Forty-one people were killed and hundreds were injured in a riot Wednesday night between fans of British and Italian teams about to play the Super Bowl of European soccer.
Most of the victims were trampled to death or crushed under a wall that collapsed, said Louis Wouters, president of the Belgian Soccer Federation, who reported the death toll.
Officials said the riot started in the crowd of more than 50,000 when British fans broke into an Italian section. Television crews set up for the game broadcast it to millions of fans watching worldwide.
A brick wall collapsed as the clash began, and mangled bodies piled on top of one other. Broken metal crowd-control barriers were used as stretchers to carry the victims out of Heysel Stadium.
Troops Gain Control
The game--the European Cup final matching Europe’s best professional clubs--was played after a 90-minute delay while police and riot troops gained control of the stadium. The Juventus team of Turin, Italy, beat Liverpool of England, 1-0, on a penalty kick.
British reports said soccer officials feared even more violence if the game had been canceled. The officials reportedly made the decision after consulting with Belgian police.
In Europe, the game is equivalent in magnitude to football’s Super Bowl in the United States.
Large sections of the stands were empty during the game except for victims’ clothing and personal belongings stained with blood.
Wouters, of the Belgian Federation, said at a news conference early today that those killed were 25 Italians, seven Belgians, one French citizen and eight people still not identified. Bodies of many of the Italian victims lay outside the stadium covered with the black and white flags of the Juventus team.
Belgian television reported that more than 150 people were seriously hurt and that 180 others suffered minor injuries.
Bars around the stadium were closed, and police patrolled to avert new riots after the game.
Soccer, which stirs nationalistic passions almost everywhere it is played, has been plagued by hooliganism for years. In Britain, where the problem is severe, extra police are assigned to stadiums and drinking often is banned.
“This is the defeat of soccer, the end of the European Cup,” said Michel Hidalgo, the French national coach, who watched the bloody rioting in the packed Brussels stadium.
West German television broke off its live broadcast in protest after officials of the European Soccer Union decided to go ahead with the game.
Police said fans first began throwing objects at each other over a 10-foot-high fence separating British and Italian sections of stands. Then the English fans pushed the fence down, crushing some Italians beneath it, and charged into the other section swinging makeshift clubs.
“It seems English supporters suddenly attacked Italian fans who were standing in the neighboring section. The Italian supporters moved back and leaned against the brick wall. They were literally crushed. There was no escape possible,” said Francis Boileau, spokesman for the Brussels fire department.
Boileau said the Italian fans in back rows jumped over the wall dropping 15 feet, and then the wall collapsed and crashed down on them.
After the wall gave way, said John Welsh, 27, from Toxteth, England, “people were trapped by rubble and dead bodies. It was terrible and nobody seemed to be doing anything.
“We were trying to pull people out, but idiots were still pushing,” he said. “I’ve finished with Liverpool until those idiot supporters go away.”
A member of a British Broadcasting Corp. camera team said, “People were crushed under the wall. . . . The police couldn’t get in because doors were locked, and it was total chaos.”
Hurling Concrete Lumps
British journalist Paul Fry, who survived the wall collapse, said: “The trouble seemed to start with fireworks and flares being set off by Liverpool supporters. This agitated the Italians and then the Liverpool fans started hurling lumps of concrete, anything.
“I managed to work my way to the back. It seemed that everyone was pushing, and then a brick wall, topped with fencing, just collapsed. I have to say it. I think Liverpool started the whole thing off.”
John Johanson, of Liverpool, said the Italians “provoked the Liverpool fans, jeering at them and sending flares in. Bricks started flying, and I saw knives coming out, and being used by the Italians. Then there was a surge from the Liverpool supporters, and fencing began to come down.”
A few dozen policemen who tried to stop the British rush were overrun and trampled, other officers said. Many of the Italians fled onto the field. Liverpool fans set fire to Juventus flags and banners.
Italians in other sections of the stadium joined the battle, trying to drive the British back.
Riot squads moved in with mounted units and dogs after about 20 minutes, trying to force the fans back into their sections and set up a security cordon between them.
Police reinforcements and troops arrived, finally cleared the field and drove the rioting factions apart.
Loudspeakers called Italian fans into the stadium offices to identify the dead. A chapel and mortuary was set up in the parking lot. A priest administered last rites.
Thousands of the fans left the stadium.
The most seriously injured were taken away in helicopters or by ambulance. Others were treated in the stadium first aid center.