The 1980s, destined to be the deadliest decade in English football, began with a foreshadowing of things to come as England travelled to Italy for the European Championships.

Police used tear gas on the terraces during the first-round match against Belgium, forcing both teams to abandon the field.

Rioting on the terraces during that tournament became a typical sight whenever the national team travelled abroad in the following years. Any European city will have witnessed so-called England fans terrorising stadiums or storming through streets and squares.

Domestically, rival club fans fought on a weekly basis, since attending a football match became equivalent to travelling to a warzone.

Riots of Luton Town and Millwall

The blackest single year for the game was 1985.

Rioting broke out at Kenilworth Road in March during an FA Cup quarter-final between Luton Town and Millwall.

The terrace was packed with a disproportionately huge away following, twice the size of Millwall’s usual home gate, and it was overflowing 45 minutes before kick-off when turnstiles broke down.

Hundreds of Millwall fans stormed barriers, leaving police impotent as they rushed down the pitch, firing missiles towards Luton Town fans at the opposite end.

Rioters then took off seats and used them as weapons.

Millwall manager George Graham eventually appeared to beg for calm, and police dogs cleared the pitch.

The game was called off after only 14 minutes because the visiting fans started rioting again. Both sides were given a 25-minute break by the referee.

The game ended with Luton winning 1-0, although missiles rained down on the pitch the entire time, and when the final whistle blew, the players ran for the tunnel.

Thirty-one of the 81 injured were police officers. One sergeant was hit in the head with a concrete block and stopped breathing, but he was resuscitated by a constable.

This was just one of the many countless brutal examples of what happened in the 80s to the beautiful game.

The eventual demise

Although it was not totally eradicated, chaos within football stadiums became significantly less common as a result of many measures implemented. CCTV became considerably more prevalent.

English stadiums became all-seater, requiring each spectator to have an allotted seat. Ticket purchases became traceable as a result, allowing each fan generating a commotion to be traced back to a specific seat and then back through the membership of the person who purchased the ticket.

Troublemakers were unable to congregate in one location. Seats were more expensive, making them more difficult to obtain for younger fans.

Football has entered the mainstream culturally. Fans have transitioned from participants to consumers. Stadiums are contemporary and well-maintained, with various catering outlets and attentive police.

Almost every night of the week, live games are shown on television. Football lovers may be found everywhere, from political high office to the Royal family, the arts, and business.

As the game has become more popular around the world, money has flowed in. The police, officials, media and the fans could no longer get away with behaving the way they did in the 1980s!

 

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