The Match That Changed Football: The Aftereffects of Heysel

the 1985 European Cup final witnessed one of the great tragedies in sports history, but modern football is a brighter, safer and more entertaining spectacle as a result.

39 Juve fans died at the European Cup Final in Belgium because of football on this day in 1985. 39. Take a moment and let that sink in a little. Regular guys like you and me were killed at a football game. On top of that over 600 fans were injured. At a football game. I’m not going to blame Liverpool fans and jump on the “Always the victims” moniker that has sometimes rightly been thrown around. Instead I will squarely blame everyone:

  • UEFA for choosing a dilapidated stadium in much need of repair.
  • The Belgian authorities/police for doing the worst job of policing I have ever seen.
  • Liverpool and Juventus fans for building on the previous year’s antagonism after ‘Pool’s heated European Cup victory over Roma in Rome.

It was a perfect storm that claimed lives and everyone is at fault. There is one thing I will blame Liverpool as a club for – It took them more than 20 years to issue an apology. Just like with the Hillsborough disaster it was too little, much too late.

I was eight at the time. If you have read my first match article you’ll realise that this was the finale to my first season of going to football matches. Footy was supposed to be an exciting journey from home to the ground and home again – win, lose or draw. Dad and I were watching, supporting Liverpool, as we do with all English teams in European football (except for dirty, DIRTY Leeds, of course) and I watched the whole thing happen. I saw the fireworks fired at Liverpool fans, the police running away and the Liverpool brigade charging the Juve section. Then the wall collapsed. I didn’t really understand what was going on. But I knew it was wrong, that this was not how you celebrate the beautiful game. The game went on, Liverpool lost, I went to bed.

Several things happened after that game that changed football as we know it in its entirety.

The immediate effect was that the FA banned English teams from European football until things were cleaned up. This ban was lifted in 1990.

The roll-on effect was changing all of English football stadiums to all-seater stadiums and the creation of the Premier League, which is now considered one of the best, which attracts the best players and generates the most money in the world.

UEFA had to increase its standards in ground policy, which had a roll-on effect throughout Europe. If you want to be within a shout of hosting the final you have to have the best infrastructure in place.

Lastly, football bureaucracy died and was reborn on the pitch in the form of Juventus and France legend Michel Platini. The year before he led France to their first title, when they won the European Championship. If you have ever wondered why UEFA’s top man has it in for England as whole, now you know.

So, this anniversary date is a blessing and a curse to us all. 39 fans of football lost their lives, but European football is a brighter, safer and more entertaining spectacle as a result. Every other day of the year we can celebrate the triumphs our favoured sport, but today we should firmly place in our hearts the pain and suffering those humans endured that day and the enduring pain their families suffer still.


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