragedy” and the scourge of hooliganism dissected in six episodes

The images are frightening

On Planet, “The Heysel Tragedy” and the scourge of hooliganism dissected in six episodes

The images are frightening. We see men, women, adolescents trampled, crushed, asphyxiated, sometimes losing their lives under the eye of cameras placed as close as possible to this chaos. We are in 1985, a time during which the scourge of hooliganism continues to wreak havoc.

Other images? Those of British hooligans drunk with alcohol and rage overflowing a thin cordon of helpless police officers. Then causing panic among the Italian fans gathered in the very dilapidated Block Z of a Heysel stadium which was also incredibly dilapidated, with some of its stands without seats, its cracked concrete blocks, its fragile metal separations.

These images remain, almost forty years later, astonishingly violent. On May 29, 1985, in the Heysel stadium in Brussels, filled with 58,000 spectators, the dream European final between Liverpool and Juventus had not yet started and the massacre was already over. Results of hooligan charges: 39 dead (32 Italians, 4 Belgians, 2 French, 1 Northern Irishman) and hundreds seriously injured.

Hear all points of view

Author of a reference work on the subject (Le Heysel. A European tragedy, Calmann-Lévy, 2005), Jean-Philippe Leclaire, today deputy director of the newspaper L'Equipe, is the author of this documentary series in six episodes of fifty-two minutes each. Six clearly identified stages (“Gear”, “Collapse”, “Show”, “Responsible”, “Guilty”, “Forgiveness”) which allow the event to be contextualized in its time.

Bringing up Heysel on television? The disaster had already been the subject of several documentaries, notably that of the BBC in 2005 (Heysel 1985: Requiem for a Cup Final), but the format of the series by Jean-Philippe Leclaire (with Eddy Pizzardini) and directed by Jan Verheyen is a much more ambitious project.

The idea was to make it a choral series, allowing all points of view to be heard: Italian victims, bereaved families, English attackers, Belgian police and gendarmes, officials from the Belgian Federation and UEFA, political leaders, magistrates. Without forgetting, a delicate mission as the Heysel taboo is still a reality, the testimonies of players from Liverpool (Mark Lawrenson, Sammy Lee) and Juventus (Stefano Tacconi, Sergio Brio, Massimo Briaschi) of the time.

By taking the long view, Leclaire, Verheyen and Pizzardini manage to multiply the avenues and dissect a traumatic episode: the triumphant hooliganism, the incompetence of the police, the impotence of the authorities. But also the decision to play the match despite the bodies (the German ZDF being the only channel deciding not to broadcast the match), the attitude of Michel Platini, author of the victorious goal and guilty of having celebrated it, the long trial of the alleged culprits, complicated attempts at reconciliation, everything is analyzed.

The journey begins a few months before the tragedy and ends in 2022, in Brussels, Liverpool, Arezzo, Bassano del Grappa. The wealth of archive images (BBC, RTBF, RAI, French news, among others) is coupled with the emotion provoked by the words of certain witnesses, notably those of John Welsh, a Liverpool supporter who saved the lives of eight people at Heysel.