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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