Heysel Stadium disaster
The 1985 football tragedy was described as "the darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions"
It is more than 30 years since the Heysel Stadium disaster occurred where 39 fans died and 600 more were injured at the 1985 European Cup finals between Juventues of Italy and Liverpool of England.
On May 29, 1985 fans had gathered at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels to watch the game. This was the time when Hooliganism was a major problem in professional football. The Heysel stadium tragedy has had a considerable impact on the European football to date.
The Heysel stadium was a contentious selection for the cup finals considering the stadium during that time was 55 years old and was also undergoing reconstruction. Both teams playing for the finals had passed their request to UEFA to change the venue but nothing happened. Much of the structures in the stadium were reported to be literally crumbling. Some of the fans who did not have tickets were kicking holes in the cinder block of the outer wall to get inside the stadium.
Arsenal who had a match in the stadium the previous year had stated that the stadium was not enough. UEFA declined to change the venue for the final. In the previous year cup Final where Liverpool beat AS Roma, some Liverpool fans were assaulted by Roma fans and it was believed that some of these fans had a personal vendetta with the Italian Football fans.
Confrontation between fans
When the finals arrived, fans were allocated tickets for a different location depending on the teams they were supporting. Juventus fans were billed tickets for the veranda behind one goal-terraces M, N and O as the Liverpool fans were billed terraces X and Y behind the goal. As for the neutral Belgian fans, they were allocated terrace Z. However, according to reports, Belgium was populated with ethnic Italians hence terrace Z was also filled with Juventus fans.
This was predicted even before the match began but again UEFA did not take it into consideration. Violence erupted at 7.00pm, an hour before the match kicked off. Liverpool fans who were in terrace Y and Juventus Fans in terrace Z had began provoking each other, Liverpool fans were throwing stones across the thin wire separating the terraces. Several groups of Liverpool fans broke through the boundary between section X and Z, overpowered the police, and charged at the Juventus fans.
Heysel stadium wall collapsed
The small group of police who stood along the thin fence was unable to control the situation. At this time, Liverpool fans were pushing the Juventus fans in terrace Z breaking the fence and overwhelming the police. As a result, the Juventus fans began to flee but at the side of the terrace stood a concrete wall. These fans were already in panic and they began to mount up, many of them crushed against the wall, when the wall collapsed it made a pressure release for the fans but others died of suffocation after tripping, this is where most of the deaths and injuries occurred. Bodies were carried and heaped along the side of the pitch. They were covered in giant football flags as they wait to be collected by incoming police and medical personnels.
Juventus fans who were sitting on the other side of the stadium saw this and they were infuriated. They began to riot in a bid to brazen out the Liverpool fans. However, they were betrothed by the police and a struggle ensued. Unfortunately, the match had to go on as planned since it was feared that canceling the match could incite more violence.
Liverpool team players knew what was going on outside while they were in their dressing room. According to some players, the incident scared them. Alan Kennedy claimed that at that particular moment what he least wanted was to play football, but the decision was made and they had to play. The match kicked at 9:42 pm while the police were still skirmishing some of the insurgence Juventus fans. When the final whistle was blown, Juventus had won the game. Michel Platini converted a penalty kick into the net for the Italian side.
Aftermath of the Heysel Stadium tragedy
After the tragic event, the blame was lain on the Liverpool fans. According to UEFA observer Gunter Schneider Liverpool fans were found guilty. Therefore, UEFA decided to ban all English teams from any European competition for the next five years. Liverpool on its part received a ban of 10 years. Fortunately, they only served 6 of those ten returning in the 1991-92 season. Belgium on its part was interdicted for 10 years from hosting any major European final.
The 39 people killed were 32 Italians (including two minors), four Belgians, two French fans and one from Northern Ireland. The British police undertook a thorough investigation to bring to justice the perpetrators. There were 34 people arrested and questioned with 26 Liverpool fans being charged with manslaughter after a number of security footage were reviewed. This lead to 14 Liverpool fans receiving a 3-year jail sentences.
Even though most of the blame was put on Liverpool fans, UEFA should also take the blame for refusing to consider the fears that had been issued to them earlier.