It’s been a long time since we really got our retro on here at Twohundredpercent, so over the next seven days or so we’re giving ourselves over to thirty years ago and the season that professional football in England, after years of steady decline, found itself fighting for its very existence. It’s time to take a trip back in time to the 1985/86 season.
The sense of decay had been growing around English football for a long time, in the run-up to the start of the 1985/86 season. Attendances had been falling year on year, hooliganism had become an increasingly visible problem, and a number of different clubs had found balancing their books a greater and greater challenge. During the first five months of 1985, however, the feeling had grown that this was more than just a malaise that would be put right. Crowd violence at matches had become increasingly visible as more and more matches were televised, with such incidents as full blown riots during matches between Luton Town and Millwall in the FA Cup and between Chelsea and Sunderland in the League Cup showing levels of violence that hadn’t been seen before in English grounds.
The last day of the season saw further serious violence at a match between Birmingham City and Leeds United, where the collapse of a wall led to the death of a fifteen year old Birmingham City supporter, Ian Hambridge. Yet even this was overshadowed by events at Valley Parade in Bradford on the same day, when fifty-six people were killed when fire engulfed the main stand. And two and a half weeks after even this, a further thirty-nine spectators were killed when another wall collapsed, this time at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels before the final of the European Cup between Juventus and Liverpool. Tragedy, upon tragedy, upon tragedy.
The start of the following season came with these dark clouds still very much hanging over the game, and there were more besides, not least of which was a dispute between the television companies and the game’s authorities which led to no matches being televised until the following January. The government was looking seriously at ID cards for football supporters, English clubs were – at that time, as far as anybody knew – indefinitely banned from European football, the grounds could accurately be described as death traps, and no-one seemed to have any answers to these problems beyond yet more containment. The 1985/86 season was, in some respects, the season that no-one wanted to begin.
In spite of all of this, during the 1985/86 season there were still signs that, under these layers of grime, there was still game under there, so rather than writing a lengthy precis of the season, here are a couple of videos to get you in the mood for the week ahead. First up is an episode of the excellent BBC show Match Of The Eighties, hosted by Danny Baker and featuring archived BBC coverage of the season, and following this is a compilation of goals filmed by ITV cameras throughout the season, including many matches that were shown abroad while the television blackout was going ahead. We’ll be back tomorrow with the full story of that particularly undignified episode.
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