So, our ‘Back to the Eighties’ series continues to hop, skip and jump along like Jonathon Edwards after a particularly-caffeine filled morning and we find ourselves staring into the bleak abyss that was 1985.
In many ways, the midpoint of the decade really was a time of forlorn desperation and tragedy, with seemingly wave after wave of negative headlines both within and without the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Springing to the forefront when one casts consciousness back to 1985 are images of death and destruction at Heysel, Bradford, and Birmingham, coupled with graphic scenes of wanton violence at Luton and on various picket lines as the year-long miners’ strike wound to a close.
Football grounds were little more than half full soulless and decrepit stadia that had remained largely unchanged and unloved for the better part of a century as supporters were herded into grounds and then fenced in like cattle. With the fare being offered upon the field of play hardly of an inspiring vintage, little wonder then that the overall consensus seemed to be that football, like society in general, was on its knees.
For once in the decade, January 1 failed to see Liverpool sitting atop the First Division as the departure of captain and talisman, along with a long-term injury to Ian Rush, had seen the Anfield men struggle in the first half of the season and even drop into the bottom three in October.
Instead, it was Merseyside rivals Everton that were making the New Year running, hotly pursued by a Tottenham Hotspur side managed by Peter Shreeves, and Ron Atkinson’s perennial under-achievers, Manchester United.
The year kicked off with Band Aid’s Christmas single, ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ still topping the charts, amidst a sign that a collective social conscience was beginning to be heard. Meanwhile, the Miners Strike that had been running since the previous March in protest at the planned pit closures was still limping on. However, it was doomed to defeat by now as the Conservative Party’s policy of simply starving the strikers out was paying dividends and forcing workers back across picket lines.
Hooliganism had never gone away and there was an underlying feeling that it wouldn’t take much to light a fuse leading to a true explosion of violence. It was by now very much a societal rather than pure football problem, but as yet nobody seemed to have any answers.
Everton and Tottenham continued their respective good form at the top of the table and the battle for the title turned into a straight two-way fight. In the first week of April, the two sides clashed at White Hart Lane in the proverbial ‘title-decider. Everton came into the fixture top of the table, 3 points clear of Spurs having played a game more, so a home victory was imperative if Tottenham were going to have a realistic chance of pegging back the men from Goodison.
However, it was the Toffees who prevailed courtesy of goals from Andy Gray and Trevor Steven in a 2-1 victory memorable for a stunning save by Neville Southall from a Mark Falco header.
This victory practically wrapped the title up for Howard Kendall’s men who were also going for an unprecedented treble of league, FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup. Coming in quick succession after the efforts at White Hart Lane were cup semi-finals against Luton Town and Bayern Munich, respectively.
Luton were appearing in their first semi-final for over twenty years courtesy of a 1-0 home defeat of Second Division Millwall in the quarter-final. The occasion had been marred by shocking scenes of hooliganism perpetrated mainly by travelling Millwall fans, both inside and outside the ground. On an evening of shame, television viewers were treated to the sight of Millwall fans invading the pitch on several occasions, ripping up seats, attacking the police and chasing them across the pitch and generally behaving like a breed apart.
Although there was little doubt that there was serious overcrowding on the terraces that day, and that the police and stewards were initially unprepared for such large numbers of travelling support. As a result, they probably acted in a heavy-handed manner when the first pitch invasions occurred as a result of the overcrowding, however, there was a sizable section of the London support that day which travelled down to Bedfordshire with trouble on its mind.
Back to the football, and Everton finally overcame Luton after extra-time in the semi-final at Villa Park, while Merseyside rivals, Liverpool were clashing with Manchester United at Goodison Park in the other semi-final. Another bleak day of hooliganism was the backdrop to a thrilling 2-2 draw, and when Manchester United won the replay at Maine Road, only Ron Atkinson and his men stood between Everton and the domestic ‘double’.
Battling away at the bottom of the table were Stoke City who would go on to claim the then lowest points total in history under the three points for a win format, with just 17 points accrued from 42 games. Also ultimately relegated were Sunderland and Norwich City.
These latter two sides had fought out the League Cup Final in March, sponsored by the Milk Board, and so made their own bit of history in ensuring that for the first time both sides competing in a major cup final were also relegated.
Although Norwich won that Wembley encounter by a single goal, neither they nor any of the other teams that ultimately qualified for Europe were able to take up their places the following year, as we shall see later.
As the season draws to a close, Oxford United win promotion for the second successive season under Jim Smith’s stewardship. Also promoted were Manchester City after a two-year absence and Birmingham City, who having already secured promotion meet Leeds United in the final game of the season.
More hooliganism takes place at St. Andrews, and as predicted for some time, finally a fatality occurs as a direct result of the thugs. A sixteen-year-old supporter was killed when a wall collapsed on him.
On the same day, 56 Supporters perished in an awful fire at the home of Bradford City when the main stand caught alight, on what was supposed to be a day of celebration to mark Bradford’s promotion to the Second Division.
After overcoming Bayern Munich in a raw and fractious semi-final second leg at Goodison Park, Everton went on to dispatch Rapid Vienna 3-1 in the final with the minimum of fuss before unexpectedly falling at the last hurdle in their ‘Treble Quest’. An extra-time Wembley winner netted by Norman Whiteside was sufficient to secure a 1-0 Manchester United FA Cup Final victory.
Four days later Liverpool and Juventus met at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels, in the final of the European Cup.
39 supporters lost their lives that night and English football has never been the same since.
Poor facilities, inadequate segregation, woeful policing, and a degree of provocation all played their part in what transpired, but the disaster was caused by Liverpool fans charging Juventus fans who then retreated until they found themselves trapped against a wall. The wall collapsed and the fatalities occurred.
In the summer there was much hand-wringing and condemnation. The Thatcher Government, in addition to ordering the FA to withdraw its clubs from Europe, set up task forces to examine the possibility of playing all matches in front of ‘club members’ only. The FA announced a ban on alcohol ‘in sight of the pitch’, and clubs now had to look at different ways of maximising income. Some clubs would adapt better than others, and thus the footballing landscape changed forever.
In the close season, the altruistic values of Band Aid were extended into Live Aid whereby simultaneous rock concerts for charity were held at Wembley and in Philadelphia in order to raise money for the millions of victims of the African drought. In scenes that defined a generation, the world truly did come together as one on 13th July 1985 as ordinary people showed what can be achieved through collective action and inherent decency.
Coming so soon after the horrors of Heysel, Birmingham, Luton and Bradford, Live Aid was a truly humbling experience.
As the new season kicked off in August, there seemed to be little enthusiasm for any football. Attendances were down and there was no television deal in place as the Football League and television companies were unable to reach an agreement. The truth was nobody really seemed to mind, and football was apparently on its knees.
Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United team started the season like a train with ten straight victories and a ten-point lead, while Everton made a slow start to the defence of their title. Liverpool, under the leadership of player-manager Kenny Dalglish, also struggled for early season form.
In the news were reports of a terrible plane disaster at Manchester airport where 55 people lost their lives after a plane to Greece caught fire following an aborted take-off. A horrific multi- murder at a farmhouse in Essex was discovered where five members of the same family were found slain.
Riots broke out in Tottenham and Birmingham in the autumn and were blamed on racial tensions and social inequality.
Roger Moore appeared as James Bond for the last time in the film A View to a Kill, and teenage prodigy, Ruth Lawrence, became the youngest-ever graduate at Oxford University to gain a first-class degree in mathematics.
In music, the highest-selling single of the year was ‘A Power of Love’ as penned and sung by Jennifer Rush, with Madonna also climbing to the top of the charts for the first time with ‘Get into the Groove’.
The first episodes of a new BBC ‘soap opera’ said to rival ITV’s ‘Coronation Street’ and Channel Four’s ‘Brookside’ were broadcast. Three and a half decades later Ian Beale and Sharon Watts are still at each other’s throats in ‘Eastenders’.
By the end of the year, Manchester United were already beginning to run out of steam, and although they still led the table from the Merseyside duo, it was only by a couple of points.
England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all qualified for the World Cup due to be held the following year in Mexico, but for Scotland, it came at great cost as legendary manager and talisman, Jock Stein, collapsed and suffered a fatal heart attack following Scotland’s final qualification match with Wales in Cardiff.
And so the year drew to a close – a year that is rightly remembered for all the wrong reasons, as it was truly a bleak period in the nation’s consciousness. As 1985’s door was finally slammed shut with a hardy sigh of relief, one hardly dared to hope for any improvement in 1986.