29 May: anniversary of Heysel Riot

It is always right to remember the lives of those who have gone before us, and to honour their memory. Liverpool FC and its supporters do this with great dignity in relation to the deaths of their fans in Sheffield.

But I fear that in Britain, the country where I live, we do treat disasters and deaths involving our own citizens differently from the deaths that our citizens cause on those from other countries – and it is something that I personally always find disturbing. Perhaps it happens everywhere – but if so, that does not make it any more acceptable.

So I personally feel that it is right to remember the Heysel Stadium riot and indeed not to sanitise it by calling it the Heysel Disaster as is often the case. The events resulted in the death of 39 people with a further 600 injured. Most were fans of Juventus.

This is not an Arsenal issue of course, but I hope you will forgive me if I comment on Heysel, because I know that while so many sites in the UK commented on Hillsborough, few will even notice that it is the anniversary of Heysel.

The riot occured before the 1985 European Cup Final held in the Heysel Stadium, Brussels. As Wikipedia says, quite rightly, it was “one of the worst cases of football hooliganism in European and world football.”

An hour before the start of the game a group of Liverpool supporters climbed a fence and charged at and then attacked the Juve fans. The Juventus fans retreated, and the resultant crush of fearful people on a retaining wall led to the deaths and injuries.

The game was then played – UEFA’s later explanation for this being that they feared further trouble if they canceled the match.

English clubs were subsequently forced to withdraw from European football by the British government (something which UEFA later rubber stamped), and UEFA banned Liverpool from all European competitions for what some authorities note as “a further one year” but which I recall as “three years”. Either way it is academic. When the ban was lifted by the British government, Liverpool appealed against their extra ban, and it was never imposed.

It is clear that the Liverpool supporters were to blame for starting the stampede, just as it is clear that UEFA should never have used such an old stadium for a game involving an English club at a time when the supporters of some clubs in England were notorious across Europe. That the UEFA officials who made the decision were allowed to continue in their posts after the riot reveals the corruption and utter disregard for all human values within that organisation. That Liverpool as a club were never punished beyond the punishment handed out to all English teams speaks volumes about the vision of football in England.

In some areas we have progressed. The problems we find in grounds now are small and are generally dealt with quickly – the Everton match was the only one I have seen at the Ems that had much by way of a problem, and that was very minor indeed compared to what we saw 20 years or more ago.

But in some areas – such as the organisation of international football affairs there has been little or no progress. In this regard UEFA will always be held in as much contempt as those Liverpool supporters involved in the riot.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009

19 Replies to “29 May: anniversary of Heysel Riot”

  1. I remember that night like it was yesterday.

    What lives with me still is that even though it was obvious that people were dead and injured, rather than be shocked into behaviour, some sectors of the liverpool support were still trying to escalate the situation.
    While the police inside were being pelted with bricks from damaged masonry, A battalion of paratroops were deployed outside the stadium with their commander demanding the ‘go’ order. If the violence had continued any longer than it did, they would have gotten it and the death toll would have been tenfold.

    It still angers me today that my club amongst others, were subjected to punishment earned by Liverpool fans which excluded us from Europe for several years and almost bankrupted the league. If it wasn’t for the advent of SKY and the money they brought, we and many other may never have prospered.

    Michel Platini was there that night and he has never forgotten. In many ways Liverpool fans of that era are responsible for the barely concealed disdain and animosity that he feels for all english clubs in general. His 6+5 rule and his attempts to reduce squad sizes all stem from events that night. It is his way of getting even by attempting to once again reduce the chances of English clubs in Europe in a covert campaign of retribution.
    In a way I can understand him. Having deprived many English clubs for years of a chance to win the Champions League through the abhorrant behavior of their fans, Liverpool went on to win it again which just goes to show that there is little justice in life. I imagine that he felt physically sick watching the injustice of it.

    No doubt Liverpool supporters will take umbrage to these statements but that wont make them any less true. Theirs is the ultimate subjective view and to this day any Liverpool supporter will swear blind that the other team started it.

    One would hope that the football gods will capriciously bring justice perhaps starting with a wake-up call when the banks call in their £350 million marker on July 31st.

    Never getting to win the Premiership just doesn’t seem enough punishment for them. The financial fallout of their actions at Heysel left many clubs in a position from which they will never recover from enough to take the field in a Champions League game.

    The Liverpool team of the 1980’s were sheer class.

    their supporters…..not so much.

  2. Great post Tony. Like Terence I remember it very strongly – m,ostly I just could not understand the violent mentality. I never have understood it since.

    For some reason your tone reminded me of “Thou shalt always kill” by Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip –

    “Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.”

    Somehow I don’t think that’s EVER going to happen though.

    On a lighter note look what i found –

    Better late than never!

  3. Whilst I sympathise with the families of those killed at Hillsborough and I believe that the police behaved abominably before during and after the game, I deplore the hypocrisy of the Liverpool contingent. Their cloying sentimentality fuelled by the media is no better exemplified than that sickening glob of treacle ‘You’ll never walk alone’, which is all the more difficult to swallow when one remembers that it was probably the last song ever heard by 39 Juventus fans. Liverpool FC please remember we all did time for you after that disgraceful event.

    Today my sympathies go to the families of the Juventus dead.

  4. “A crowd of 33,600 watched Liverpool try and claw-back a 4-1 deficit but goals from Sanchez Watt and a Daniel Ayala own-goal gave Arsenal victory.”

    33600?? from what i heard it was around 13k..

  5. It is just a piece of dumbo reporting. The crowd the BBC quote is actually the crowd that was at the Ems for the first leg. I haven’t seen a second leg crowd figure, but watching it on TV there were about 600 gooners behind one goal, and a smattering elsewhere. I wouldn’t argue with 12000 all told.

    If I had more time I’d search the Liverpool site, but work calls…


  6. A comment from “jinal” which began, “intresting comments from RVP lately about stalling on a new contract; Dont get me wrong I love RvP but if the main reason…” appeared here.

    As Terence has pointed out (and thanks for alerting me to this Terence) this comment was a complete copy of a piece by Wrighty7 which appeared on his blog http://www.wrighty7.blogspot.com/

    My full and unreserved apologies to Wrighty7.

    Any attempt to plagiarise someone else’s work will be removed, and the person doing the posting will be banned from this site.


  7. Jinal, the majority of us who post on this site pride ourselves on the original content and genuine debate that develops here.

    Unfortunately, every now and then we get sombody who doesn’t like contributing their own thoughts and just copies and pastes the work of another blog and that is a pet hate here.

    I mention this because that is what you did in your above comment which is an exact word for word copy and paste of WRIGHTY7’s last article on his blog. I know that you are not him because he has posted on here previously under his own name.


    Pathetic really.

  8. I hate Cashley like every other Gooner but when he was an Arsenal player i dont remember anyone saying they missed Silvinho.Because at that time Cashley was a better defender than Silvinho. Cashley is still a crunt though

  9. The simple fact is that Liverpool are the team involved in the two events that lead to the death of many fans. I know of no other team in this country or Europe that has been involved in one incident let alone two. In the recent game in Africa (Togo and I can’t remember the other national team that was playing) where many were killed it was reported almost with a tone of “what do you expect from these people”. Liverpool supporters are thugs and savages who somehow manage to get away with this cheeky scouser image. The European ban should only have been applied to Liverpool and should have been permeant.

  10. with all due respect marc the way things have actually worked out since the ban was lifted kinda proves that your theory that “the liverpool supporters are thugs and savages” who should have been permanently banned is actually a pile of crap.
    As we all know the european ban didnt really do much in the way of sorting out the problems which blighted english football at the time, and in fact it took a horrific tragedy like Hillsborough and the ensuing Taylor replort to sort out a lot of those problems.
    All of which kinda goes to show that it wasnt a specific set of fans that was the problem, more a general atmosphere and mindset of football-going-fans at the time. Banning one club only leads to a sense of injustice and bitterness on their part, and merely hides the problem – and without dealing with the underlying cause the problem will reappear eventually! (And not just in liverpool fans, or leeds fans, or millwall fans or man utd fans or anyone in particular) Banning liverpool permanently would simpy have led to a pent up, angry set of fans in one half of liverpool, and a tragically inevitable epiosde would eventually have occurred involving some other english club (or should that be british, as lets face it the scots (rangers UEFA cup final 2008) and welsh (cardiff city and swansea fans pretty much every year!) fans arent exactly spotless!)
    True, UEFA bottled it as so often in their response – but the notion that it was terribly unfair and that everyone else suffered bacuse of evil and bad liverpool fans, is surely an overly simplistic and unintelligent understanding of the situation.
    I’m not a fan of liverpool by a long way (growing up in the 80’s when EVERYONE supported them at school has succesfully inocculated me against that failing!) but comments like Marcs are simply wrong and childish. It reminds me of kids playing football by a greenhouse and then, when eventually they break a window and the ball is taken away, end up blaming the poor kid who last touched the ball before it shattered the glass.

  11. So, Jimmy, punishing every team in England was a proportionate reponse? Surely the obvious course of action was to use sanctions against the trangressor,in this case that was Liverpool FC. Admittedly it would have been better to have taken action against some of the fans of Liverpool FC. But really the smallest identifiable unit of culpability was Liverpool FC. Why should Arsenal FC or its supporters or any number of other clubs have been punished? And why is that a childish thought?

  12. Jimmy – I didn’t claim that there weren’t ever problems with supporters of other clubs. Certain clubs even now have a reputation of trouble but why should I be punished for someone else’s crimes. As for a feeling of injustice amongst Liverpool supporter’s – tough luck. If the problem had been dealt with properly the club’s whose fans cause trouble would have been punished not a blanket ban on English clubs.

    I will admit that I have a problem with Liverpool fans, namely that they all believe that they are all a really great bunch of people who wouldn’t ever cause any trouble. Tell that to the parents, siblings and children of the victims of Heysel.

  13. Jimmy I’m fairly certain that it WAS a specific set of fans responsible at Heysel.

  14. Ok Tony, lets have instructions on this ‘GRAVATAR’ thing please! 😉

  15. FZ its childish because it leads us into the dangerous ground of seeing it as something that happened to others, and doesnt affect us at all.
    which, while true on one level (in that we in person, and en masse as “Arsenal fans”) werent there, isnt true in that surely the ultimate thing that caused the deaths of those italian fans was the culteure of football violence which was (and forgive me for sweeping generalisations) endemic at football grounds across the country.
    But I think I expressed myself badly – I wouldnt argue that punishing every club was a proportional response or even a good one, i merely suggest that it is perhaps a little bit disingenuous of us to lay the blame for the english club ban solely and entirely at the feet of the liverpool fans at heysel that night.
    I would also argue though that perhaps UEFA might look at utilising that punishment again for clubs in europe who still persist in racist and/or violence. You can bet your bottom dollar that were say roma fans attacked by arsenal fans in a premeditated and unprovoked ambush in london that uefa would respond very quickly!
    And yes, marc, i also agree with you that the liverpool fans opinion of themselves, as cheeky chappies who would never hurt a fly, is absolute cack too!

  16. i can still remember watching it all unfold with complete horror and then disbelief as they played the match. i have to admit though, that if this article had been posted the anniversary would have passed by forgotten again.

    i do think it was unfair that all english teams were banned, but it would have been just as unfair to just single out one team. before hillsborough and all-seater stadiums, hooliganism was rife before during and after matches.

    the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsbourough were inevitable. it wasnt if, it was when. hooliganism had evolved and the authorities were not able to cope.

  17. I’m not buying it sorry. Yes hooliganism was rife at the time in the english game but not completely rife amongst ALL the top english clubs that were competing in Europe or challenging to compete.

    Ok we had Man Utd’s infamous Red Army:


    Anybody that needs a reminder of what we are talking about here is the central events of this article: Take your pick of the videos.


    Of course not exactly an isolated incident. Liverpool V Man Utd same year:


    Then we have to put a little historical perspective on the whole thing and it would appear that Liverpool practically invented the concept of hooliganism. Check out the date on the publication:


    Now try as I might, the only references that I could find to Arsenal Hooliganism were related to our UEFA Cup Final in Copenhagen
    and in all fairness having seen the masked turks armed with homemade machetes and hatchets, I’m going to give us a self-defence pass on that one. I’d have been throwing chairs and anything else handy to keep those thugs at a safe distance too.

    In truth, it is a cold fact of football that whatever ‘firm’ Arsenal has had throughout the years, couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding. In fact they would have had a difficult time trying to fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

    Consequently our history is not littered with shameful incidents.

    Liverpool should have borne the brunt as the crimes of their supporters were extreme. A 10 year ban for them and them alone would have sent a clear message to the fans of every club in the land.

    The rest of us might have had an altogether different European history if justice had been applied. Instead we got tarred with the same brush as that shower of unwashed thieving thugs.

    Platini keeps that brush close at hand.

  18. For me what says it all about Liverpool FC is that they were the last team in the English top flight to implement the findings of the Taylor report.

    Actions speak louder than words.

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