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Remembering Belfast man Patrick Radcliffe who died in Heysel tragedy

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 29/05/2015

Distraught supporters flee the riots at Heysel football stadium in Brussels
Distraught supporters flee the riots at Heysel football stadium in Brussels
Rescuers tend to victims at Heysel

Patrick Radcliffe should never have been at Heysel. He wasn't a Liverpool fan. Nor did he follow Juventus, the great Italian side also contesting the 1985 European Cup final.

Indeed, he had little interest in football at all.

But a twist of fate meant the 37-year-old from Belfast was among the 58,000 crowd on a night of tragedy for the sport.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the disaster in which 39 fans died after a wall at the crumbling stadium in Brussels collapsed.

The horror unfolded as Juventus supporters attempted to escape a violent charge by Liverpool fans.

Most of the dead were Italians. The only Briton killed was Mr Radcliffe.

Originally from east Belfast, he had been working in Brussels as an archivist with the then European Economic Community.

His twin brother George still lives in Belfast.

"Patrick was my twin brother, he was my best friend," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The final on May 29, 1985 should have been a great spectacle, bringing together two powerhouses of the football world in that era.

Liverpool, the reigning European champions, were aiming for a fifth triumph. Facing them were the Turin side, one of the most famous names in Italian football, boasting stars such as Michel Platini and Marco Tardelli.

The venue was the ageing Heysel stadium in the north west of the Belgian capital.

Mr Radcliffe had been working in the city for several years.

Educated at Campbell College in Belfast and Oxford University, he worked briefly for the Public Record Office in Northern Ireland.

After marrying an English woman he lived for a period in Carlisle, where he was a senior archivist with Cumbria County Council.

He left in 1980 to work in Brussels, where he was compiling a history of the EEC.

The couple lived in Hoeliaart, a suburb of Brussels.

According to his brother, Patrick had little interest in football.

"He wasn't a football fan. He had gone with a Dutch friend to the match, but he wasn't much of a fan," added George.

"He was working in the European Economic Community, as it then was, in the historical archive.

"He lived in Brussels, and the final was being played there.

"His Dutch friend wanted to go to the match and it was a bit of an event, so he ended up going to it too."

This was a very different era for football.

Played in sub-standard stadiums and with an endemic hooligan problem, it had little of the prestige or glamour of modern times.

When the 1985 FA Cup quarter-final between Millwall and Luton Town was marred by large-scale violence, the Government responded by setting up a "war cabinet" to tackle the problem. However, the carnage at Heysel was on a scale not seen before.

Violence erupted about an hour before kick-off after a drink-fuelled rampage by Liverpool supporters.

A retaining wall separating the opposing fans collapsed as the Italian club's fans tried to escape the stampede.

The 39 dead comprised 32 Italians, four Belgians, two French and Mr Radcliffe.

He was not involved in hooliganism of any type.

"It was just one of those things - the wrong place at the wrong time," George added.

He had seen the breaking news reports of the violence at Heysel that evening, but had no reason to suspect his brother would be caught up in the chaos.

It was only later, when he received a call from Patrick's wife, that he learnt his brother was among the dead.

"It was a shock - quite a blow," he said.

"I remember ringing to speak to him, but actually I spoke to his wife. She said he was at the match, which surprised me. Then she rang me back later on. I was aware there had been some trouble at the game. I think I saw it on the news, but I never thought Patrick would be there.

"It was a complete shock."

Mr Radcliffe later visited the stadium, which was rebuilt for Euro 2000, which Belgium co-hosted with The Netherlands.

He still keeps in touch with Dennis, his brother's companion at Heysel.

"I still exchange Christmas cards with him," he added.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the disaster, a landmark made all the more poignant by the fact Juventus are back in the final this year.

For Mr Radcliffe, it is likely to stir memories of that terrible night.

"Yes - it is important," he said. "I remember the 25th anniversary, for example. It reminds you of it all. It brings back the memories of what happened."

Belfast Telegraph

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