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Liverpool Followers Mending Tarnished Image

June 01, 1986|Associated Press

LIVERPOOL, England — These are happier times for soccer fans in Liverpool, who one year ago were scarred by a soccer riot that killed 39 people in Brussels.

Liverpool soccer club just completed the rare feat of winning the English league championship and the Football Association Cup in the same season, beating Everton, another Liverpool team, in both competitions. The so-called "double" has been achieved only two other times this century.

A year ago, Liverpool club fans were held largely responsible for the riot at Heysel Stadium when 39 people were trampled, most of them Italians who had come to watch Juventus of Turin play the English side for the European Cup of Champions.

"Our feelings were of shock and disbelief," said Tony Ensor, a director of the Liverpool club. "And during the first month after the tragedy, there was gloom in the city and people were trudging around as if they themselves had suffered bereavements."

The scars remain.

English soccer clubs have been banned indefinitely from playing competitive games outside the country (exhibitions are allowed) by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the sport's governing body in Europe. That ban recently was extended for at least another year. Even if it had been lifted, a separate three-year ban against Liverpool would have remained.

All of English soccer was affected by the tragedy. Attendance is down and longtime fans say they are staying away because of the threat of violence.

The focus was on fans from Liverpool.

The Merseyside Youth Orchestra was unable to perform three concerts in Hamburg last August, when the West German company that sponsored the trip pulled out to protest Heysel.

The British Foreign Office reported strong anti-British feeling abroad.

Slowly, the wounds have started to heal.

Merseyside entertainers and sports personalities have staged special performances to raise money for relatives of the Italians who were killed or injured.

"There was a tremendous number of reconciliatory visits between Liverpool football club and Juventus," said Ian Hargraves, executive sports editor of the Liverpool Echo.

Juventus invited the Liverpool youth team to play in Turin and, last Aug. 18, fans of the Italian club were Liverpool's guests at the start of the English season.

Hargraves' paper published a photograph, sent by an Italian, of Liverpool fans he met before the Heysel game. Although the Italian was badly injured in the riot, he wanted to contact the fans to try to better relations between the clubs, the editor said.

"Despite what happened, we still have a most cordial relationship with Juventus," Ensor said. "We are anxious to play a soccer game with them and we did suggest to UEFA a match involving a joint Liverpool-Juventus team against a side to be selected by UEFA, the proceeds going to the relatives of those who died.

"At that stage, UEFA didn't think it was appropriate, but it's a possibility that remains."

Ensor, who also is the club's lawyer, said Liverpool had an unblemished record in 21 years of European appearances before Heysel.

Some Liverpool fans agreed that the Heysel trouble gave a false picture of their behavior.

"People who know the situation realize it was not all the fault of the Liverpool fans," said Sean Costello, a 22-year-old who was at Heysel. "The organization at the stadium was terrible. Liverpool fans who arrived on the day were able to buy tickets intended for Juventus fans and there weren't enough police to separate them.

"I hope we can soon get back and show the world we aren't like that."

Billy Mason, also 22, said: "Nothing's really changed. Liverpool fans always had a good reputation until Brussels, and the situation's been the same this season.

"The difference is the rest of the world now has a fear of Liverpool fans, and that's totally unjustified."

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