Football - Liverpool FC: THE 1985 European Cup final was a blur for Ian Rush. He was out there on the pitch as Liverpool faced Juventus inside the Heysel Stadium.
His mind, however, was elsewhere.
As news filtered through of trouble between the opposing sets of supporters, Rush’s thoughts immediately turned to his family who were also in the ground.
Of course, there were no mobile phones in those days. So while unconfirmed reports of injuries and then deaths were delivered to the dressing rooms, the hour-and-a-half delay until kick-off seemed like an eternity for Rush and his teammates.
Little did they know that the casualties were confined to section Z where UEFA, in its infinite wisdom, had placed a neutral supposedly Belgian section just a row of chicken wire away from the Liverpool supporters.
Naturally, tickets for this area were touted, with Juventus fans quick on the uptake.
It was a recipe for disaster.
“It was difficult to focus amid mixed reports of people dying,” recalls Rush.
“A lot of us had family members in the crowd. That’s your first thought, ‘are my family ok?’
“My dad, my wife and my brother were there. They were in the stands but we didn’t know where the trouble was occurring or how widespread it was. It could have spread across into the stands or anywhere.
“If there were people dying we didn’t know whether they were Liverpool or Juventus supporters, or both.
“I had no idea if my family were safe when I went out to play. It was only afterwards when I met them in the players lounge that I knew they were all ok.”
Rush’s relief was replaced by harsh reality when rumours of fatalities became more than just hearsay.
A wall had collapsed after Liverpool supporters responded to missile attacks from Juventus fans, charging them on to the retreat.
Thirty nine people; men, women and children, caught up in the melee were killed, crushed to death beneath the crumbling concrete.
“Afterwards it was about the reality of what had happened on the terraces,” said Rush.
“That’s when it started to hit home. You really felt for the fans who had died and been injured, their friends and families. Football became secondary.”
What should have been one of the crowning moments of his career soon became a nightmare.
Before trouble flared on the terraces Rush’s only concern was whether he was fit enough to play after badly spraining his wrist in training two days earlier.
He felt a different pain altogether afterwards.
There are different versions of the circumstances under which the Liverpool and Juventus players were made to play the final.
In his autobiography, Kenny Dalglish is adamant he was unaware people had died.
“Someone in the dressing room hinted there had been a bit of trouble but I never listened to unsubstantiated stories,” said Dalglish, who was suffering with a bout of flu at the time and admits to dozing off.
“I had fallen asleep and didn’t know there had been any fatalities. If UEFA had told the players that people had died, I don’t think the players would have wanted to go on.”
Meanwhile, the Liverpool captain, Phil Neal, has always maintained everyone was aware of the severity of the trouble outside.
Rush, on the other hand, didn’t know what to believe.
Reds manager Joe Fagan, Neal and the Juventus skipper, Gaetano Scirea, were summoned on to the pitch to address the supporters in an attempt to bring some calm to the situation.
Fearing an escalation of violence, UEFA then ordered the final to go ahead.
“I remember Joe (Fagan) persuading me to play despite having damaged my wrist,” remembers Rush, who joined Juventus two years later.
“I was touch and go but he talked me round.
“It was completely different to Hillsborough where we soon knew for definite people had died.
“In Heysel we didn’t know what was going on
“Phil Neal and Joe Fagan went out to speak to the crowd but we weren’t totally sure what was happening. Some were saying people had died while others said no, it was all ok.
“That’s why it was important we finished the game. Had it not been played there was potential for more trouble.
“But against that setting it was never going to be the cup final that it should have been. It was difficult to focus your mind completely on the game, not in the way you should do in a European Cup final anyway.”
Juventus lifted the European Cup that night for the first time in the club’s history.
It proved a hollow victory against such a devastating backdrop.
Michel Platini scored the only goal of the game after Juventus were awarded a controversial penalty. Zbigniew Boniek was tripped by Gary Gillespie a yard or two outside of the area but, as Rush explains, Liverpool’s remonstrations were half-hearted when Swiss referee, Andre Daina, pointed to the spot. “It clearly wasn’t a penalty,” said Rush.
“It was outside the box.
“But if you look back no-one really complained.
“In normal circumstances everyone would be going mad at the referee.
“At the other end, Ronnie Whelan was tripped about two yards inside the box but the referee didn’t give it.
“Other than those two main incidents from the game, I don’t remember much about it.
“I’m not even sure how long we were kept in the dressing rooms for before we went out to play. There was so much going on.”
Platini was later criticised for celebrating the goal while the Juventus team cut short an awkward lap of honour.
It wasn’t a time for celebration.
Outside, the Italian supporters were angry.
Rush recalls the mood as they targeted the Liverpool team bus.
They were looking for someone, anyone, to blame.
“I remember they were going mad as we were pulling away from the stadium to return to the hotel.
“There were angry scenes but that was only to be expected. I’m sure it would have been the same if it was the other way round and Liverpool fans had died.
“There’s nothing we could do really. Emotions were high. You just felt sorry for the Juventus supporters.
“Heysel is still a big thing in Europe, maybe more so than here in England.
“It’s important we don’t forget the people who died there.”