Heysel Stadium disaster

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Heysel Stadium Disaster
Event1985 European Cup Final
Juventus 1–0 Liverpool
Date29 May 1985
LocationHeysel Stadium, Brussels
CauseRioting and stadium disrepair
Result5-year ban for English clubs from European competition
(6 years for Liverpool).
14 fans convicted of involuntary manslaughter
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Heysel Stadium Disaster
Event1985 European Cup Final
Juventus 1–0 Liverpool
Date29 May 1985
LocationHeysel Stadium, Brussels
CauseRioting and stadium disrepair
Result5-year ban for English clubs from European competition
(6 years for Liverpool).
14 fans convicted of involuntary manslaughter

The Heysel Stadium disaster (pronounced: [ˈɦɛizəl]; Italian: Strage dell'Heysel, Dutch: Heizeldrama, French: Drame du Heysel) occurred on 29 May 1985 when escaping fans were pressed against a wall in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final between Juventus of Italy and Liverpool of England. Thirty-nine Juventus fans died[1] and 600 were injured.[citation needed]

Approximately one hour before the Juventus-Liverpool final was due to kick off, a large group of Liverpool fans breached a fence separating them from a "neutral area" which contained Juventus fans. The Juventus fans ran back on the terraces and away from the threat into a concrete retaining wall. Fans already seated near the wall were crushed; eventually the wall collapsed. Many people climbed over to safety, but many others died or were badly injured. The game was played despite the disaster in order to prevent further violence.[2]

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 being excluded for an additional year and fourteen Liverpool fans found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and each sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The disaster was later described as "The darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions".[3]

Events leading up to the disaster[edit]

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

Despite its status as Belgium's national stadium, Heysel Stadium was in a poor state of repair by the time of the 1985 European Final. The 55-year-old stadium had not been sufficiently maintained for several years, and large parts of the stadium were literally crumbling. For example, the outer wall had been made of cinder block, and fans who did not have tickets were seen kicking holes in it to get in.[4] Liverpool players and fans later said that they were shocked at the abject conditions of the ground, despite reports from Arsenal fans that the stadium was a "dump" when the Gunners played there a few years earlier. They were also surprised that Heysel was chosen despite its poor condition, especially since Barcelona's Camp Nou and Madrid's Bernabéu were both available. Liverpool CEO Peter Robinson urged UEFA to choose another venue, claiming that Heysel was not suitable to host a European Final, and certainly not one involving two of the most powerful clubs in Europe. However, UEFA refused to consider a move.[5]

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,[6] 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, already had a large Italian community, and many expatriate Juventus fans bought the section Z tickets.[7] 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.


Heysel Stadium by section

At approximately 7 p.m. local time, an hour before kick-off, the trouble started.[8] The Liverpool and Juventus supporters in sections X and Z stood merely yards apart. The boundary between the two was marked by temporary chain link fencing and a central thinly policed no-man's land.[9] Missiles began to be thrown both ways across the divide. Fans were able to pick up stones from the terraces beneath them.

As kick-off approached, the throwing became more intense. A group of Liverpool fans moved towards the side perimeter wall, near to the corner flag. Juventus fans tried to climb over the wall to escape. Many succeeded; however, the wall could not withstand the force of the fleeing Juventus supporters and collapsed.

It was at this point that the majority of the deaths occurred — 39 people died, and a further 600 were injured.[9][10] 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.

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, but police intervention stopped the advance. The Juventus fans fought the police with rocks, bottles and missiles for two hours. One Juventus fan was captured on television footage apparently firing a pistol[11] (later verified as being a starting pistol). When the game 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.

Before the main match, a friendly game was played by very young Belgian selection players, who were playing in colours identical to the cup contestants. In their first half, the red Belgian team built a 3–0 lead, to the delight of the Liverpool fans who were 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.[12]

Juventus 1–0 Liverpool[edit]

Despite the scale of the disaster, it was felt that abandoning the game would have risked inciting further trouble, and the match eventually kicked off after the captains of both sides spoke to the crowd and appealed for calm.

Juventus won the match 1–0 thanks to a penalty scored by Michel Platini, awarded by Swiss referee Daina for a foul against Zbigniew Boniek.[13]

At the end of the game, some Juventus players celebrated their victory in the middle of the pitch and outside. The former Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti said in his biography that he "ordered the changing rooms to be locked and no information should have been leaked inside" since he feared the players could have been assaulted.[14] Consistent statements have been released by Juventus striker Paolo Rossi.


Officially the entire blame for the incident was laid on the fans of Liverpool FC. On 30 May official UEFA observer Gunter Schneider said, "Only the English fans were responsible. Of that there is no doubt." UEFA, the organiser of the event, the owners of Heysel Stadium and the Belgian police were investigated for culpability. After an 18-month investigation, the dossier of top Belgian judge Marina Coppieters was finally published. It concluded that blame should not rest solely with the English fans, and that some culpability lay with the police and authorities. Several top officials were incriminated by some of the dossier’s findings, including police captain Johan Mahieu, who had been in charge of security on 29 May 1985 and was now charged with involuntary manslaughter.

On 31 May, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put pressure upon the FA to withdraw English clubs from European competition,[15] and two days later UEFA banned English clubs for "an indeterminate period of time". On 6 June FIFA extended the ban to all worldwide matches, but this was modified one week later to allow friendly matches to take place. The ban did not apply to the English national team. English clubs were banned indefinitely from European club competitions. In the end, all English clubs were banned for five years. The British police undertook a thorough investigation to bring to justice the perpetrators. Some 17 minutes of film and many still photographs were examined. TV Eye produced an hour-long programme featuring the footage and the British press also published the photographs.

There were 27 arrests on suspicion of manslaughter – the only extraditable offence applicable to events at Heysel. Most of these people had previous convictions for football-related violence. In 1989, after a five-month trial in Belgium, fourteen fans were given three-year sentences for involuntary manslaughter.[16]

A memorial service for those killed in the disaster was held before Liverpool's match with Arsenal on 18 August 1985, however according to The Sydney Morning Herald, it was "drowned out" by chanting.[17]

Heysel Stadium continued to be used for hosting athletics for almost a decade, but no further football matches took place in the old stadium. In 1994, the stadium was almost completely rebuilt as King Baudouin Stadium. On 23 August 1995 the new stadium welcomed the return of football to Heysel in the form of a friendly match between Belgium and Germany. It then hosted a major European final on 8 May 1996 when Paris Saint-Germain defeated Rapid Vienna 1–0 to win the Cup Winners' Cup.

Impact on stadiums[edit]

After Heysel, English clubs began to impose stricter rules intended to make it easier to prevent troublemakers from attending domestic games, with legal provision to exclude troublemakers for three months introduced in 1986, and the Football (Offences) Act introduced in 1991.

Serious progress on legal banning orders preventing foreign travel to matches was arguably not made until the violence involving England fans (allegedly mainly involving neo-Nazi groups, such as Combat 18) at a match against the Republic of Ireland on 15 February 1995 and violent scenes at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Rioting at UEFA Euro 2000 saw introduction of new legislation and wider use of police powers – by 2004, 2,000 banning orders were in place, compared to fewer than 100 before Euro 2000.[18][19]

The main reforms to English stadiums came after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people died in 1989. All-seater stadia became a requirement for clubs in the top 2 divisions while pitchside fencing was removed and closed-circuit cameras have been installed. Fans who misbehave can have their tickets revoked and be legally barred from attending games at any English stadium.

Teams affected by the ban[edit]

For the duration of the ban arising from the Heysel disaster, 20 teams missed out on the chance to play in the three European competitions. The table below lists these teams, but does not capture the hidden effect of the European ban, in that many of the top players and managers left English teams for the opportunity of playing in Europe, thus weakening the teams they left behind. It is often said that of all the teams affected by the ban the team that suffered most were Liverpool's local rivals, Everton, and the ban is said to have been the initial cause of the increasing ferocity of the rivalry between the two, whose local derby used to be labelled "The friendly derby".

SeasonsEuropean CupEuropean Cup Winners' CupUEFA Cup
1985–86EvertonManchester United (4th)Liverpool (2nd)
Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
Southampton (5th)
Chelsea (6th)
Norwich City (League Cup Winners (20th))
1986–87LiverpoolEverton (2nd)West Ham United (3rd)
Manchester United (4th)
Sheffield Wednesday (5th)
Chelsea (6th)
Arsenal (7th)
Oxford United (League Cup Winners (18th))
1987–88EvertonCoventry City (10th)Liverpool (2nd)
Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
Norwich City (5th)
Arsenal (League Cup Winners (4th))
1988–89LiverpoolWimbledon (6th)Manchester United (2nd)
Nottingham Forest (3rd)
Everton (4th)
Queens Park Rangers (5th)
Luton Town (League Cup Winners (9th))
1989–90ArsenalLiverpool (2nd)Nottingham Forest (League Cup Winners (3rd))
Norwich City (4th)
Derby County (5th)
Tottenham Hotspur (6th)
1990–91[20]LiverpoolTottenham Hotspur (3rd)
Arsenal (4th)

For the 1990-91 season, UEFA granted a partial lifting of the European ban as a test, when Aston Villa, who finished second in the First Division, and Manchester United, who won the FA Cup, were given places in the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup respectively. However, even after the ban was lifted, English teams had to wait five seasons before earning back all of the European places which they had held before 1985. This affected eight teams, who missed qualification for the UEFA Cup until and including the 1994–95 tournament.

1990–91Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal
1991–92Crystal Palace, Sheffield Wednesday
1992–93Arsenal, Manchester City
1993–94Blackburn Rovers, Queens Park Rangers
1994–95Leeds United


The Kop creates a mosaic saying "Amicizia" ("Friendship")

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

On 29 May 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 countries. Thirty-nine lights shine, one for each who died that night.[21]

Juventus and Liverpool were drawn together in the quarter-finals of the 2005 Champions League, their first meeting since Heysel. Before the first leg at Anfield, Liverpool fans held up placards to form a banner saying "amicizia" ("friendship" in Italian). Some Juventus fans applauded the gesture, though a significant number chose to turn their backs on it.[22] In the return leg in Turin, Juventus fans displayed banners reading Easy to speak, difficult to pardon: murders and 15-4-89. Sheffield. God exists, the latter a reference to the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush. A number of Liverpool fans were attacked in the city by Juventus ultras.[23]

British composer Michael Nyman wrote 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.

On Wednesday 26 May 2010, a permanent plaque was unveiled on the Centenary Stand at Anfield to honour the Juventus fans who died 25 years earlier. This plaque is one of two permanent memorials to be found at Anfield, along with one for the 96 fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.


The 39 people killed were 32 Italians (including 2 minors), four Belgians, two French fans and one from Northern Ireland.[24][25]

Rocco Acerra29
Bruno Balli50
Alfons Bos35
Giancarlo Bruschera21
Andrea Casula11
Giovanni Casula44
Nino Cerullo24
Willy Chielens41
Giuseppina Conti17
Dirk Daenecky38
Dionisio Fabbro51
Jacques François45
Eugenio Gagliano35
Francesco Galli24
Giancarlo Gonnelli20
Alberto Guarini21
Giovacchino Landini50
Roberto Lorentini31
Barbara Lusci58
Franco Martelli22
Loris Messore28
Gianni Mastroiaco20
Sergio Bastino Mazzino38
Luciano Rocco Papaluca38
Luigi Pidone31
Benito Pistolato50
Patrick Radcliffe38
Antonio Ragnanese49
Claude Robert ?
Mario Ronchi43
Domenico Russo28
Tarcisio Salvi49
Gianfranco Sarto47
Amedeo Giuseppe Spolaore55
Mario Spanu41
Tarcisio Venturin23
Jean Michel Walla32
Claudio Zavaroni28

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alessandro Del Piero 'turned down Liverpool move due to Heysel' | Metro News
  2. ^ "Liverpool — History — Heysel disaster". BBC. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Quote from UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson in 2004, uefa.com
  4. ^ Evans, Tony (5 April 2005). "Our day of shame". The Times (London). Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  5. ^ "LFC Story 1985". Liverpool Official Website. Archived from the original on 20 May 2006. Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  6. ^ Ducker, James; Dart, Tom (19 March 2005). "Night of mayhem in Brussels that will never be forgotten". The Times (London). Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  7. ^ Kelso, Paul (2 April 2005). "Liverpool still torn over night that shamed their name". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  8. ^ "The Heysel disaster". BBC News. 29 May 2000. Retrieved 15 June 2006. 
  9. ^ a b Hussey, Andrew (3 April 2005). "Lost lives that saved a sport". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 June 2006. 
  10. ^ "1985: Fans die in Heysel rioting". BBC News. 29 May 1985. Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  11. ^ Dohren, Derek (28 April 2002). "The tragedy that dare not speak its name". The Observer (London). Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  12. ^ Geschiedenis 24 - Heizeldrama
  13. ^ "Nie dla Bońka na stadionie Juventusu". [dead link]
  14. ^ Fabio Chisari, "The Cursed Cup": Italian responses to the 1985 Heysel disaster in: Soccer and Disaster – International Perspectives (P. Darby, M. Johnes, and G. Mellor eds.) p. 91Darby, Paul; Johnes, Martin; Mellor, Gavin (2005). Routledge publ.. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-8289-1. Retrieved 18 February 2008. 
  15. ^ "Thatcher set to demand FA ban on games in Europe". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 May 2006. 
  16. ^ Jackson, Jamie (3 April 2005). "The witnesses". The Observer (London). Retrieved 27 May 2006. 
  17. ^ "Liverpool fans mar service for riot victims". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 August 1985. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  18. ^ Crime | Home Office[dead link]
  19. ^ [ARCHIVED CONTENT] Football disorder | Home Office[dead link]
  20. ^ Aston Villa and Manchester United entered Europe
  21. ^ White, Duncan (30 May 2005). "Anniversary monument honours Heysel dead". The Times (London). Retrieved 30 August 2006. 
  22. ^ "Mixed reactions to Heysel homage". BBC News. 6 April 2005. Retrieved 15 June 2006. 
  23. ^ "Taunts and trouble mar Juve's attempts to deal with the past". The Independent. 14 April 2005. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  24. ^ "Heysel stadium disaster film is planned". BBC News. 17 May 2011. 
  25. ^ The 39 victims who died at Heysel Stadium -liverpooldailypost.co.uk

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°53′42″N 4°20′2″E / 50.89500°N 4.33389°E / 50.89500; 4.33389