Heysel Stadium Disaster

The Heysel disaster of 29 May, 1985, led to the deaths of 39 fans and a five-year blanket ban on English clubs in European football.

More than 60,000 supporters of Liverpool and Juventus had made their way into the ageing Heysel stadium in northwest Brussels, many having spent the day drinking before the European Cup final.

At around 7pm local time, about an hour before the scheduled kickoff, the trouble started.

Fans had been chanting, waving flags and letting off fireworks, but the atmosphere became more violent and a thin line of police was unable to prevent a contingent of Liverpool followers from stampeding towards rival fans.

A retaining wall separating the Liverpool followers from Juventus supporters in sector 'Z' collapsed under the pressure and many were crushed or trampled when panicking Juventus fans tried to escape.

Thirty-nine Italian and Belgian fans died and hundreds were injured.

Both clubs had opposed the decision of the Belgian authorities to allocate a section of the ground to “neutral” supporters. The fear that Belgian touts would sell their tickets to Juventus fans proved well grounded and the English were separated from the “neutral” area only by an inadequate wire fence.

Italians in that section pelted the Liverpool supporters with missiles. In response, the English charged at them and breached the fence. The Juventus fans retreated but found their escape blocked by a concrete wall. As the panicked supporters piled up against the wall, it collapsed, and a number of fans were crushed or suffocated.

At approximately 7 p.m. local time, an hour before kick-off, the trouble started. The Liverpool and Juventus supporters in sections Y 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. Missiles began to be thrown across the divide. Fans could pick up stones from the terraces beneath them.

As kick-off approached, the throwing became more intense. A group of Liverpool fans charged across the terraces, through and over the wire fence into section Z causing the Juventus fans to retreat. Having no way out, the Juventus fans moved towards the side perimeter wall, near to the corner flag. Some tried to climb over the wall to escape. Many escaped; 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. 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 seeking confrontation, but police intervention stopped the advance. The Juventus fans fought the police with rocks, bottles and missiles for two hours. One even fired a pistol[9] (later verified as being a starting pistol). When the game eventually 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.