The Heysel Disaster

The deaths of 39 people in the Heysel disaster on May 29 1985 ensured that year’s European Cup Final would be remembered for more than sporting reasons.

The final between Italian side Juventus and English team Liverpool was to be played at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium when an hour from kick-off supporters of the Italian side were crushed by a concrete wall after opposition fans breached a fence separating them.

Incredibly, the game went ahead, despite the tragedy, which Juventus won 1-0 thanks to a Michel Platini penalty.

It was one of three devastating stadium incidents in the 1980s coming after the Bradford City stadium fire and before the Hillsborough tragedy.

In the build-up to the final, UEFA decided that a small section behind one of the goals would be deemed a ‘neutral’ zone for Belgian fans, section Z, which would be right next to sections of the stand allocated to Liverpool supporters. The fans were separated by thin metal wire and a limited police presence.

The choice of the 55-year-old Heysel Stadium as the host for the final of the premier European club competition also attracted criticism due to the poor state of the ground and abject conditions.

Before the final, a friendly match took place between young Belgian players competing in the colors of the two finalists which flared tensions between the Liverpool supporters and the Juventus fans in the ‘neutral’ section.

Missiles and stones were thrown across the divide separating the fans, brawls broke out and the friendly game between the youth players was called off.

The missiles intensified and Liverpool supporters charged towards the ‘neutral’ zone, comprised mostly by supporters of the Italian club.

The fans in the ‘neutral’ section fled in horror but were contained by a wall which collapsed under the resulting pressure which claimed 39 lives and caused hundreds of injuries.

Despite the nature of the incident, the game went ahead supposedly in the interest of public safety as there were fears that calling off the match could further inflame hostilities.

Juventus fans at the opposite end of the ground, incensed by the events in section Z, marched down the stadium but were halted by police which resulted in further violence.

The incident resulted in all English clubs being indefinitely banned by UEFA from all European competitions which was partially lifted in the 1990-1991 season as Aston Villa and Manchester United were permitted entry to the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup respectively.

Liverpool were banned for a further year and it wasn’t until 1995 that the entire UEFA ban was lifted. 20 teams were barred from competing in European competitions during the ban whilst eight clubs missed out on competing in the UEFA Cup from 1990-1995.

An investigation into the tragedy concluded that blame should not solely rest with the English supporters and that some responsibility lay with the police and authorities.

Twenty-seven arrests were made on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and 14 fans were later convicted – half were given a three year prison term and the other half received suspended three year prison sentences.

In 1994, Heysel was completely rebuilt as the King Baudouin Stadium and it hosted the 1996 Cup Winners’ Cup final as Paris Saint-Germain beat Rapid Vienna 1-0.

In addition, English clubs were given stronger domestic powers to ban hooligans and troublesome supporters.

On May 29 2013, Juventus posted the following message on their website.

“The Heysel tragedy and its victims will never be forgotten, with a star dedicated to each and every one of them at the club’s new home, Juventus Stadium.

“Each of us has the duty to remember that such mindless violence should never be allowed to occur. Ever again.”

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