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The Heysel Stadium disaster remembered 30 years on

Image: Liverpool captain Phil Neal and his Juventus counterpart Gaetano Scirea shake hands ahead of kick-off in the 1985 European Cup final

Thirty years ago, Eamonn McCabe went to work as a photographer at the European Cup final. One of the pictures he took became a symbol of the night. It appeared in The Observer newspaper and it won an award for 1985's news photograph of the year.

"I've never got over what happened," McCabe said. "It was awful. I wish I had never been involved in it."

McCabe was excited about working at the game between Juventus and Liverpool. In those days, very few games were shown live on television. Seeing Juventus and their famous black and white stripes live was going to be a thrill, especially because they were playing against an English side who had won the European Cup for the fourth time a year earlier in Rome.

"Liverpool were the Kings of Europe," he said. "Those were the days of Dalglish and Rush. I was on a roll. I was around at the right time."

Just before kick-off, McCabe realised there was something wrong. He made his way to what was supposed to be the Liverpool end of the ground. The terracing at that end was divided into three sections. Two, X and Y, were for Liverpool fans. Section Z was supposed to be for Belgian residents, but on the night it was full of Juventus supporters.

The stadium was in poor condition. A riot caused a wall to collapse. Thirty-nine people in section Z died.

"I didn't know how bad it was going to be," McCabe said. "I grabbed one of my small cameras and I took two frames. The camera was around my neck. I'd brought it along to get a quick close-up of the winners with the trophy on the pitch at the end of the game."

Minutes later, McCabe realised something had gone terribly wrong. He heard screams, he saw bodies being carried on to the pitch. He used hand signals to let the English journalists in the press box know more than 30 people had died.

Image: A Belgium policeman confronts fans on the pitch at Heysel ahead of the 1985 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus

"It was the worst thing I'd ever seen," McCabe said. "I'd never seen people dying in front of me before."

Even though 39 people had died, the authorities decided that the match had to go ahead. McCabe remembers taking pictures of Juventus's 1-0 victory, but he has never developed them.

"It was the quickest game I'd ever seen," he said. "I've never processed the pictures. I thought if that's sport, you can have it."

Those were the days before the internet and digital photography, so McCabe had to drive and get the ferry back to The Observer's offices in London before he could process his pictures of the tragedy. Four days later, his pictures appeared in the broadsheet. One of them won the award for news picture of the year.

"It was an award I didn't want to win," he said. "I won and it's on my CV, but I hope people don't know what I won it for."

McCabe's pictures from the night are now kept in a small white box. The ones that were used by The Observer have small red marks on them. The majority of the pictures were too harrowing for publication. 

In the box, there are numerous prints of his most famous picture. Thirty-nine people died that night, but he says he is sure none of the victims appear in his haunting image.

"In 30 years, no one had ever come back and said I'd taken a picture of someone they knew dying," he said. "I'm pleased about that."

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