June 2

This Day in History

Sports

Jun 2, 1985:

English football clubs banned from Europe

On June 2, 1985, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) bans English football (soccer) clubs from competing in Europe. The ban followed the death of 39 Italian and Belgian football fans at Brussels’ Heysel Stadium in a riot caused by English football hooligans at that year’s European Cup final.

The 1985 European Cup final pitted two of the most successful and storied clubs in Europe against each other: Juventus from Turin, Italy, and Liverpool, an English team that was the defending European champion. At 7 p.m., right before the start of the match, a group of Liverpool fans, drunk from a day spent at the bars in Brussels, charged after a group of Juventus fans. In the melee, a stadium wall collapsed, crushing some spectators. Others were trampled in the ensuing rush to flee the stadium. In all, 32 Juventus fans were killed, as well as seven bystanders. Hundreds of other people were injured. To avoid further rioting from the unruly crowd, the game went on as scheduled. Juventus won 1–0.

In the aftermath, all English clubs were banned for five years from competing in Champions League and UEFA Cup play. Liverpool’s ban, at first indefinite, was eventually set at 10 years and then later reduced to six. From 1977 to 1984, English clubs had captured seven of eight European Cups, and their banishment from play was a blow to the country and the sport as a whole. Still, when the ban was announced, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave it her full support: "We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again." The consequences did not end with the ban. Liverpool saw 14 of its fans found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Belgium in 1989 after a five-month trial. The fans were given three-year jail sentences, with half of the terms suspended.

English teams were finally readmitted to the UEFA after the 1990 World Cup. Fifteen years later, on April 5, 2005, Liverpool beat Juventus 2-1 in the first leg of the European Champions League quarterfinals. It was the first match the two clubs had played since the Heysel Stadium disaster. Fans stood still for a moment of silence at the beginning of the game, remembering the 39 dead from the 1985 tragedy. A rematch was played nine days later on April 14, 2005, in Turin, where Liverpool played Juventus to a 0-0 tie, putting Liverpool in the European championship semifinal game. They went on to win their fifth European championship.

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