Italian Heysel survivor: ‘I almost lost my life there’

Luciano Barelli was 35 years old and an AC Milan fan when he escaped with his life from the Heysel football stadium disaster that claimed the lives of 39 fans on May 29th, 1985.

Italian Heysel survivor: 'I almost lost my life there'
Luciano Barelli, a survivor of the Heysel stadium tragedy poses in his house on May 22, 2015 in Blevio near Como. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Having “struggled” to get to section 'Z' set aside for Juventus and neutral fans, he was immediately stunned by the lack of security to keep fans separated from the adjacent 'X' and 'Y' sections set aside exclusively for Liverpool fans.

“In the middle, a simple piece of wire netting was the only thing separating us,” he told AFP from his home on the shores of Lake Como north of Milan.

When Liverpool fans charged section 'Z' an hour before kick-off, a wave of panic sent fans scurrying and pushed many towards the wall that would eventually collapse and cause the death of 39 fans.

“At one point these… animals began shouting and threatening us. They were throwing slabs of concrete and even fire extinguishers. Their faces were twisted in hate, they looked hell bent on causing the worst possible trouble,” Barelli said.

“All of a sudden, they charged and broke down the netting. Instead of standing firm, we ran!”

Barelli's decision to run upwards probably saved his life.

“We ran up the way… at one point I couldn't breathe because I was being crushed by the crowd.

“I thought to myself, 'stupid Milanista (fan of AC Milan) you're going to die for Juventus' ! Then I leaned on two other people, caught my breath and somehow managed to escape.

“We got over a wall with only a two or three-metre drop. And then it was all over, just as quickly as it had started.

“But the ones who ran to the sides found themselves crushed up against that wall which collapsed.”

Barelli has since applauded the measures taken in the aftermath of Heysel. Under pressure from Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, English clubs were banned from European competition for five years, Liverpool for six, and in 1989 14 fans were handed three-year prison sentences for manslaughter.

“At least something came out of it,” added Barelli. “These animals (hooligans) were brought to heel thanks to Thatcher, who sent them to prison.

“The English clubs were banned from European competition for five years. In Italy, they kill each other and they're given a stadium ban… we didn't learn any lessons. In England, after Heysel, they did.”

But still 30 years on, recounting the events of Heysel brings the awful memories flooding back.

“The picture I can't get out of my head is one of the battlefield in the stands. Abandoned shoes, clothes, bottles… it looked like an earthquake had struck,” he said.

“Tents were put up at the main entrance of the stadium to accommodate the dead. That's when we realised the seriousness of the disaster.

“Still today, my voice shakes when I speak about it, I feel angry and frightened by the thought that I almost lost my life there.”

He added: “Heysel was one of the worst stadiums in the world. The stands at the top end of the stadium were simple strips of cement on the ground.

“It's a total scandal the match was played. Those who weren't there don't have a clue what it was like, but the people in charge, of the teams, of the stadium and those from UEFA knew only too well.

“It was said suspending the match would have led to a bigger disaster. Maybe that's true but still… 39 dead… how can you play on?

“I understand (the decision), but I don't agree. And in the end the match was decided by a non-existant penalty… as if God wanted Juventus to win, as usual (laughs).”

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Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title

Italian giants Juventus claimed an eighth consecutive Serie A title on Saturday after a 2-1 win at home against Fiorentina.Here are five factors that helped the Turin giants lift a 35th Scudetto with five matches to spare, equalling the record for the earliest any team has won Serie A:

Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title
Photos: AFP

Ronaldo effect

Cristiano Ronaldo was signed from Real Madrid for 100 million euros ($112 million) before the start of the season, in a bid to end the Turin giants' 23-year wait for the Champions League trophy.

The 34-year-old left Real as their all-time top scorer, a record he also holds in the Champions League where he is the only player to have won five titles.

Despite their European exit to Ajax, the Portuguese superstar was a key player throughout the campaign with 19 league goals.

Both Juventus' Serie A defeats came in his absence — 2-0 to Genoa on March 17 and 2-1 to SPAL on April 13 — the latter frustrating their bid to wrap up the title with a record six games to spare.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who was defended by Juve last year after being accused of rape, was slow off the mark, having to wait until their fourth game against Sassuolo before scoring a double in a 2-1 win.

“Cristiano is the future of Juventus, he has had an extraordinary season,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri after the Champions League loss.

Rising star Kean

Teenage sensation Moise Kean burst through during Ronaldo's absence through injury, scoring six goals in the last seven matches for Juventus, having played just nine this season.

The 19-year-old, who provides an alternative to Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala up front, admitted: “I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo in training, I steal his secrets.”

Born in Italy to Ivorian parents, his first league appearance this season was just four minutes away against Fiorentina on December 1, with his first goals a double in a 4-1 win over Udinese on March 3.

Controversy overshadowed his only full match for the champions when he was subjected to racist abuse against Cagliari on April 2.

The youngster hit back by scoring in Sardinia and again in the following game against SPAL.

Bonucci back

Leonardo Bonucci returned to Turin after an unhappy season at AC Milan to recreate the so-called 'BBC' defensive partnership alongside veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

The absence of the trio through injury was felt when Juventus conceded six goals in two games including a 3-3 draw with Parma on February 2 — days after being eliminated from the Coppa Italia.

“Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini could teach lessons at Harvard University about how to be a central defender,” said Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho.

Juventus have conceded only 23 goals in 33 games, the best record in the division.

Safe hands

Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has proven to be a worthy successor to Juventus and Italy icon Gianluigi Buffon, who left for Paris Saint-Germain.

The ex-Arsenal player arrived in Turin in 2017 after falling down the pecking order at the Premier league club.

The 28-year-old got off to a stuttering start in the season opener, conceding two goals in a 3-2 win at Chievo, but has conceded only 15 goals in the 24 times he has played so far this season.

New arrival Mattia Perin, who joined from Genoa last summer, has proved less effective with eight conceded in nine games, and was between the posts for both their league defeats.

Winning ugly

Massimiliano Allegri doesn't mind winning ugly as he claimed his fifth league title in as many years with Juventus, and sixth in Serie A after leading AC Milan to their last title in 2011.

Allegri — who has now won 11 trophies with Juventus — has strenuously defended his team's often-criticised style of play, despite Juve leading the way in the Italian top flight with 67 goals scored.

“Beautiful football doesn't pay off, at the end of the day you've got to just kick it away from your goal,” the 51-year-old fumed after the draw with Parma.

“They need to realise there is no shame in hoofing the ball into the stands if needs be.”