Author and journalist Tony Evans has defended comments he made on the Heysel disaster during Channel 4’s Italia 90 documentary.
The documentary hit screens on Monday and one of the main elements of the timeline was the Heysel Stadium disaster that occurred before the 1985 European Cup final. Fighting between Liverpool and Juventus fans in a neutral section of the ground led to a wall collapsing and 39 fans were killed.
The disaster compounded the poor reputation of fans from England on the continent and led to the ban of all English clubs indefinitely from European football.
Evans was at the game and believes the Heysel Stadium was not safe to host the cup final. He stated in the documentary: “If the stadium was in good nick, nobody would’ve died.”
The comments received an instant social media backlash with many suggesting Evans was trying to exonerate the 14 Liverpool fans who were subsequently charged with 11 sentenced for manslaughter.
Evans told MerseySportLive: “I got a lot of abuse from people, telling me I had no idea what I’m talking about, but all I can tell is the truth.
“Of course there were people (at Heysel) who didn’t cause any trouble. My mother and younger siblings were there and they weren’t drinking. Journalism is about investigating all the details about what happened.
“Of course other people’s views on that day were different to mine but I’ve probably done more research and spoken to more of those involved. In Italy, some people say if the wall hadn’t collapsed more lives would have been lost. I disagree. But either way it was that surge by Liverpool fans that was the reason for the disaster.”
The Heysel disaster has become a significant part of Liverpool Football Club’s history with annual memorials held.
However, there is a feeling more still needs to be done, as evidenced by the 2005 game between the two clubs – the first time they’d met since 1985 – with the KOP unveiling a mural reading amicizia or friendship that was rejected by many Juventus fans.
Evans reiterated the importance of the disaster to Liverpool’s history as he said:
“You hear other fans say that Liverpool has erased Heysel from the memory, that they’ve whitewashed it. There’s still denial among the (LFC) fanbase. There’s people who will say ‘well I wasn’t there so how can it be my fault?’ But if you want to be part of the fans, part of the collective, sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, it is a part of your history. You can’t just pick the bits you like.”
Heysel, as with the Hillsborough tragedy that saw 97 Liverpool fans lose their lives as a result of a crush in 1989, are both used by some opposing fans to upset Liverpool supporters. There have been calls recently for steps to be taken to address what appears to be a growing problem of malicious chanting between fans of certain clubs.
Likewise, Liverpool fans were criticised for unfurling a Steaua Bucharest flag in the away end at Goodison Park during the Merseyside derby in September – a reference to the 1986 European Cup winners when English clubs were banned due to Heysel and Everton were denied the opportunity to play in the competition.
Evans said: “It is point scoring. But it’s ridiculous when you hear people say ‘oh the Steaua Bucharest flag has nothing to do with it.’ Of course it does, if you’re a Liverpool fan, you know what that means. After Hillsborough we are held to higher standards than any other fan base in this country. We must maintain those standards.
“In the 1980’s, if you went to Man Utd and started singing Munich songs, which did happen, you’d know about it. You’d know there would be fans outside waiting for you and you’d get a slap for it. But nowadays it’s changed.”
The rise of the recent issues have reminded some of the dark days of the 80’s. There is a danger, says Evans, that some football fans look back at that period through rose tinted glasses.
He said: “I feel like a lot of what went on at the time is romanticised nowadays. They pretend they were some sort of knights of the streets. But mostly it was just a large group of youths beating up a smaller group of youths. It was just bullying. Mass bullying.”
The next episode of the Italia 90 documentary is due to air on Monday.