Heysel Stadium

From pride to shame...
For 50 years, all major national and international events will take place at the Heysel Stadium.
For half a century, he will remain a pride for Brussels.
But everything changed in one evening, May 29, 1985. It will now be the symbol of hooliganism.
Since then, the walls have been rebuilt, but the ghosts of the 39 victims will forever haunt this football hotspot.

Heysel Stadium

A big stadium for a capital

Until 1930, the Belgian capital did not have any major sports equipment. There was the Vivier-d'Oie Stadium (and its famous concrete grandstand, built in 1902), the Park Duden, lair of the Union Saint-Gilloise, as well as the Oscar Bossaert Stadium of the Daring. But these three stadiums were located far from Brussels-City, were stuck in poorly accessible neighborhoods and above all, had only a very limited capacity (less than 10,000 seats for the first, 15 to 20,000 for the other two).
As the country's centennial approached, the city set out in 1927 to find a site large enough to accommodate a large stadium and several ancillary grounds. The choice will be quickly made on the Heysel plateau, north of the city.

Thus, in one year, out of the ground a gigantic stadium compared to what Belgium had until now : more than 70,000 places, including about 10,000 seats covered.
A large, stone-built, Art Deco-style grandstand overlooking Strooper's Houba Avenue, and a tiered ring lining the other three sides. Besides football, athletics and cycling also went to take up residence.
In conjunction with the development of the stadium, they took the opportunity to totally reorganize the plateau and build the palace of the 1935 Universal Exhibition.

August 23, 1930, centenary of Belgian independence, the stadium undergoes its inauguration by hosting the Track Cycling World Championship. On September 14, Prince Leopold can officially inaugurate the new Brussels pride at a traditional Belgium-Netherlands football derby.
Finally, the prestigious Gordon Bennett Cup takes off from the lawn in 1937. It is an international hot air balloon competition.
The name of the complex will be logically "Centennial Stadium".

Heysel Stadium

Second World War, name change and international renown

The stadium passed the 39-45 war without too much trouble. Only the wooden cycling track has disappeared, probably converted to firewood during the occupation.
At the end of the war, the stadium is renamed "Heysel Stadium".

After the war, the stadium finds its vocation and hosts various events like a boxing match between the legendary French Marcel Cerdan against Belgian Cyrille Delannoit who will see the astonishing victory of the Belgian underdog, or in 1950, the European Championship of Athletics .

As for football, the Heysel Stadium hosts from 1954 the final of the Belgian Cup. The White Star (and his successor, the Racing White) will take up residence there in the 60's (without meeting popular success) and Sporting Anderlecht will play a few European matches.

Royal Belgian FA
Next to the national football, the Heysel becomes the impregnable bastion of the Red Devils. Thus, on April 24, 1963, the Red Devils beat the great Brazil team on the score of 5 - 1, the Auriverdes having conquered the World Cup a few months before. This feat will give the Red Devils the nickname of "world champions of friendly matches".
Since the 1950's, two new interclub competitions have been held annually : the Champions Cup (CE1) and the Cup Winners' Cup (CE2). The prestige of the stadium and the central place of Belgium in Europe will bring six finals to Heysel, while waiting for 1985 :
  • 1958, Real Madrid - AC Milan (3-2), CE1,
  • 1964, Sporting of Portugal - MTK Budapest (3-3, replay at Bosuil Stadium, 1-0), CE2,
  • 1966, Real Madrid - Partizan Belgrade (2-1), CE1,
  • 1974, Bayern Munich - Atletico Madrid (1-1 and 4-0), CE1,
  • 1976, Sporting Anderlecht - West Ham United (4-2), CE2,
  • 1980, Valencia CF - Arsenal (0-0, 5-4 shots on goal), CE2,
  • 1985, Juventus of Turin - Liverpool (1-0), CE1.
We will come back to this last finale...
Finally, in 1972, the European Football Championship stops at home. Beside the stadiums of Bosuil (Antwerp), Emile Versé (Anderlecht) and Sclessin (Liège), the Heysel will be the scene of the final between the Federal Republic of Germany and the USSR, won by the Germans on the score of 3 -0. In the midst of the Cold War, this match was an illustration of the clash between the West and the Eastern Bloc. Fortunately, no incidents noticed.

From an infrastructure point of view, the stadium remains unchanged for 41 years. It will be necessary to wait until 1971 to see the first works to engage. Thus, a new tartan athletics track has been installed and, in the process, a revolutionary lighting. Finally, a new covered stand has been erected facing the main stand in 1974. Offering only seating, the capacity of the enclosure falls to about 50,000 places.
From 1977, these new facilities had allowed the annual holding of the Ivo Van Damme Memorial, an athletics meeting. This competition, founded in honor of a Belgian two-time Olympic medalist at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, died some time after his Olympic coronation, had regularly seen the records fall and will acquire over the years an excellent reputation.
Since then, the Van Damme Memorial is a must for all world top athletes.

If a new track, a new stand and a new lighting have allowed the stadium to offer a second wind, the buildings of 1930 had no right to special treatment.

Heysel Stadium

Butchery live

May 29, 1985.
The popularity of football is at its peak. The finale of the century, according to the press of the time, is about to begin at Heysel Stadium. In the stands, it's madness : two prestigious clubs and very popular will try everything for the whole to reach the summit of European football. Supporters of both clubs literally invade Brussels.
Unfortunately, the reputation of these same supporters is well established. Both the Italian side and the English side, hooliganism is to be feared, and an imposing police device set up in the center of the city. By cons, on the side of the stadium, it places that a few police and access controls to the stands are quickly overwhelmed.

The authorities had planned to completely separate the two camps : the English on the Wemmel side (blocks X and Y) and the Italians on the Atomium side (blocks M, N and O). Between the two, in the side grandstands, the neutral spectators. On the other hand, Bloc Z, contiguous to the blocks devolving to the English, was intended to accommodate Belgian spectators, therefore neutral. Due to poor controls, some Italians manage to slip into the Belgian Bloc Z.
In a few minutes, the maximum capacity of the stadium is exploded and after filling the various blocks, the doors are closed. The trap is in place. Of the 50,000 places available, almost 62,000 people in the stadium. No need to give a view about safety.

Stade du Heysel - Bloc Z

Stadium partitioning plan

More than an hour before the start of the match, provocations between the two camps are at their peak.
The transalpine supporters never cease to launch hostile songs to the English. These, alcohol and helping heat, respond by loading to the block Z, where some Italians have been seen.
This practice of taking a stand was a tradition across the Channel but was totally unknown here. As a separation, there was only a double fence and less than ten policemen in the buffer zone. Obviously, this derisory device was not enough.
Totally panicked, the occupants of bloc Z took refuge at the end of the tribune. Under pressure, an old wall and armrests collapsed. The height of misfortune, the gates towards the field are firmly closed and the disaster happened : people stumble on the aging steps of the stadium and are trampled by people above them who were also seeking to flee . Finally, the fence between the tribune and the field gives way, and there has been 39 dead and more than 600 wounded.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the stadium, clashes between Italians and the police continue. None of them are aware of what has just happened.
A direct confrontation between English and Italian is narrowly avoided. We don't dare to imagine what that could have been...

In the locker room, it is consternation and total confusion. The UEFA delegates, the organizers of the event, the representatives of the City of Brussels and the police force don't know what to do : cancel the match, postpone it or play it the same evening, despite the tragedy.
The fact that everything was filmed and broadcast live by all European TVs and the unrest in the stands, the officials decided to play the game.
Chance or not, a penalty dropped from the sky offers the victory to Juventus. Detail really unimportant.

Warning ! These videos contain shocking scenes.

Pre-match and various interviews
BRTN report (00:12:05)

Pre-match and summary of the match
RAI report (00:09:36)

View of the stands
RAI report (01:07:25)


Abandonment and trial

The next day, an investigation begins. Responsibilities are quickly established and the Belgian courts strongly condemn the authorities (UEFA, City of Brussels, Belgian State).
As for clubs, Juventus isn't found guilty while Liverpool is banned from any international competitions for 6 years. Other English clubs have a 3-year ban.
It was not until the tragedy of Hillsborough in 1989 (96 dead and 766 wounded) that the British authorities took the problem of hooliganism head-on. France will wait even longer and it is the tragedy of Furiani in 1992 (18 dead and 2357 wounded) that will initiate the securing of stadiums.
In Belgium, the Magotte commission is created and passes the stadiums of the country with a fine comb.

The stadium is gradually abandoned. Some finals of the Coup de Belgique and some matches of the Red Devils (including an anthologic friendly match Belgium - Zambia , 9-0) are held there but the public is no longer present.
On the other hand, the Van Damme Memorial continues to stick to it.
Finally, the stadium is permanently closed in 1994.

Heysel Stadium

Redemption and new finale

Although it is football that has tarnished the image of the stadium, it will be the same sport that will however make it his nobility back.
The country hasn't benefited for nearly a decade from a national stadium and Cup finals and matches of the national team are held in the stadiums of clubs, which begins to annoy the same clubs.
At the beginning of the 1990's, an ambitious project is set up : Belgium is applying, jointly with the Netherlands, for the organization of Euro 2000.

Euro 2000
Five stadiums are selected and will benefit from a major renovation : the Olympiapark of Bruges, the Bosuil of Antwerp, the Mambourg of Charleroi and Sclessin in Liège. Of course, the capital of Europe had to be there. Meanwhile, Antwerp abandons its project.
The original project involved rebuilding three out of four grandstands, converting all places into seating places and covering all the stands. On the other hand, the lighting, the tribune dating from 1974, the monumental facade as well as the track of athletics will be kept intact.
After a year of work, the stadium was inaugurated on August 23, 1995, 65 years to the day after the first baptism. The opponent of this event will be Germany (defeat 1-2) and the stadium will be named "King Baudouin Stadium", in honor of the fifth King of the Belgians, who died two years ago. The capacity drops sharply to reach 40,000 places.

International matches are coming back (and too the Cup final). No problem, which will prompt UEFA to entrust Brussels with its first European final since the sad evening of 1985.
With full stands, Paris-Saint-Germain beats Rapid Vienna 1-0 and wins its first Cup Cup. After some fears, the stadium finally receives the congratulations of all, which helps to restore the honor of the stadium.

Since the officialization of the organization of Euro 2000, the specifications have been changed and UEFA now requires a stadium of 50,000 seats for the opening match of the Euro 2000.
A new renovation begins immediately by rebuilding the 1974 stand and installing an additional balcony above three stands. On the other hand, no skybox or infrastructure dedicated to VIP is planned which makes the stadium safe, functional but no more. This lack of comfort will be more and more obvious when comfort requirements increase with time.
Nevertheless, the Heysel Stadium has managed to erase the shame of 1985 and supporters of the Red Devils begin to come back.
Belgium has reconciled with its national stadium.

Heysel Stadium

An uncertain future

In recent years and with the new popularity of the Red Devils, the King Baudouin Stadium is too small.
But, and it is much more serious for some, its relative discomfort would embarrass more than one and the presence of a track of athletics would dilute the atmosphere coming from the stands. Somewhat subjective argumentation... The renovation or replacement of the stadium is increasingly a hot topic of conversation.

Brussels being a city ceded to unscrupulous promoters since the 1950's, the nugget that represents the Heysel plateau will not long leave them indifferent. In addition, the Euro 2020 (which will be organized, great novelty, in several countries) is already fast approaching.
In early 2011, a megalomaniac project named NEO plans a complete reorganization of this area of the city : Kinépolis, Océade and Brupark are requested to go elsewhere by the city for 2014. As for the stadium, it's the complete blur.
Used daily by the athletics clubs, his disappearance would cause serious problems, not to mention the end of the Ivo Van Damme Memorial.
An outcry is against NEO but nothing guarantees the sustainability of current facilities.

Stade du Heysel - Projet Néo

The NEO project has several versions, including one with the stadium

As alternatives to the current stage, the City of Brussels proposes to build a new stadium on the C car park of the exhibition palaces (land owned by Brussels but located in the Flemish region, hello politics-community imbroglio) or on a highly polluted site of the SNCB/NMBS, in Schaerbeek. Basically, projects done quickly, without consultation and without long-term vision. A sad habit very Belgian.

Sacrify such a place for the pleasure of a few political representatives is it worth it ?
Wanting to forget what happened in 1985 is not it an insult to the families of the 39 victims ?
Are there no other priorities for Brussels and Belgium ?
The future will tell.

Heysel Stadium

The Centenarian Stadium, in 1935.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

From another angle, towards the site of the future Atomium.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The Art Deco facade of the main stand.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The large portal, unique vestige preserved during the reconstruction of the end of the 20th century.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The hall of the main stand.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The compartmentalization of standing stands will remain the same until 1985.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

European Boxing Championship match at Heysel on May 23, 1948. The Belgian Cyrille Delannoit won, to everyone's surprise, the title against Frenchman Marcel Cerdan.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Exhibition at Centennial Stadium, probably during the Expo 58.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

In 1962, a desperately empty Heysel hosted for the last time White Star - Racing, football derby of Brussels. These two clubs merged at the end of the season to form Racing White.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The Heysel plateau will keep this face for almost 30 years after the World Expo.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Late 60's.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Gymnastics exhibition at Heysel in the early 70's. The impressive lighting pylons have just been installed.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

At the dawn of the 80's. In the foreground, the amusement park Meli.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

During the 80's. By far, the stadium still looks great.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The pathetic face of a band of barbarians...

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Block Z after the tragedy. Despite the deaths and injuries, the finale will take place.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Report (or cancel) the finale would have been suicidal given the enormous tension still present in the stands.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Although totally derisory during this fatal evening, it needed a winner...

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The day after the match : collapsed walls, armrests and fences ripped and shame for European football.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

View from the top of block Z, near the entrance. No renovation and almost no maintenance since 1930.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The beautiful facade of a condemned stadium.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

One of the lighting pylons. They will remain for a long time the most powerful and performing of the continent.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

1994 will be the year of the revival of the old stadium. The seated grandstand of 1974 (left) will resist still for 4 years.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

A few months later, the new stands came out of the ground.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The new stadium ready for Euro 2000. In the foreground, Brupark which replaced the ancient Meli-Park.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

The monolithic facade of the new stadium. The portal of Van Neck is inserted there as it can.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Portal details (1/2).

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Portal details (2/2).

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Place of joys and sorrows, this stadium deserves a little more respect.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Pre-match of a Belgium-Portugal in June 2007.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

36,816 places on the first tier, 13,277 on the second tier.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Concrete and sheet metal. Indeed, this is not a theater.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Atmosphere in the stands. In the background, the former bloc Z.

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

Is it the last years of a nearly century-old stadium ?

Heysel Stadium

Heysel Stadium

In memoriam. That this place be kept in respect of the victims.

16

June 2013

Return


Note

  1. This article comes from my former website foothisto.be and was published on June 16, 2013.
    It has been somewhat modified and updated lately.

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