Heysel Stadium Disaster

Heysel Stadium Disaster

The Heysel Stadium disaster occurred owing to football hooliganism in which a retaining wall of the Heysel Stadium in Brussels collapsed on May 29 1985 before a football match between Liverpool F.C. from England and Juventus F.C. from Italy. 39 people were killed, mostly Italian Juventus fans, and hundreds more were injured. The match was the final of the 1985 European Cup tournament.

Approximately an hour before the scheduled kick-off time a number of Liverpool fans breached a fence separating the two groups of supporters and charged at and attacked the Italian supporters. Juventus fans were forced to retreat, putting pressure on a dilapidated wall, which collapsed away from them with the resulting crush leading to the deaths. The game was played despite the disaster.

The tragedy resulted in all English football clubs being placed under an indefinite ban by UEFA from all European competitions (lifted in 1990-91), with Liverpool F.C. being excluded for an additional year. The disaster has been called "the darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions." [Quote from UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson in 2004, [http://www.uefa.com/uefa/Keytopics/kind=2/newsId=300034.html uefa.com] ]


In May 1985 Liverpool were the premier football team in Europe, having been European Cup champions in four of the previous eight seasons. Liverpool reached the final again in 1985, and were looking to defend the title that they won by defeating Roma the previous year. Again they would face Italian opposition, Juventus, who were the reigning Cup Winners' Cup holders and had a team comprising many of Italy's 1982 World Cup winning team, plus the mercurial Michel Platini of France, winner of the Ballon d'Or (awarded to European footballer of the year) in 1983, 1984, and 1985.

Earlier, in January, Liverpool had visited Turin to play Juventus in the European Super Cup. Juve won the game 2–0. There should have been a second match at Anfield, but Liverpool couldn't find time in their schedule for the return leg, so it was postponed until after Heysel, and was never played.

1984 - Liverpool vs. Roma

The previous year against Roma the final had coincidentally taken place at Roma's "Stadio Olimpico" in Rome. Liverpool won the cup on penalties. After the match, gangs of Roma fans assaulted Liverpool supporters who were making their way back to their hotels. Many fans were attacked, stabbed and slashed. The appalled Roman press reported that this was not simply a reaction to the defeat, but that Roma fans had stowed weapons in their cars before the game, and had rushed to get them upon the final whistle.cite web| url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2093-1533059,00.html |title=Heysel: the tragedy that should never have happened| | work=The Times |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ]

Liverpool's local radio station "Radio City" also experienced this violence first hand. Many Liverpool supporters were attacked by gangs of Roma fans when they approached the local bus station. Drivers refused to take Liverpool fans on their buses in case they were attacked and many English fans who had been refused travel sought refuge in the British Embassy. Eventually, a volunteer driver agreed to take Liverpool fans on a bus through the city, dropping people off at their respective hotels. Police outriders were required at the front and rear of the bus to protect it. Radio City had a news crew on the bus and interviewed fans who had been stabbed and beaten. None of this violence received any news coverage in the UK national press, but it did in Italy. The only UK paper to publicise this violence was the local Liverpool daily paper The "Liverpool Echo", under the headline "The Ecstasy and the Agony".

May 29, 1985

Built in 1930, the Heysel Stadium was outdated and not a suitable venue for a match such as the European Cup Final. Large parts of the stadium were crumbling. Even at the time many felt the ground was patently unsafe for football, with Liverpool Chief Executive Peter Robinson urging UEFA to use another venue.cite web| url=http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/lfc_story/a_1985.shtml |title=LFC Story 1985| | work=Liverpool Official Website |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ]

The stadium was crammed with 58,000–60,000 supporters, with more than 25,000 for each team. The two ends behind the goals comprised all-standing terraces, each end split into three zones. The Juventus end was O, N and M. At the other end Liverpool were allocated X and Y, with the Z section (to one side) being reserved for neutral Belgian fans. The idea of this large neutral area was opposed by both Liverpool and Juventus,cite web|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,428-1532782,00.html |title=Night of mayhem in Brussels that will never be forgotten |work=The Times |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ] as it would provide an opportunity for fans of both clubs to obtain tickets from agencies or from ticket touts outside the ground and thus create a dangerous mix of fans.

At the time Brussels, like the rest of Belgium, had a large Italian community, and many expatriate Juventus fans bought the section Z tickets.cite web|url=http://football.guardian.co.uk/championsleague200405/story/0,,1450632,00.html |title=Liverpool still torn over night that shamed their name|work=The Guardian | language= |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ] Added to this, many tickets were bought up and sold by travel agents, mainly to Juventus fans. A small percentage of the tickets ended up in the hands of Liverpool fans.

To add to the tension, the Liverpool X and Y sections were overcrowded after many fans managed to get in without tickets, and most of the fans had been drinking all day.cite web| url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,762-1554603,00.html |title=Our day of shame | work=The Times |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ]


At approximately 7pm local time, an hour before kick-off, the trouble started.cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/768380.stm |title=The Heysel disaster|work=BBC News | language= |accessdaymonth=15 June |accessyear=2006 ] The Liverpool and Juventus supporters in sections Y and Z stood merely yards apart. The boundary between the two was marked by temporary chicken-wire fencing and a central thinly-policed no-man's land.cite web|url=http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,1563,1448505,00.html |title=Lost lives that saved a sport |work=The Guardian |accessdaymonth=15 June |accessyear=2006 ] It is not clear who started throwing missiles; but as a result missiles began to be exchanged across the divide. One often-quoted source of the missiles was the crumbling stadium; fans could pick up stones from the terraces beneath them.

As kick-off approached, the throwing became more intense. A group of Liverpool fans charged across the terraces, through and over the wire fence into section Z causing the Juventus fans to retreat. Having no way out, the Juventus fans moved towards the side perimeter wall, near to the corner flag. Some tried to climb over the wall to escape. The aging wall could not withstand the weight and collapsed.

It was at this point that the majority of the deaths occurred - 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured.cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/29/newsid_2733000/2733979.stm |title=1985: Fans die in Heysel rioting |work=BBC News |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ] Bodies were carried away on sections of iron fencing and laid in piles outside, covered with giant football flags. As police and medical helicopters flew in, the down-draught blew away the modest coverings. The situation became chaotic.

In retaliation for the events in section Z, Juventus fans then rioted at their end of the stadium. They advanced down the stadium running track towards the Liverpool supporters seeking confrontation, but police intervention stopped the advance. The Juventus fans fought the police with rocks, bottles and missiles for two hours. One even fired a pistolcite web |url=http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,691224,00.html |title=The tragedy that dare not speak its name|work=The Observer |accessdaymonth=24 May |accessyear=2006 ] (later verified as being a starting pistol). When the game eventually kicked off, riot police were still fighting a pitched battle with Juventus supporters, and they maintained a presence around the entire pitch for the duration of the game.

A much overlooked part of the tragedy is that, before the main match, a friendly game was played by very young Belgian selection players. By pure coincidence, the teenagers were playing in colours identical to the cup contestants. In their first half, the red Belgian team built a 3-0 lead, to the great pleasure of Liverpool fans who started acting as if the Cup game had already started. When the white selection team scored in the second half, around 19.10, the English and Italian fans were starting to brawl. With several minutes to go, the game was called off and the young players were taken away. [http://geschiedenis.vpro.nl/programmas/2899536/afleveringen/22469665/items/22561631/]

39 victims

39 football fans died in the incident, 32 Italian fans of Juventus FC, 4 Belgians, 2 French and an Irishman.


During Euro 2000, all the members of the Italian team left flowers on the site, in honour to the dead fans of Juventus.

On May 29, 2005, a £140,000 sculpture was unveiled at the new Heysel stadium, to commemorate the disaster. The monument is a sundial designed by French artist Patrick Rimoux and includes Italian and Belgian stone and the poem Funeral Blues by Englishman W. H. Auden to symbolise the sorrow of the three nations. 39 lights shine, one for each who died that night. [cite web|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2005/05/30/sfnhey30.xml |title=Anniversary monument honours Heysel dead |work= The Times |accessdaymonth=30 August |accessyear=2006]

Juventus and Liverpool were drawn together in the quarter-finals of the 2005 Champions League. This match took place 20 years after the Heysel incident and was the first time the clubs faced each other since that time. Before the first leg at Anfield Liverpool fans held up placards to form a banner saying "amicizia" ("friendship" in Italian). Many Juventus fans applauded the gesture, though a significant number chose to turn their backs on it.cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4409501.stm |title= Mixed reactions to Heysel homage |work=BBC News |accessdaymonth=15 June |accessyear=2006 ]

The second leg in Turin was played against a backdrop of crowd trouble as Juventus fans clashed with police, attacked Liverpool supporters and threw missiles.cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4431795.stm |title=Juventus 0-0 Liverpool |work=BBC News | language= accessdaymonth=15 June |accessyear=2006 ] Liverpool ended up winning the tie 2-1, en route to their famous 2005 Champions League victory.

References in pop culture

*The disaster was the subject of a song titled "38" by Revolting Cocks.

*British composer Michael Nyman made a piece called "Memorial" which was originally part of a larger work of the same name written in 1985 in memory of the Juventus fans who died at Heysel Stadium.

*Claudio Baglioni, in his song "Naso di Falco", wonders "chi ha schiacciato i cuori dell'Heysel" ("who crushed the hearts in Heysel").

*The Icicle Works, in a song from their 1987 album If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy, Sing His Song, had a song entitled 'Up here in the North of England'. The song laments the depths the City of Liverpool sank to at the end of the 1980s, and refers to the Heysel Disaster in the line 'McDonalds finally found us, and we're folklore in Turin, we used to pull the ships in, now we're going down, look at the state we're in'

See also

*1985 European Cup Final
*Football hooliganism
*Hillsborough disaster


External links

* [http://www.lfconline.com/news/loadsngl.asp?CID=EDB3 Heysel Tragedy article on LFC Online]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4394705.stm BBC Sports columnist Alan Hansen - Reds tie evokes Heysel memories]
* [http://www.doublebandfilms.com/viewport.asp?id=53 DoubleBand Films documentary on The Heysel Stadium Disaster]
* [http://www.sirc.org/publik/football_violence.pdf Football Violence in Europe] Paper by the Social Issues Research Centre
* [http://spazioinwind.libero.it/solegemello/heysel.html Memorial Italian Fansite] Memorial Fansite (In Italian)
* [http://www.fanatical.hu/heysel-stadium-tragedy-29051985/ Videos]

Journal Articles

- The International Journal of the History of Sport; Football hooliganism as a transnational phenomenon: Past and present analysis: A critique – More specificity and less generality, (Routledge; Volume 24, Number 4/April 2007) - Soccer and Society, (Routledge; Volume 5, Number 2/Summer 2004)

- Soccer and Society, 'Heads in the Sand': Football, Politics and Crowd Disasters in Twentieth-Century Britain, (Routledge; Volume 5, Number 2/Summer 2004)

- Soccer and Society, English Football Fan Groups in the 1990s: Class, Representation and Fan Power, (Routledge; Volume 5, Number 2/Summer 2004)

- Soccer and Society, For Club and Country: Taking Football Disorder Abroad, (Routledge; Volume 3, Number 1/Spring 2002)

- Soccer and Society, Hit and tell: A review essay on the Soccer Hooligan Memoir, (Routledge; Volume 5, Number 3/Autumn 2004)

- Soccer and Society, The Nature and Extent of Football Hooliganism in England and Wales, (Routledge; Volume 7, Number 4/December 2006)

- Soccer and Society, The Ownership and Control of Elite Club Competition in European Football, (Routledge; Volume 8, Number 1/January 2007)

- Soccer and Society, This Sporting Life: The Realism of The Football Factory, (Routledge; Volume 8, Number 1/January 2007)

- Soccer and Society, 'Protect Me From What I Want’: Football Fandom, Celebrity Cultures and ‘New’ Football in England, (Routledge; Volume 7, Number 1/January 2006)

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