Forever tainted with the tragedy of 1985 in which 39 Juventus fans died before a European Cup final, the former Heysel is today the Stade Roi Baudouin, Belgium’s national stadium. Selected as one of 13 hosts of Euro 2020, the Roi Baudouin was forced to withdraw its participation when an ambitious project, the Eurostadium, was eventually shelved.
In March 2019, another initiative was announced, for the stadium to be rebuilt as the Golden Generation Arena at a cost of some €150-€200 million from public funds.
If it goes ahead, what should remain is the memorial to the 39 victims of the 1985 tragedy, a sundial and words to WH Auden’s poem, ‘Funeral Blues’, the one that begins with ‘Stop all the clocks…’.
Inaugurated as a multi-sports arena shortly after Belgium had participated in the first World Cup of 1930, the Heysel had hosted a number of European finals but was in a poor state of repair by 1985. Originally official blame was laid entirely upon Liverpool fans, although stadium maintenance and crowd control were also later called into question.
It took ten years for authorities to rebuild the ground, its current capacity 50,000, 45,000 for soccer. It officially opened as a football venue ten years after the tragedy, in 1995, and five years later staged the curtain-raiser for Euro 2000.
Four two-tiered stands surround the running track used for major international meetings: tribune 4 (blue) and 2 (yellow) behind each goal; main tribune 1 (red) and 3 (green) over the sidelines.
Roi Baudouin is at the end of the M6 metro line, one after Heysel, directly linked to Gare du Midi. Heysel is actually slightly closer but Roi Baudouin allows easier access to the main entrance and the bars on avenue Houba de Strooper. There, a number of buses serve the Stade stop, a long trek from the city centre.
For details about for national games, see www.belgianfootball.be – tickets are sold online here. There are also ticket windows to the left of the main entrance as you approach from avenue Houba de Strooper.
With or without a guide, stadium tours last for 60-90mins and take place Mon-Fri 10am-5pm (€6/€4 for children). There are also special Saturday-morning visits (€8/€5 3-18s) arranged once a month, at 2pm.
Amid the row of bars and restaurants lining the other side of avenue Houba de Strooper from the stadium, you’ll find the standard Forum Café, Daniell’s Taverne and Le Beau Rivage, as well as the Keshmara hookah bar, if you’re in need of a traditional waterpipe before the game. Pick of the bunch is characterful The Corner, offering karaoke and the bizarre Belgian variety of pinball courtesy a gleaming Montana De Luxe machine by the counter.
At the main entrance to the stadium, the Extra Time Café features little Red Devil figures on the doors and on the table football, as well as a light-hearted mural of classic Belgian cartoon characters engaging in sporting japes.