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Heysel Stadium Tragedy: 25 Years Later

My memories of how I learned about the news regarding the Hillsborough Disaster and the Bradford Fire Disaster are a lot more vivid than what happened 25 years ago today in the Heysel Stadium Disaster. Part of the reason was because both the Hillsborough and Valley Parade games were played on a Saturday, while the European Cup Final of 1985 was played on a Wednesday night in Brussels. For me, living in the United States, it was certainly easier to follow games on my shortwave radio on a Saturday morning when the signal was much more clearer than on a Wednesday afternoon when I would be working and the signal strength was abysmal.

Of course, these were the days long before when there was no live English football on television in the United States.

My memory is fuzzy but I  news of the Heysel Stadium Disaster was on the nightly network news in the States that evening. I remember feeling disgusted and ashamed of being a football supporter. This was only two weeks after the awful Bradford City fire disaster. And four years before the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster that was caused by a failure of police control.

While the death of football supporters at Hillsborough and Valley Parade was linked to circumstances outside of football hooliganism, the cause of death for the 39 fans who died on May 29 1985 can be linked directly to football hooliganism after they died when a wall collapsed due to Juventus fans trying to escape from the onrushing Liverpool supporters.

For the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus, the Heysel Stadium in Belgium was segregated with Liverpool supporters at one end of the ground and Juventus fans at the other. However, next to the Liverpool supporters section was Block Z, which was meant for neutral supporters. These neutral tickets were put on open sale in Brussels in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Within hours of going on sale, they were all sold many of which were bought by the substantial Italian population in Brussels as well as travel agents and ticket touts. A small percentage of the tickets sold ended up in the hands of Liverpool fans.

On the day of the European Cup Final, Liverpool supporters found themselves next to a large contingent of Juventus fans, separated just by a few yards. Missiles began to be thrown by each set of team supporters. And many of them found stones from the crumbling terraces beneath them. Approximately one hour before the game was scheduled to start, the throwing of missiles became more intense. A group of Liverpool supporters then charged across the terraces and into the “neutral” section where the Juventus supporters stood. This caused the Juventus supporters to retreat. But having nowhere to escape, they ended moving towards a perimeter wall near the corner flag. Under the weight of all of the fans against the wall, some who tried to escape over it, the wall collapsed. At this point, most of the deaths occurred. Thirty nine in total and more than 600 people were injured.

The UEFA officials decided that the game should go ahead. Otherwise if they cancelled the game, they feared it would incite more violence. It was a game that few cared about after what had happened on the terraces.

Officially, the entire blame for the Heysel Stadium Disaster was placed on Liverpool supporters by UEFA. After an 18-month investigation by a Belgian judge, the dossier concluded that the blame should be shared by Liverpool supporters, police and football authorities.

As a result of the Heysel Disaster, UEFA banned English clubs from competing in European competitions for five years. Liverpool ended up being banned for six years.

Of the 39 football fans who died that terrible day, 32 of them were Italian fans of Juventus, four were Belgians, two French people and one man from Northern Ireland. May they all rest in peace.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
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4 Responses to Heysel Stadium Tragedy: 25 Years Later

  1. brn442 says:

    Again, its a shame when anyone loses their life during a football match. I’m still a bit wary of this myth that hooligans on the Juventus side weren’t also culpable in this tragedy.

  2. Shakira says:

    They were to a point but what I find sad is the call for justice when it comes to Hillsborough but they think justice was done when it comes to Heysel. Only 14 people charged and over half of those convicted never served their sentence. Where is the call for Justice from Liverpool fans, oh that’s right they are silent or think justice was done for those 39 murdered.

  3. steve says:

    firstly it wasnt murder it was manslaughter. in fact i think it was involuntary manslaughter.

    what happened at heysel,the charging,was common place all around the country in the 70′s and 80′s as fans infiltrated each other ends or tried to breach segregation. that is why almost all ground had fencing.

    the so called rioting by liverpool fans at heysel was nothing compared to what had been seen at other grounds like birmingham,leeds,chelsea,millwall etc. heysel was just 3 instances of fans charging their opponents.

    had there been sufficient segregation,instead of chicken wire and no “no mans land” berween the fans then this forseable trouble wouldnt have happened.

    the reputation of english and italian fans meant there should have been much better police organisation and segregation. putting neutrals in the liverpool end was stupid enough. but when it was discovered that ticket agencies had snapped up almost all the tickets allocated to neutrals and sold them on to italians the belgian authorities should have ensured tough segregation. the fact they didnt ensured that the mayor of brussels lost his position,the cheif of police was sacked and the belgian goverment was brought down.

    lfc had warned the belgians of potential trouble over a week before the final when they discovered italians wee going to be in the liverpool end.

    i’m not shifting the blame here. lfc had hooligans,as did most clubs. i’d say lfc weren’t even in the top 15 worst sets of fans at the time and this behaviour was not seen at any of our previous european trips. to see it happen involving our fans was a shock.

    justice was done of course. fans were jailed and those in charge of the organisation of the final were sacked. juve fans were also banned from attending their home european games the following season. a decision which means they were not themselves blameless in all this.

    it was a sad night for the whole of football. after this the liverpool fanbase gradually changed. we instantly lost a large group of our so called hooligan element. gardually those who still carried the hooligan flag in our name,the numbers have dwindles to next to nothing.

    liverpool has lost it’s hooligan element to such an extent that a visit to anfield is probably the safest ground you can get as an away fan.

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