Liverpool is one of the most successful football club in the country domestically, and they have matched this with their performances in Europe. They have won the European Cup and Champions league 5 times, the UEFA cup 3 times and on 3 occasions they have been successful in the European Super Cup.
However, their appearance in the 1985 European Cup final against Juventus at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels resulted in 39 people losing their lives with a further 600 people being injured. The main incidents occurred an hour before the game started, and the match continued despite the players knowing that lives had been lost.
Liverpool came into the game as the reigning European champions, having won the year before beating the Italian side Roma 1-0 in the final. Their opponents in Heysel were once again Italian opposition and the game was scheduled to be played in an old stadium.
This was a period where English football fans were regularly involved in crowd trouble at both international and club fixtures. This reputation meant that every time an English club played a match on European soil it attracted violent supporters from opposition clubs.
Juventus have always been well supported and when they made the final they took as many passionate fans to the game as Liverpool did. The trouble started about an hour before the game when two segregated areas of supporters started throwing missiles at each other. This included debris from the crumbling terrace.
This simmering tension was finally broken when a group of Liverpool supporters charged at the separating temporary chain link fence. The area that the Liverpool fans charged was set aside for neutral fans but the Juventus supporters had managed to acquire many tickets from the “ticket touts”.
The result was that the supporters in the block tried to escape and pushed forward towards a wall. Eventually the wall collapsed and at first it was believed that this caused the 39 deaths. It was later revealed that the deaths had been caused by the huge numbers of people crushed up against the wall before it collapsed, with many people dying from suffocation.
With people being carried away from the stadium on make-shift stretchers it was clear that lives had been lost. The police authorities said that abandoning the game could have made the situation worse so the match continued with the Italians winning 1-0.
After the game the blame was placed firmly on the shoulders of the Liverpool supporters. Britain’s reputation in Europe certainly didn’t help their cause but the initial charge of the fans was certainly the reason for the devastating crush of people against the wall.
The Italian fans weren’t entirely blameless and their main group of supporters at the opposite end of the stadium started to riot when seeing the events unfurl at the Liverpool end. An Italian fan was even seen firing a starting pistol at Belgian Police, who were also trying to avoid being hit by bottles and loose concrete.
The outcome was that both the Liverpool fans and the Belgian police were blamed for the incident. Fourteen Liverpool fans were given custodial sentences for manslaughter and then UEFA did their own investigation into what had happened on that evening.
The outcome was that on the 2nd June 1985 English clubs were banned from playing in European competitions for “an indeterminate period of time”. The ban lasted until the start of the 1990-91 season with Liverpool being excluded for a further one year. The six year exile from Europe was when Liverpool were at their peak and many players careers were affected by it.
The consequent years in Europe has seen less crowd trouble as stadiums have become modified and police organization has improved. The custodial sentence has acted as a deterrent to supporters looking for trouble.
The relationship between Liverpool and Juventus has improved over the years, with Ian Rush being signed by the Italian side for the 1986 season.