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Thursday 17 October 2019

'At the end of my bed was a soldier with a machine gun' - Mark Lawrenson's remarkable memories of the Heysel disaster

Mark Lawrenson
Mark Lawrenson
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Mark Lawrenson has given a remarkable account of his experiences of the ill-fated 1985 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium, as his Liverpool team played out a game in the shadow of a disaster that cost the lives of 39 spectators.

In a remarkable interview with Planet Football, former Ireland defender Lawrenson has given a chilling account of an evening that is etched into football infamy, as the match against Juventus was played despite the tragedy that had occurred as a wall collapsed during a fight between rival fans prior to kick-off.

The disaster led to UEFA banning English clubs from European competitions for five years, with Lawrenson offered a graphic snapshot of an evening that ended with him in a hospital bed and being guarded by a soldier carrying a machine gun.

"I have two abiding memories from that night," he stated. "The first was the Brussels chief of police coming into our dressing room and insisting that despite everything that had happened, we would play the game.

"We found that hard to believe given the fact there were people lying dead on the terraces above us, but he was adamant. We suggested Juventus might not want to play the game, but they were ready to play and we had to prepare to play a European Cup final.

"The police argued that if the game was abandoned, there would be more trouble on the streets outside and for that reason, they wanted the match to proceed, but it was a strange, eerie night.

"You go from hearing the news that fans had died on the terrace above us to being told the match was going ahead and we went through the motions of preparing for a game of football that would be one of the most important we would play in our lives.

"The second memory is the match itself, which lasted less than two minutes for me. I had been carrying a shoulder injury and decided to take a chance on getting through it, but I went to tackle (Michel) Platini and the shoulder popped straight out."

Lawrenson's account of what happened confirmed his evening took a twist he could not have predicted, as he ended up under armed guard in hospital.

"This surreal, ugly night had taken another unexpected turn. I was taken to the hospital and then things got even more bizarre," he continued.

"I was still in my Liverpool kit and we get to this hospital and the ambulance backs up to what I can best describe as an area that looks like a supermarket holding bay and I'm dragged into the hospital.

"There I am in my full Liverpool kit, my boots still on, tie-ups for my shin pads and surrounding me in the hospital are the dead and the dying Juventus fans. It is a horrific chain of events.

"I'll never forget what confronted me when I woke up. I was in this hospital bed and all my Liverpool kit had been taken off me. I never saw the kit again, by the way, but that's a side story.

"As I looked around this hospital ward, I saw 23 empty beds and I was the only one using the ward.

"At the end of my bed was a soldier with a machine gun. He didn't speak any English, I didn't speak any Italian, and we looked at each other and realised we were on the same side of the argument.

"The door was bolted locked and this soldier was there to protect me from angry Juventus fans.

"In the morning, Roy Evans (assistant coach) came in with my wife and brought me some clothes. The trouble was, it was a Liverpool tracksuit, so we had to turn it inside out to get me out of this hospital without anyone noticing me. They sneaked us out through a back door. It was quite a story."

Two Tribes, the latest in the award-winning BT Sports Films series, premieres on March 30 at 9pm on BT Sport 1.

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