Europe’s Champions: Juventus 1985

IT SEEMS amazing that it took until 1985 for Juventus to win their first European Cup. They had gone close prior to that,  losing 1-0 in both 1973 (Ajax) and 1983 (Hamburg), but they invariably under-achieved in the competition. Sadly, the achievement was overshadowed by the death of 39 Juventus fans in Brussels, caused by crowd violence involving Liverpool supporters. The match became almost incidental but in the aftermath, English clubs were banned from Europe until 1990.

At home in Italy, Juventus were the team of the 1970s through to the early 80s. After Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed manager in 1976, they won five Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias. Furthermore, they had won the UEFA Cup in 1977 and European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1984. From 1970, Juventus had won eight league titles versus two for Inter and one for AC Milan.

Juventus were a mature, star-studded team in 1984. Michel Platini, France’s captain, scored 20 goals in 28 games as Juve won the 1983-84 scudetto. Platini had joined the club in 1982 from Saint-Etienne and went on to win the Ballon d’Or in 1983 and 1984. To cap a great year, Platini also captained France to the European Championship, scoring no less than nine goals in five games, including two hat-tricks.

Juventus had won Serie A by a two-point margin in 1984, just edging out reigning champions Roma. They clinched the title on May 6, drawing 1-1 with Avellino in Turin’s Stadio Communale. Paulo Rossi, the hero of Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph, scored the last of his 13 league goals to give Juve the lead.

Six members of the victorious 1982 Azzurri side came from Juve: Dino Zoff, Gatano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini Marco Tardelli and Rossi. All were part of the team that won the title in 1984, with Libya-born Gentile moving to Fiorentina in the summer of 1984. Trapattoni signed Avellino’s Luciano Favero as Gentile’s replacement. A powerful and versatile player, he slotted in nicely with the other mainstays of the Juve defence, Scirea and Cabrini, but never won a cap for Italy.

The Juve side was largely Italian, the only foreigners were Platini, Zbigniew Boniek (Poland) and Massimo Bonini (San Marino). Coach Trapattoni was an old campaigner when it came to European club competition – he was part of the AC Milan teams that won the European Cup in 1963 and 1969 and he had also coached the Rossoneri to the UEFA Cup in final in 1974.

The 1984-85 Italian domestic season had added spice in that Diego Maradona arrived at Napoli after leaving Barcelona. The expectation was enormous and created great excitement right across Italy. In addition, unfancied Verona went on to win their one and only scudetto. Verona beat Juventus early in the season 2-0 and it was clear that 1984-85 would be a tougher campaign for the champions. By Christmas, Juve were seven points behind Verona and were languishing in seventh place.

Away from the domestic front, Juve were already in the last eight of the European Cup, having beaten Finland’s Ilves (6-1 on aggregate) and Grasshopper Zurich (6-2) in the first two rounds. Liverpool, the holders, had squeezed past Benfica in the second round after easily disposing of Lech Poznań. The rest of the last eight looked quite weak compared to Liverpool and Juve, who had to face Austria Wien and Sparta Prague respectively in the quarter-finals.

In Turin, Juventus easily beat Sparta 3-0 with Tardelli, Rossi and Massimo Briaschi scoring the goals. Although they lost 1-0 in Prague, going down to a late penalty, they were never in danger of going out of the competition. Their opponents in the semi-final were Bordeaux, who were also beaten 3-0 in the first leg (Boniek, Briaschi and Platini scoring). The second meeting was tense and the French side won 2-0 leaving Juventus hanging on for dear life in the closing minutes.

Liverpool got past Austria Wien and Panathinaikos in the quarters and semis, but they had lost their league championship crown to neighbours Everton, who finished 13 points in front of the Reds. For both clubs, winning the European Cup was the only way they were going to return to the competition in 1985-86. Juve’s team of 1985 may not have secured another chance to win it – the average age of the side was almost 29 years.

The events before the game, with fans dying in the Heysel Stadium, should probably have forced an abandonment. It was something of a surprise that the final went ahead, but it has passed into history as the Heysel disaster rather than a game between two of the world’s top football teams.

The game was decided by a penalty in the 56th minute. Boniek was brought down by Gary Gillespie on the edge of the area, some say it was outside the danger zone, but Swiss referee Andre Daina, gave the penalty. Platini beat Bruce Grobbelaar from the spot and then celebrated before realising his mistake.

Juventus were awarded the trophy in the dressing rooms but then went on a lap of honour, which seemed a little inappropriate in the circumstances. For Liverpool manager Joe Fagan, it was a dreadful finale to his career. Earlier in the day he had announced his retirement: “There was a game of football in the end, but I don’t think anyone’s heart was in it. Mine certainly wasn’t. Football is a game, but not any longer to some. It was UEFA’s decision that we should play, not ours. What a sad way for me to end.”

Many Juventus fans urged their players not to play the game, but they celebrated, albeit reservedly, when their experienced team took the European Cup to Turin for the first time. The final proved to be Paulo Rossi’s last game for Juventus as he joined AC Milan after a poor season in which he managed just three Serie A goals. Boniek and Tardelli also left the club, for Roma and Inter respectively. Trapattoni’s next big foreign signing was Denmark’s Michael Laudrup, who helped Juve recapture the title in 1986.

The football year 1985 was a grim one. Heysel came just a few weeks after the fire at Valley Parade and hooliganism had reared its ugly head several times in the 1984-85 season. It was the beginning of the end of football’s old order, accelerated four years later by the Hillsborough disaster. Juventus were European champions, but the dark shadow of 39 dead supporters has always denied them the chance to really celebrate the achievement.



Photo: PA



The convenience of supporting football: Why the establishment made friends with the game

WHEN football hooliganism was at its peak, culminating in the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, the game appeared to have played into the hands of the British government. Repeated incidents during the 1970s and 1980s meant football was already considered to be a pastime for louts, an outlet for working class yobbery. The government, led by Margaret Thatcher, had no interest in the value of the world’s most popular sport.

Consequenly, at the time, any reasonable football follower would be slightly embarrassed about being a fan or a regular visitor to matches as you were considered to be an undesirable species, capable of violence and foul language.


Not many celebrities, politicans or members of the royal family would admit to being vaguely interested. If they did, they were generally Labour MPs such as Harold Wilson (Huddersfield) and Michael Foot (Plymouth), although in the 1980s, it was well known that David Mellor, a Conservative MP, was a Chelsea season ticket holder.

This reluctance seems to be a peculiarly British thing, for football in other countries, Spain for example, had long been embraced by notable figures in society. Perhaps this is due to the class system in Britain, where Rugby had long been the sport of the middle and upper class. Notably, Rugby was also keenly adopted by the City of London rather than “Association” and was grouped with other elitist pursuits like golf club and lawn tennis club membership. Football, a game for simpletons and the ill-disciplined, was the property of the sweaty, horny-handed sons of the soil.

There were exceptions, of course, and London football clubs were always eager to demonstrate that their support base included celebrities such as actors, authors and entertainers – Chelsea and Fulham, perhaps because of their location among the wealthy and ambitious, often featured articles in their programmes.  Chelsea’s fans, according to a poll undertaken in 2018, earn double the income of the average Liverpool supporter.

This was far removed from the harsh reality of life on the terraces, on public transport and city centres when a squad of hooligans were visiting. TV was quick to highlight news stories around the “invasion” of Manchester United, Chelsea or Millwall or stage debates talking about social decay that made football a sporting leper.

Thatcher and her gang clearly disliked football and everything it stood for, the fact it was largely a working class pastime made it even more unpalatable. When, in 1989, the horror of Hillsborough underlined the lack of safety and control at games, football had reached its nadir and there was a risk of a complete breakdown.

The very structure had to undergo major surgery. Falling attendances said a lot about how football had become increasingly unattractive. From 1970 to 1988, the English first division had seen a 40% drop in gates, from an average of 32,113 to 19,273.


The creation of the Premier League in 1992 was the chief catalyst for change. Not only did the Football Association do a very comprehensive job of marketing the “new” league, which was as much about creating elitism and redirection of capital as it was concerned with reinvention and building something exciting, but it convinced the British public that this was a brand new product.

But this “product” drew a slightly different audience, one that had rejected it in the years leading up to Heysel and Hillsborough, mostly due to what many people felt was an unhealthy environment. TV broadcasters were pivotal in this transformation, providing live broadcasts with a new dynamic around analysis and punditry.

Football became a “must see” event once more and the exposure that an attachment to the sport became a valuable currency among prominent individuals. Hence, football was something that “important” people now considered to be a tool to underline their accessibility, user-friendliness and social connection. Furthermore, the involvement of big corporates also meant that football entered the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies, financial services institutions and even local authorities. Politicians in the UK, like those in continental Europe and Latin America, declared their lifelong allegiance to their local football clubs. Being a fans was one step towards acquiring an “everyman” image.

Tony Blair, who became Prime Minister in 1997, was quick to show his support of Newcastle United just as the Premier League was really taking off. He wasn’t the last PM to court football – David Cameron, the most unfootball person imaginable, claimed to be an Aston Villa supporter – rather like Prince William. It is probable that Cameron and his sparring partner Boris Johnson (“I support all the London clubs”) have invariably referred to the game as “Soccer”.

Certainly, Cameron is no dyed-in-the-wool Villa fan, he once referred to West Ham as his club, implying that it was claret and blue that had caught his eye and not the famous old club from Birmingham. In any case, picking a team like Villa was a good way to swerve any issues around partisanship among the bigger clubs. Nicola Sturgeon did likewise in Scotland, avoiding the “old firm” and plumping for Ayr United.

Now, almost everyone has a favourite team even if they’ve never been near a football stadium. It has become part of the curriculum vitae – people now list football among their “other interests”, whereas 30 years earlier, it would almost certainly have been a black mark.

However, it is unlikely that celebrities would enter a ground unless they had been gifted VIP treatment. The sound of American investment bankers referring to a match at Stamford Bridge as a “ball game” or “soccer” grates with most purists. But these are the owners of the contemporary hard currency of football fandom, the executive boxes, which at a place like the Emirates, can cost you almost £ 3,500 a time.


Football had to move on from its old, Lowryesque image. Fans no longer trudge to a match, it is a whole new entertainment industry. The disposable income of supporters has altered dramatically and varies greatly.

Hipsters and socially-minded fan groups may yearn for the “authentic” days of crumbling terraces, urine soaked feet and horse shit-covered exits. That snarling, desolate model was broken (the whole fanzine culture sprung up around an industry in chaos and characterised by supporter dissatisfaction) and the game was dying. We look wistfully of pictures of packed grounds, floodlight pylons and old Dutch barn-style grandstands, but they were scarcely havens of comfort.

The game, then, moved away from its working class roots, partly because in the post-Thatcher era, nobody wanted to be working class and partly because in the age of shiny things, delapidated football stadiums were not very appealing. While traditionalists despise the cookie-cutter stadiums that have replaced the old kops and enclosures, the new audience is drawn to modern, functional and comfortable grounds. Football is still of the people, but “the people” now includes folk from all corners of society, although there exists a certain degree of inverted snobbery about the genuinity of middle and upper class supporters.

Let’s not forget that in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a predominantly working class audience, you rarely saw a black football supporter in stadiums and women were in very small numbers. The game is arguably more inclusive today than it ever was in the past and that includes socio-economic groups. Football may still belong to us in a roundabout way, but it is no longer the sole property of the working class.


Photo: PA