Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Remembrance

When the European League Football Final was played at Wembley last week in which Manchester United was soundly beaten by the formidable Spanish Club Barcelona 1-3, it brought back memory of the same events 26 years back at Heysel Stadium, Brussels. That event was more remembered for the tragedy that happened before the start of the match than the match itself or the result. This is the excerpt from the Liverpool FC website on the anniversary of the tragic event:

On the 26th anniversary of the Heysel Stadium tragedy, Liverpool Football Club remembers the 39 football supporters who lost their lives in the disaster.
Liverpool FC placed a wreath at the Heysel Memorial Plaque this afternoon as a mark of respect.
The Club unveiled the permanent tribute to the 39 last year at a moving ceremony attended by officials and former players of both Liverpool and Juventus.

I remember the event vividly as it happened in the wee hours in Malaysia where we were carrying the Final live over RTM 1. I was with the RTM crew in Studio 2 of Angkasapuri overseeing the live telecast as the Head of the newly created Sports Division. The Producer was Mathew George and our anchorman was Rahim Razali. We were readying ourselves to enjoy the match when the English commentators on the other end sounded distress and unhappy at the scene at a portion of the stadium. Then they stopped commenting but the visual was uninterrupted.

The crew at the control panel of Studio 2 was focussing on me to come up with a decision to interrupt the visual with a “filler” of our own in case of such “emergency”. George made a remark “Boss I am waiting for your decision”. I told George let the visual be on our telecast and to instruct Rahim to make careful remark on the sensitive scene of the clash between the two rival factions. Rahim did make a comment and ask the viewers to judge the events unfolding in front of us.

Meanwhile the crew were restless. It was normal for the show to be interrupted with emergency programme until situation became normal. I calmed them down by ensuring that thing will be back to normal and the match will be played. Whatever questions rose from that decision will be my responsibility. True enough the match was on much later. We have to work extra time that night.

We discovered later RTM was the only station in the world that carried the tragedy live. I knew I would have to answer to the authority upstairs on the “sensitive” scenes akin to “13 May Tragedy” which was still fresh in our memory then. It was none other than the Minister of Information himself, the late Tan Sri Mohamad Rahmat who commanded me to his office to hear my explanation.

I told him I was moved by the recent article in the paper rebuking the Malays and Malaysian being uncivilised and living on trees. The decision to show the tragedy was to prove to the world that even the European were still uncivilised and going after each other throats while watching a simple game of football. At least our football fans were good enough to enjoy local football with friendly banters.

The Minister was happy with my reasoning and said he was watching the whole event too and was of the same opinion. I felt relief.


  1. Tok cik,

    I too watched that game. I prefer not to comment on the sad and unfortunate incident but would rather talk about the game. I remember before the game got going both captains (Phil Neal for Liverpool and if I was not mistaken Michel Platini for Juventus) went round appealing for calm from both supporters. Liverpool players felt so guilty about it so much so that they didn't put their full hearts into the game. They appeared to be too happy to lose by a single goal. This tragedy resulted in Liverpool (and other English clubs) being banned from European football for several years. This robbed Liverpool of the chance to increase their European trophy collection. As they were all-conquering at that time, they could have won more honours in Europe had they not been banned.

  2. Assalamualaikum, Tokcik,

    Thanks for the insight. It was a bold decision on your part. I was at home watching the match, a 15-year old who the next morning was groggy throughout school hours but the day, weeks and months later, the talking point remained the Heysel tragedy. Tuan Idris, captain for Juve then was the late Gaetano Scirea...but I remember Platini also making an emotional appeal for calm to the fans...thanks Tokcik for this insight.