Stadium trouble: For the non-footballing public, hooligans were always to blame


It is easily forgotten how large the figure of the football hooligan loomed in the public mind 23 years ago – or at least in the minds of those who never went to football matches and had difficulty understanding what enjoyment anyone else got from them.

By 1989, Margaret Thatcher had fought and won battles against unions, left-wing councillors, and the "wets" in her own party. The Falklands had been reclaimed, and the communist empire was disintegrating. There had not been an inner-city riot for four years. She was almost running out of enemies to fight, except for the football hooligan.

There certainly was a small number of thugs who went to matches with the sole intention of creating trouble. One particularly dreadful incident occurred at the Heysel Stadium, in Belgium, on 29 May 1985, four years before Hillsborough, when a group of Liverpool supporters smashed through barriers to attack supporters of the Italian team Juventus. A wall collapsed, and 39 people died.

Mrs Thatcher was, rightly, furious – as were Europe's football authorities, which banned all English clubs from European competition for five years, and Liverpool for seven.

In 1988, after Mrs Thatcher had heard reports of English fans going on the rampage in several German towns during the European Cup, she swallowed her long-standing aversion to Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl to take him aside at an international conference and give him her personal apology.

These incidents only reinforced her suspicion that wherever there was trouble of any kind at any football stadium, there must be hooligans. A terrible catastrophe occurred at Bradford's Valley Parade ground on 11 May 1985, just before the Heysel disaster, when a fire killed 55 spectators and injured 255. The club had been warned that their stands were a fire hazard.

Coincidentally, trouble arose on the same day at Birmingham City's ground, where a teenager was killed. This time hooligan violence genuinely was to blame.

Mrs Thatcher decided to set up one inquiry, headed by a High Court judge, Sir Oliver Popplewell, to cover both incidents.

Judge Popplewell eventually reported that the Bradford fire was entirely attributable to the design of the stadium, but his conclusion was drowned by the tidal wave of horror that followed Heysel.

The football hooligan had taken his place in the public consciousness. As the fans lay dying at Hillsborough, the police had a ready-made excuse.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform