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On This Date in Sports May 29, 1985: Nightmare in Heysel

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The European Cup Final turns into a disaster. Playing at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, the final comes down to Liverpool F.C. of the English Premier and Juventus from Italy’s Series A. Things quickly got out of control as British soccer hooligans began fighting Italian soccer fans before the game. Fans trying to get away from the riots caused a wall to collapse, leading to the death of 39 spectators. Despite the disaster, the game is played with Juventus winning 1-0.

It is the ultimate trophy in European Soccer. The European Cup award to the winner of the Champions League. The Champions League is made of the winners of all the various top-level leagues in Europe, along with runners up and other finishers in leagues like the English Premier League, Italy Series A, Spanish Primera League, and Germany’s Bundesliga. The winner of the European Cup is the grand champion of all the leagues of UEFA.

British soccer fans were always the most passionate, but that passion often turned ugly with acts of hooliganism following everywhere they went. The hooliganism had been a black eye for England for years, as groups of fans organized with the goal of creating violence. In the 1970s, all the EPL teams had their own club of hooligans. The crimes of the hooligan clubs often tarnished European Soccer, as people were murdered while racial slurs were hurled at African and Caribbean players. 

Things were boiling over in 1985, as every week it seemed to feature another troubling incident. On May 11th, a fire at Bradford City Stadium, a third division club, led to the deaths of 56 soccer fans. That same day a 14-year-old fan was killed at St. Andrew’s Stadium in Birmingham. With Liverpool in the European Cup Final, there was plenty of concern for officials in Belgium. Heysel Stadium in Brussels was filled to capacity as 58,000 fans were split evenly between Juventus and Liverpool. Hoping to avoid an ugly incident, a neutral zone was set up to keep the fans of each club apart from each other. 

An hour before the match, trouble began fans began shouting at each other, as fans in a neutral section began to fell the crunch of Liverpool Hooligans fighting with Juventus supporters. A wall that was supposed to act as a barrier collapsed, leading to pure chaos. More than 600 fans were injured, with 39 death, as the fight turned into a full-fledged riot. The game would be delayed, but thoughts that postponing the game causing even more trouble led officials to give the go-ahead for the game to be played. 

The game would be tight, as the first half came and went without a goal. In the second half, Juventus got the break it needed when they were awarded a penalty in the 58th minute. Juventus took full advantage as Michael Platini scored the game’s only goal. Juventus would celebrate its first Euro Cup Title with the cloud of tragedy, creating a pall over the event.

Liverpool went home with a loss and the shame of their fans’ acts. The consequence would be stark for Liverpool, who was banned for six years from the Champions League, while the English Premier League was banned for five years. Officials in England though seriously of playing in empty stadiums to prevent further hooliganism. There would be criminal charges as officials laid all the blame at the Liverpool fans, 34 were arrested, with 26 facing manslaughter charges. A total of 14 fans would be convicted and given three-year sentences, that were suspended.