The victims of Heysel have been all but ignored by Juventus while the disaster’s lessons are unheeded in Italy, reports Matt Barker, to the frustration of the relatives
The pairing of Juventus and Liverpool in the quarter-finals of the Champions League has been heralded in the Italian press as an opportune moment to remember and pay tribute to the 39 lives lost on Heysel’s Section Z terracing.
Otello Lorentini, whose son Roberto was killed at Heysel, was widely quoted in both the Italian and English media after the draw. Roberto, a 31-year-old doctor, died while attempting to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to another casualty. His dead son was awarded a posthumous medal for civilian valour but Lorentini, a dignified octogenarian Tuscan, has fought a long campaign for all the victims of the disaster to be officially recognised, both by the Italian government and Juventus, and for someone, somewhere, to take responsibility for what happened.
As head of the Association for the Victims of Heysel, Lorentini has had a succession of meeting with Juventus officials. The club has always been reluctant to make any reference at all to the events (you’ll search in vain for anything on the official website). While the Brussels authorities recently announced plans for a permanent light sculpture by French artist Patrick Rimoux at the now-renamed King Baudoin Stadium and Liverpool have their own plaque at Anfield, Lorentini’s requests for a memorial and a commemorative friendly between the two clubs have continued to be rebuffed.
Journalist Francesco Caremani, a friend of the Lorentini family, is the author of The Truths of Heysel – Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold, published two years ago. Italians have generally remained dubious of the various back stories that we have clung onto these past two decades (the trouble in Rome the previous year; the inadequate policing; the crumbling stadium), but the short book pieces together testimonies and first-hand accounts from both sides, as well as detailing Lorentini’s struggles to be heard.
Caremani’s anger at the unresponsive attitude of the Turin club and the failure of Italian football to learn the lessons of 1985 underpin the book. The irony of it may be harsh but, concludes Caremani, it is to the modern English game that Italians must now look.
The foreword to The Truths of Heysel is written by Roberto Lorentini’s son, Andrea; three years old at the time of his father’s death, now a student living in Perugia. Andrea writes of the “bewilderment, reticence, guilty silences and suspicion” the victims’ association has encountered in its dealings with the club and Italian football authorities. The parallels with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign are clear.
Sadly, if inevitably, calls for “justice” have also been heard in some of the darker corners of Juve’s support base. Songs of revenge have long been a regular part of the repertoire of the Curva Scirea (the end where the most vocal supporters gather, named after the late Gaetano Scirea, who captained the side during the 1985 European Cup final).
The club’s ultra groups are already in some disarray, after mass arrests forced the dominant “Fighters” faction to disband following trouble at Parma earlier this year. I Drughi (an Italianisation of “the droogs” in A Clockwork Orange) have filled the vacuum left by the Fighters, but have yet to convince the myriad smaller groups scattered around the curve. While voices of reason continue to cancel out the more menacing posts on message boards and forums, there is a very real danger that the arrival of Liverpool at the Stadio delle Alpi will be seen as a gilt-edged opportunity to assert Drughi claims to power and that enough hotheads out there believe something must be done.
The previous Champions League tie against Real Madrid saw rival fans mingling and moaning during the hour-long wait for buses back into central Turin (it really is that bad; imagine 70-odd thousand people journeying to and from Wembley without any train or tube links). Official away supporter coaches get the full siren-blaring carabinieri escort back to the airport but, with tickets easily available through the Juventus website, the potential for isolated problems in the hours following the match is all too apparent. Yet all this concern about trouble and vendettas could have been avoided – the two clubs ought to have found a way to work with the victims’ association and mark the memories of the dead at any one of the appropriate anniversaries over the past 20 years.
One can’t help wondering what would have happened if chance hadn’t played its part during the draw at Nyon. Would we have seen any attempt by Juventus to mark May 29 and the death of so many of the club’s supporters in a fitting manner? Or would the patient, proud campaign of Otello Lorentini have continued to be snubbed?
From WSC 219 May 2005. What was happening this month