Monday, April 18, 2005


The first soccer game I ever sat down to watch was the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool & Juventus. I was on a three week back pack tour of Britain & Ireland and happened to be in a cousins' house that night. They put the t.v. on to watch and I was told that it was "Europe's Superbowl".

Of course, what I saw was just incredible. I'd been to many sporting events in my life to that point and I had never witnessed anything like it. Not even close. I had seen the occasional beer-fueled fist-fight and some bloody noses at Madison Square Garden, but that was the extent of it.

I remember peppering my cousins with all sorts of questions – Why are so many people standing?; Why are they so tightly packed in?; Why aren't they sectioned off?; Why do they sit/stand in large blocks instead of mixed together? – as I tried to understand what was happening. Gradually, as the full horror began to sink in, I was asking fewer questions and getting even fewer answers.

Two and a half hours (or whatever it was) after the scheduled start when they finally kicked off the only question I had was, "Why are the players out there kicking a ball around?". My cousins felt the same way. Figuring that 30+ dead people merited at least a postponement, they switched off the television.

Last night the BBC had a look back at the tragedy in Brussels. They had interviews with players, coaches, fans, government officials and police & medical service personnel. Most of it was fairly straight-forward, but what was most interesting was the footage of the players and fans taken when the game ended. It was as if all that mattered was the game. The Juventus players & fans celebrated even though they all knew something awful had happened earlier. Strange and definitely not a good advertisement for soccer or sports in general.

Twenty years later the one unanswered question I had from 1985 is only partially answered. Mark Lawrensen said that he now realizes he didn't have to play, but at the time he was basically he told that he did. He clearly wasn't thinking straight at the time, but in hindsight I think he regrets that he played.

There was much less regret from the officials who made the decision to play the game. They're still justifying that decision on the grounds that they feared the trouble would be worse. At the time I didn't buy it and it seems even flimsier now.