The Heysel Stadium disaster was a human disaster that occurred on 29 May 1985 at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels prior to the 1985 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus. 39 people, mostly fans of Juventus, lost their lives during the incident with a further 600 injured, which has had a substantial impact on European football.
The Heysel Stadium was a controversial selection for host of the European Cup final. The stadium was, at the time, 55 years old and in need of redevelopment. Much of the stadium's structures were weak, fans without tickets could even be seen kicking holes in the cinderblock walls to gain access to matches. Arsenal had played in the stadium in the year prior to the 1985 European Cup final and had slated the stadium as inadequate. Both Juventus and Liverpool had requested UEFA to alter the host for the final, however UEFA declined their requests.
In the 1984 European Cup final, in which Liverpool beat AS Roma, a number of Liverpool fans had come under attack from the Roma fans. It is believed a number of Liverpool fans travelled to Brussels with the intention of seeking revenge on Italian football fans; this still being at a time when hooliganism was a significant problem within football.
For the final, Juventus fans were allocated tickets for the terraces behind one goal- terraces M, N and O, whereas Liverpool fans were allocated terraces X and Y, behind the other goal. The adjacent Z terrace was reserved for neutral Belgian fans. However much of Belgium was populated by ethnic Italians, and as such terrace Z filled up with Juventus fans. Even tickets for the terrace that were sold by Belgian touts found their way mostly into Juventus hands. This dangerous mix of rival fans was predicted well in advance of the match, but UEFA dismissed the concerns. Violence began to erupt at about 19:00, an hour before kick off when Liverpool fans from terrace Y and Juventus fans in terrace Z began goading each other and throwing missiles across the thin wire fence separating the terraces. At around the same time, a selection of young Belgian players were playing out a match wearing the colours of the finalists, for the entertainment of the crowd. The young Belgian team wearing red took a 3-0 lead, which was celebrated heavily by the Liverpool fans. The white team scored at about 19:10, and at this time the players were taken off the pitch as the violence began to escalate significantly.
The small contingent of police positioned along the thin fence failed to adequately control the situation and the Liverpool fans began to charge the Juventus fans in terrace Z, breaking through the fence and overpowering the police. The Juventus fans began to flee, however their way was blocked by a concrete wall at the other side of the terrace. The panic-stricken Juventus fans began to pile up against the wall, which eventually collapsed, causing many fans to become crushed. It is then that the majority of the deaths and injuries occurred. Sections of iron fencing were used to carry bodies, which were piled along the side of the pitch and covered in giant football flags ready to be taken away by incoming police and medical helicopters. The Juventus fans at the opposite side of the stadium, witnessing the tragedy, began to riot and headed down the stadium to confront the Liverpool fans. They were however engaged by the police and a struggle ensued. It was decided that the final would go ahead, as it was feared that cancelling the match could provoke further violence. Pleas were made for calm in Italian and English. Liverpool manager Joe Fagan addressed the Liverpool supporters, stating "This is a football match. It is my last game as manager and you are spoiling it. Get back and be sensible.”
The Liverpool team were aware of the disaster occurring within the stadium whilst waiting in the dressing room for a decision regarding the match to be made. Liverpool player Alan Kennedy, who was injured for the final, said “The last thing in the world most of the players wanted to do at that time was play a game of football. I was distraught; I was watching people dying and others being brought out screaming and covered in blood. I remember Bruce Grobbelaar saying to me after, ‘If football is really going to be a matter of life and death then I don’t want to be part of it.’” The game eventually kicked-off at 21:42, whilst police were still fighting rioting Juventus fans. Juventus won the match 1-0 via a Michel Platini penalty. Liverpool player John Wark recalls "Juventus won after Michel Platini scored from the penalty spot. It wasn’t a penalty but there were no complaints from Liverpool players because we just wanted to go home.”
Following the disaster, an initial report placed the blame entirely at the feet of the Liverpool fans. UEFA observer Gunter Schneider had concluded "Only the English fans were responsible. Of that there is no doubt." However, no official inquiry into the incident was ever undertaken. UEFA banned all English clubs from European competition for 5 years, with Liverpool specifically given a 10 year ban, however Liverpool only saw through 6 of those 10 years, making their European comeback in the 1991-92 season. It has been suggested that Liverpool could have won more European Cup titles had they not been given this ban, as their squad in the latter half of the 1980s under manager Kenny Dalglish was very highly regarded. In addition to the bans on English clubs, Belgium was banned for 10 years from hosting a major European final.
27 people were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by police after they assessed a great deal of security footage. This led to 14 Liverpool fans given 3 year jail sentences. Half of these sentences were suspended and it is unclear how many people were eventually imprisoned for the incident.
Although the initial blame was officially given to Liverpool fans, an 18-month investigation completed by a top Belgian judge concluded that, whilst Liverpool fans were of course culpable, blame should also be shared by the football authorities, such as UEFA for dismissing all fears over Heysel Stadium's suitability as the host of a major final, and the police, for failing to provide adequate crowd control.
Heysel Stadium never hosted a football match again in its older state. In 1994, it underwent an extensive regeneration and became known as the King Baudouin Stadium, which has since been selected by UEFA for a major European Cup final, the 1996 European Cup Winners Cup.
In the quarter finals of the 2004-05 Champions League, Liverpool were drawn against Juventus for the first time since the Heysel disaster. The first leg was hosted at Anfield, and Liverpool made significant efforts to extend a hand of friendship to Juventus and its fans. Numerous publications, including the match programme and the Liverpool Echo, had written extensive articles detailing the sorrow Liverpool felt for the incident. Every Juventus fan who attended Anfield was presented with a wristband containing the colours of the two clubs, and a leaflet was placed on the seat of every Juventus fan with a quote from former Liverpool and Juventus player Ian Rush, stating "We are sorry. You'll never walk alone." A minute's silence was observed prior to kick off in remembrance of the tragedy, and an emotional rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone was performed, which many Juventus fans sang along to. Liverpool fans in the kop end displayed a giant mosaic, spelling out the word 'Amicizia,' the Italian word for 'friendship.' These gestures garnered a mixed reaction in Italy from the Juventus fans. Many applauded the efforts, as did UEFA. However there were also many that considered the apologies hollow. Turin-based newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport proclaimed "At the festival of friendship, ignorance wins."