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No winners on night for weeping

No winners on night for weeping

by David Miller of "The Times"

Juventus are European champions: but football weeps. As Liverpool departed from the field of the Heysel stadium defeated, leaving behind the echoes of the ecstatic cheers of Turin, the sporting world mourned the death of 42 spectators, including 11 Belgian youths.

It was an unimaginably macabre climax to this celebrated annual event. Any cheers must ring hollow when the tensions and emotions aroused by sport conclude in tragedy. Juventus take home the European Cup for the first time in three attempts, the ultimate ambition of their patron benefactor, Gianni Angelli, the Fiat millionaire; but they will carry bitterness, sorrow and some justifiable anger with it.

How much of that can be said to be directly the responsibility of the section of Liverpool supporters who created the stampede, 45 minutes before the scheduled kick-off, in which the spectators, most of them Italian, died, can never precisely be judged. But no European Cup Final, no sporting event, is worth such a price.

The European Federation, UEFA, and the British FA ought to collaborate to decide whether England should voluntarily withdraw from all European competitions for a specified number of years. If not, UEFA alone must decide upon that ultimate act of discipline.

When over 1,000 riot police are needed inside a stadium to control the crowd in order for a match to start one and a half hours late; when outside, a cavalcade of ambulances and emergency medical units tend the dead and injured in a scene reminiscent of a battlefield and when afterwards the fighting continues horrendously in the streets, a halt must be called.

I do not absolve the Italians of all responsibility. Some of them were as willing to taunt and to fight as any drunken Englishman. Additionally, the authorities of the Heysel Stadium, the Belgian FA, and Brussels police cannot be exonerated, because the structure of the old stadium, and the segregation arrangements were wretchedly inadequate to cope with the circumstances to which they were predictably exposed. Had not English and Italian spectators fought furiously in Turin during the European Championship of 1980?

It is with difficulty that I bring myself to describe the events of the match which ultimately took place when UEFA decided to proceed - how could they possibly have turned the rival supporters loose on the street without playing the fixture - that is not to be ungracious to the players. Footballers, like all professional sportsmen, earn their livelihoods from those who pay to watch them. They are not separate from or detached from the dishonour which this morning overshadows all of us.

It had been an anxious time for both teams awaiting the postponed start, and it could not have begun with more misfortune for Liverpool. Within less than two minutes Lawrenson, going into his first tackle, suffered a recurrence of the shoulder injury which has dogged him recently. Head down, he walked off the pitch with his arm hanging painfully, to be replaced by Gillespie. There had not even been time for Liverpool's plan that Lawrenson should subdue Platini to be put into action, and now that responsibility fell to Wark. For the first 45 minutes he was to fulfil it quite competently.

Compared with their performance when defeated by Juventus in the Super Cup in Turin last January, Liverpool were now playing more defensively. They soon found that Juventus had decided on a tactical switch, playing Boniek to the right side of midfield, so as to let Briaschi attack Neal with his speed on the left. However, the veteran Neal was largely able to handle the threat, and with about 25 minutes gone Liverpool were starting to move forward more, Whelan, Nicol and Dalglish creating some clever triangles which began to twist and turn the Juventus defence.

On the half hour Cabrini, advancing from left-back, fired in a stiff shot which Grobbelaar saved splendidly at full length, and almost immediately at the other end Wark, darting through onto a chipped pass from Whelan, forced Lacconi to save at his feet. Then Whelan, increasingly finding time to support Rush and Walsh, had a drive turned over the net by the Juventus goalkeeper. Liverpool were up and running.

Any justification which Liverpool might have hoped to exhibit for retaining their title was diluted some five minutes before half-time when Boniek, his fair head bobbing this way and that, left three men stranded in an exhilarating dribble only to be brought down headlong by Wark's deliberate foul, for which Wark was rightly booked. The free kick came to nothing.

Two minutes later, further misfortune struck Liverpool when Walsh, stretching for a cleverly struck through-ball from Neal, over-stretched and aggravated the stomach strain which had been thought likely to keep him out of the match. He could now hardly walk and was replaced in the second half by Johnston.

The edge was now with Juventus. There was a certain confidence running in their stride, a precision in their passing as the second half began, which suggested they sensed they were to win. The moment which determined they did so, 14 minutes into the second half, contained a moral justice in the light of Wark's earlier foul, however imperfect the referee's judgement. Boniek again set off through the middle, raced between the centre backs Hansen and Gillespie, only to be brought down by Gillespie. Not only did the trip seem to me to be inadvertent, but it was undoubtedly a yard outside the area, as shown by television. From some 25 yards behind the ball, the Swiss referee Andre Daina, pointed to the spot and Platini sent Grobbelaar the wrong way for the only goal.

With 16 minutes to go, it seemed to be Liverpool's turn to be awarded a penalty. Whelan, trying to work clear of a group of defenders on the left-hand edge of the area, was severely brought down by Bonini a yard inside. The referee looked, quite clearly hesitated after a glance to the linesman, then waved play on.

Five minutes later Tacconi had to save from Whelan, and in Liverpool's last gasp, headers by Walsh and Nicol flew wide. Juventus had opted to defend their slim lead for that last half hour, and had got away with it.

Afterwards Joe Fagan, who earlier in the day had announced his retirement, said: "There was a game of football in the end, but I don't think anyone's heart was in it. Mine certainly wasn't. Football is a game, but not any longer to some. It was UEFA's decision that we should play, not ours. What a sad way for me to end."

Copyright - The Times

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