Heysel Stadium disaster
Heysel Stadium disaster.jpg
Date: 29 May 1985
Location: Heysel Stadium, Brussels
Cause: Rioting and stadium disrepair
Deaths: 39
Cause: Rioting and stadium disrepair
Inquiries: 5-year ban for all English clubs &
6-year ban for Liverpool from European competition.
Several top officials, police captain Johan Mahieu,
and 14 fans convicted of manslaughter

The Heysel Stadium disaster occurred on 29 May 1985 when escaping fans were pressed against a collapsing 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. 39 people—mostly Italians and Juventus fans—were killed and 600 were injured in the confrontation.

Aftermath

Criminal proceedings

Initially, the 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 subsequently charged with manslaughter.

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.

A total of 34 people were arrested and questioned with 26 Liverpool fans being charged with manslaughter – the only extraditable offence applicable to events at Heysel. An extradition hearing in London in February–March 1987 ruled all 26 were to be extradited to stand trial in Belgium for the death of Juventus fan Mario Ronchi. In September 1987 they were extradited and formally charged with manslaughter applying to all 39 deaths and further charges of assault. Initially, all were held at a Belgian prison but over the subsequent months judges permitted their release as the start of the trial became ever more delayed.

The trial eventually got underway in October 1988, with three Belgians also standing trial for their role in the disaster: Albert Roosens, the head of the Belgian Football Association, for allowing tickets for the Liverpool section of the stadium to be sold to Juventus fans; and two police chiefs - Michel Kensier and Johann Mahieu - who were in charge of policing at the stadium that night. Two of the 26 Liverpool fans were in custody in Britain at the time and stood trial later. In April 1989, 14 fans were convicted and given three-year sentences, that were half suspended for five years, allowing them to return to the UK. After Belgian prosecutors appealed the sentences as too lenient, an appeal took place in Spring 1990 that increased the sentences of 11 fans (to five or four years), with two having their sentences upheld and one being acquitted.

English club ban

Pressure mounted to ban English clubs from European competition. On 31 May 1985, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked the FA to withdraw English clubs from European competition before they were banned, but two days later, UEFA banned English clubs for "an indeterminate period of time". On 6 June, FIFA extended this ban to all worldwide matches, but this was modified a week later to allow friendly matches outside of Europe to take place. In December 1985 FIFA announced that English clubs were also free to play friendly games in Europe, though the Belgian government banned any English clubs playing in their country.

Though the English national team was not subjected to any bans, English club sides were banned indefinitely from European club competitions, with Liverpool being provisionally subject to a further three years suspension as well. In April 1990, following years of campaigning from the English football authorities, UEFA confirmed the reintroduction of English clubs (with the exception of Liverpool) into its competitions from the 1990–91 season onward; in April 1991 UEFA's Executive Committee voted to allow Liverpool back into European competition from the 1991–92 season onward, a year later than their compatriots, but two years earlier than initially foreseen. In the end, all English clubs served a five-year-ban, while Liverpool were excluded for six years.

According to former Liverpool striker Ian Rush, the institutional relationships between both clubs and their fans improved during his career in Italy.

The following clubs were denied entry to European competitions during this period:

Seasons European Cup European Cup Winners' Cup UEFA Cup
1985–86 Everton Manchester United (4th) Liverpool (2nd)
Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
Southampton (5th)
Norwich City (League Cup Winners (20th))
1986–87 Liverpool Everton

(2nd)

West Ham United (3rd)
Manchester United (4th)
Sheffield Wednesday (5th)
Oxford United (League Cup Winners (18th))
1987–88 Everton Coventry City (10th) Liverpool (2nd)
Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
Arsenal (4th) (League Cup Winners)
Norwich City (5th)
1988–89 Liverpool Wimbledon (6th) Manchester United (2nd)
Nottingham Forest (3rd)
Everton (4th)
Luton Town (League Cup Winners (9th))
1989–90 Arsenal Liverpool (2nd) Nottingham Forest (3rd) (League Cup Winners)
Norwich City (4th)
Derby County (5th)
Tottenham Hotspur (6th)
1990–91 Liverpool Nottingham Forest (League Cup Winners (9th))

The number of places available to English clubs in the UEFA Cup would however have been reduced had English teams been eliminated early in the competition. By the time of the readmittance of all English clubs except Liverpool in 1990–91, England was only granted one UEFA Cup entrant (awarded to the league runners-up); prior to the ban, they had had four entry slots, a number not awarded to England again until the 1994–95 UEFA Cup. Welsh clubs playing in the English league system, who could qualify for the Cup Winners' Cup through the Welsh Cup, were unaffected by the ban.

In the meantime, many other clubs missed out on a place in the UEFA Cup due to the return of English clubs to European competitions only being gradual.

Liverpool's additional year of exclusion from Europe meant that there was no English representation in the 1990-91 European Cup, as they were defending league champions that season. Football League Cup winners Nottingham Forest also missed out on UEFA Cup places in 1990-91, along with Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The teams who missed out on the 1991-92 UEFA Cup for the same reason were Sheffield Wednesday, Crystal Palace, Leeds United and Manchester City.

The excluded teams in 1992-93 were Arsenal and Manchester City.

In 1993-94, the excluded teams were Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers.

The final season of partial exclusion was 1994-95, when Leeds United missed out.

Impact on stadiums

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 Ireland on 18 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.

The main reforms to English stadiums came after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people died in 1989. All-seater stadiums became a requirement for clubs in the top two 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.

The Heysel Stadium itself 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 the King Baudouin Stadium. On 28 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.

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