(Related article: Hillsborough)


On 29 May 1985, 39 fans died at ageing Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, when a wall collapsed after Liverpool fans breached a section of the ground containing Juventus supporters before the start of the European Cup final. Despite the disaster, the game was played to avoid further crowd trouble. Juventus won 1-0. English clubs were subsequently banned from European competitions until 1990-91, with Liverpool excluded for a further year. A number of Liverpool fans were prosecuted for manslaughter.[1]

John Peel was present at the stadium with his wife Sheila, having received tickets from Kenny Dalglish. They both left the ground before the start of the game. Peel did not go to another football match for several years.

Peel on Heysel

(From a radio interview sometime in the early 90s, rebroadcast as part of the Purely Peel tribute programme. For a transcript of the full interview, see Interview: On Liverpool FC, Heysel, Hillsborough).

[Sheila] came with me – because I had been to two European Cup finals that Liverpool had won – and we went over and spent the night in Amsterdam, actually with mates, and then drove down to Brussels in the morning, and spent a really nice day just pottering around Brussels. Obviously a lot of Liverpool supporters around and things, but good-natured, you know. Drunk but good-natured. And the atmosphere outside the ground was wonderful. We got lost and surrounded by Juventus supporters and they helped us find where we were supposed to go, and there was no animosity at all.
And Scousers just being sort of loud really, you know. And the security of course was hopeless, and the inside of the ground everything was sort of crumbling, which obviously was part of the reason the trouble developed so quickly. But I mean, you know, Liverpool supporters being Liverpool supporters – there was no security fences and things. If they’d got tickets, they’d go over the fence, you know, just to show that it could be done, you know what I mean. And just, because that’s the way they are, you know. If you can get in for nothing, even if you’ve got a ticket, you get in.
But then obviously we saw the trouble. And we were in a grandstand overlooking where all of the people died. And although I had seen people dead, you know, in sort of funerals and so on, I’d never seen people dying before. And it was an incredibly traumatic moment. Obviously it would be in anybody’s life, I think.
And we expected to be at the very least badly beaten ourselves, because there were only six of us who were identifiably Liverpool supporters in the corner of this grandstand, and people who escaped injury and death were clambering up into the grandstand and kind of standing around us, and obviously getting very animated and so on. We thought it was only a matter of time before they turned on us, and I say, “If they don’t kill us, they’ll beat us very badly."
But we managed to get out of the ground, which was very frightening, because there was a glass door at the bottom of the grandstand - you know, a rather conventional glass door with opaque glass in it. And I sort of opened that and looked though and they were sort of piling up bodies outside and things. And it was the noise really – the noise was utterly horrendous. And I said to Sheila, “We’ll have to go out of this door and walk back to the car” – which is about a mile away. I said, “Look, don’t speak English until we are, you know, well clear of the ground.”
So we walked very slowly through all of this utter mayhem and horrors around us. And the noise, as I say, was absolutely stupefying. I mean, the different kind of sirens, people screaming, people chanting, in the ground people still singing – they didn’t know what was going on – people sobbing, obviously. I mean, you just thought, “This is how hell must be actually.”
And got back into the car and came home, you know, very much chastened. And I have not been to a football match since, actually. And I’ve tried. And it sounds, unless somebody has been in a situation like that – and of course I think nowadays people are increasingly – the number of disasters we have had in this country recently, people are coming to the realization that there is a kind of … there are traumas associated with it, even if you appear to have got off scot-free.
And I had, used to have, unbelievable nightmares. I mean, nightmares you couldn’t believe your subconscious was capable of generating such apparently perverse images, you know. And you thought this is how madness must be. I mean, really staring into the pit. It was really very frightening indeed. I was able to return – I mean, obviously they diminish with the passage of time.
But I was able to go back to the Heysel Stadium a couple of years later. I was in Brussels for the Eurovision Song Contest of all things[2] – which is one of my favourite events. But I went on a sort of afternoon off to the Heysel Stadium, which was near where the contest was taking place, and went to the ground. And there were no piles of bodies, there was nobody screaming, it was a sunny day, it was quiet. And I went to the glass door and kind of touched it, because it was that glass door that sort of loomed very large in these nightmares. So I suppose – it’s cheap psychology and I don’t know what I’m talking about – but I was able to replace the former image with a more recent one.

First show after Heysel

On 03 June 1985, Peel started his first Radio One show after Heysel with the following comments:

"Well, hello again, chums. It’s nice to be back. And ever since last Wednesday I’ve been wondering what I’ve been going to say to you tonight, and I’ve decided the best thing is to say nothing. I mean, everybody else has. ... I’ll just say that as a boy I never understood why my dad wouldn’t tell us about his experiences in North Africa and Italy during the war, and now I do..."


  1. Information from Wikipedia. See link below.
  2. According to listing on Wikipedia, the event was staged at Centenary Hall, Brussels, on May 9, 1987.


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