Football Special Report #11 – Fire In The Stadium

It hasn’t been long since the previous Football Special Report, but this was one of our Red Inc. fanzine exclusive articles that won’t be online for some time so a new installment was needed. For a change of pace, rather than focus on a single match of interest this time we look at theme of fire, with the different aspects of it seen inside stadiums over the years and the varying levels of destruction.


Feyenoord vs Tottenham, UEFA Cup final-2nd leg, 29/05/1974:

Our first recorded instance (that we know of at least) takes place on the supposed night that hooliganism was introduced to Dutch football. Over the next 25 years, the country would become one of the most violent in terms of football trouble – a stark contrast to the laid back and friendly culture that many tourists experience when visiting. But even before the 70s the “crazy” nature of a certain element of Dutch supporters was already revealing itself, as seen here via Ajax in the 1960s with pitch invasions, message two-sticks, and even pyro on the pitch.

However, perhaps it is fair to say that the particularly British brand of crowd trouble that is mostly associated with hooliganism was first injected into Dutch culture on the night of the 1974 UEFA Cup final-2nd leg between Feyenoord and Tottenham Hotspur, in the ominous De Kuip (The Tub), Rotterdam. With beer bottles raining back and forth before kick off between home fans and those in the poorly segregated away section, located high on the second tier, soon all order broke down and chaos reigned as running battles occurred on the terraces and in the tunnels.

During half time, chairs were ripped up and thrown from Spurs fans to the section below, prompting announcements in English appealing for calm and informing the missile throwers that they were a disgrace to club and country. Enraged locals invaded the outnumbered visitor’s section and, side by side with police, ended-up beating many fleeing Tottenham fans as they ran to the exit tunnel, with several bodies disturbingly careering down the steep steps:

As the dystopian scene settled down, one home fan with a confiscated Union Jack on a pole, left by an Englishman, channeled the spirit of Vietnam War protestors by setting it alight. While not the only ones to do this, we will see later that the Dutch were also quite fond of flag burning at international level as well as club. As Britain’s national flag blazed, the fire-starter disdainfully discarded it onto the seats below:

Bradford City vs Lincoln City, Third Division, 11/05/1985:

There are probably further episodes of fires at football matches between the 1974 and 1985, but the next instance for which we can confirm is the most infamous and deadly to ever break-out in a stadium. This time, despite taking place at the pinnacle of English crowd trouble, the ignition had nothing to with hooligans.

Instead it was an Australian visitor at Bradford’s Valley Parade, present for the club’s league match against Lincoln toward the end of the 85/86 season, who would unfortunately throw a still-lit cigarette through the cracks in the ground’s old, wooden grandstand onto decades worth of similar dried rubbish below. In seconds the fire caught on and spread to the stand, destroying it within minutes. The terrifyingly rapid disaster took 56 lives, in respect to whom we won’t post pictures or videos for this entry.

Liverpool vs Juventus, European Cup final, 29/05/1985:

With the death of another supporter at the same time as Bradford – during some of the worst rioting the country had seen in a ground to date at Birmingham vs Leeds – it seemed as if things couldn’t get worse for English football. Then, two weeks later, it did, with the disaster at Heysel Stadium, Brussels, before Liverpool and Juventus’ European Cup final.

In the aftermath of the stampede and crush that claimed 39 victims, there was a delay of nearly two hours before it was finally agreed to go ahead and play the match. This long, tense period was marked by oft-forgotten (understandably) rioting in the Juve end. At first, ultras group capos held crisis talks while rumours as to what exactly happened doubtlessly flooded through the crowd. Soon the scene included broken barbed wire fences and random debris being hurled, so it didn’t seem out of place when some sort of material was set alight near the confused riot police:

In the Liverpool section, many were similarly unaware to the degree of what had happened, or indeed the fact that the blame lay with their fellow countrymen. Perhaps discontented with the wait, what appears to be a flag was also set on fire at then foot of the unforgiving concrete terrace, coincidentally beside a humorous banner reading “Kenny the master will turn Platini into pasta”:

Bradford City vs Leeds United, Second Division, 20/09/1986:

About 18 months later, with Bradford still reeling from the dreadful fire at Valley Parade, the club temporarily moved into nearby rugby league ground (and speedway) Odsal Stadium while their own home was redeveloped. Elland Road of Leeds United was also used in between, a club who’s fans had been involved in the other major episode on the day of the fire in 85, and fate would bring the two clubs together again for Bradford’s next unexpected nightmare match – one of their first in Odsal early in the 86/87 season.

With the fearsome Leed’s huge away following growing bored towards the end of the match, a fire was started on a grassy knoll section of the side terrace where away fans were located, while some conducted a “playful” game of throwing things at each other:

More serious missiles were also thrown down from the top of the terrace toward ground-level police outside. In the amidst this was an unfortunately positioned – but thankfully unoccupied – chip van which soon drew the ire of the Leeds demolition crew:

First the van was toppled before being doused in petrol and set alight. Moments later, to the horror of the onlooking Bradford fans across the stadium – especially any present for the fire the previous year – the chip van was ablaze:

While some Some Leeds fans threw more projectiles at emergency teams come to deal with the fire, the players were called off the pitch which was quickly invaded by supporters escaping the smoke. As if the experience wasn’t traumatising enough for the “home” supporters, hundreds of hooligans then proceeded to attempt to storm the main grandstand, triggering panic and fleeing from the poor Bradford faithful:

Den Haag vs ?, ????:

Going back to the Dutch, the Netherlands own hooligan epidemic was in full swing by the 1980s. Besides the obvious offenders from “edgy” cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, outsiders might be surprised to hear that the home of UN courts of justice, The Hague, was also the home to some of the country’s most volatile fans, those of ADO Den Haag.

Led from the terraces by the group Northside – founded in 1977 – here Den Haag youths have invaded the pitch of their own Zuiderpark ground after an unidentified match during the 80s, perhaps caused by a heavy defeat since they are not exactly in celebratory mood. Whatever the reason, some fans attempt to take down the goal while flaming newspaper is thrown on top:

Den Haag vs Ajax, Eredivisie, 01/03/1987:

Staying Dutch, judging by the clothes of the hoodlums above that particular pitch invasion can’t have been long before one of the more infamous crowd trouble occasions of the decade in the Netherlands, which also happened to involve Den Haag and the Zuiderpark. The hated Ajax were the visitors on the day in March 1987 when trouble broke-out before the match, starting with a several young Den Haag fans invading the pitch and successfully stealing a flag from the away section:

This naturally caused outraged among the Amsterdam crew who proceed to riot, prompting manager Johan Cryuff among others to come out to appeal for calm. When the game did start, projectiles thrown from terrace to terrace caused riot police to enter Northside’s enclosure and “clear it out”, with consequences for some fans who were seriously injured in the crush that followed.

But before that, at one stage a banner on the fence in flames could be seen, oddly with “N-Side” visible on part of it. What the whole message actually was we may never know:

Como vs Atalanta, Serie A, 29/03/1987

The 80s continued to be rife with stadium fires, and March 87 in particular as less than a month after the previous entry came the next episode, this time in Italy. The cause of the fire to come on the away curva of Como’s Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia, occupied at the time by Atalanta fans with confetti ready to throw as the teams came out, was clear to see:

At some stage early in the first half, the mounds of confetti now at everyone’s feet caught fire, possible due to another cigarette. As the players proceeded with the match, flames could be see on the terrace in the background which had been abandoned in the centre:

Amazingly, as the blaze got worse, not only did the match not stop, but a goal was scored by the home side right on front it:

To be fair to the Como manager, he basically ignored his celebrating players to point out that a quite a large fire was raging in their stadium:

Several supporters were also alarmingly close, while others rushed to remove flags from the dangerzone, as well as attempting to move the combustible confetti away:

Thankfully, the fire was able to burn itself out and apparently nobody was hurt, with the scene looking totally back to normal by the time Atalanta scored in a 2-1 loss:

Shout-out to Brigate Neroazzure and their weed flag also, the only thing anyone should ever be needing fire for:

West Germany vs Netherlands, European Championship, 21/07/1988:

Moving into 1988 and that year’s Euros, the semi-final threw up the historically thorny match of the Netherlands taking on hosts West Germany in Munich’s Olympiastadion – an exact replay of the 1974 World Cup final. With that doubtlessly in mind, as well as altogether more important historical memories of national significance, more than one German flag could be seen in flames in the Dutch section amid celebrations following their 1-2 win en route to the championship:

Ascoli vs Inter, Serie A, 09/10/1988:

Back in Italy a few months later, a scene in Ascoli’s Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca would rival Como the year before for it’s visual craziness. During the match, a huge plum of black smoke interrupted proceedings, emanating from a fire on the running track on front of Inter’s large away following:

Upon closer inspection, a burning high-jump mat was source of most of the smoke. We can’t confirm (the news report in Italian might), but it seems likely that thrown pyro from the curva might have been to blame:

With the banners of ultras groups like Viking and Cobras in the background, the aesthetic of the black smoke and flames beneath surely gave the members of these tough, right-wing crews great satisfaction:

Atalanta vs Dinamo Zagreb, UEFA Cup first round-1st leg, 19/09/1990:

Staying in Italy and involving Atalanta again, this time it would be fire of a more Balkan flavour. Since we have already covered this game in Pyro On The Pitch #16 there is no need to go into too much detail, but the fine Croatian past-time of pyro-launching was involved:

As the game was held-up, the actions of the Dinamo Zagreb supporters packing out the away section in Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia produced unforeseen consequences. Their own flags in the firing line naturally were always going to be in danger, and indeed at least one caught fire and was destroyed:

Universitatea Craiova vs Dacia Unirea Brăila, Cupa României Final, 26/06/1993:

A slightly more innocent incarnation was on display during the Romanian cup final of 1993, with Universitatea Craiova supporters creating their own make-shift pyro as the team were about to win the competition for the first time ever:

Steaua Bucharest vs Dinamo Bucharest, Divizia A, 1997:

Coming nearly to the end of our list, fires seem to drop off considerably in most of Europe during the 90s. Once significant exception occurred in 1997 at a Bucharest “Eternul derby” in Steua’s Stadionul Național, when Dinamo Buchaest fans set fire to their rivals’ stadium following a 3-1 home win:

Greece, 80s and 90s:

Lastly we come to basically the entire Greece club scene, deserving of it’s own section due the country’s hardcore fans in the 80s and 90s giving new meaning to the term “Greek fire.” The Athens derby was always a likely source of trouble which equaled the possibility of fire, as was realised here in Olympiacos’ Karaiskakis Stadium sometime in the 1990s by the looks of it:

Outside the capital, the Thessaloniki derby, aka Derby of Macedonia or Derby of Northern Greece, between Aris and POAK is also an extremely hot affair. Here Aris’ Super 3 group take this to the next level with the burning of captured flags:

As for Panathanaikos, the club’s representatives have been present for outbreaks of fire in stadiums such as this…:

…and this…:

….and this…:



…..aaaand this:


YouTube Links:

Feyenoord vs Tottenham, 1974
Feyenoord vs Tottenham, 1974
Bradford vs Leeds 1986
Bradford vs Leeds, 1986
Den Haag vs ???, ????
Den Haag vs Ajax, 1987
Como vs Atalanta, 1987
Como vs Atalanta, 1987
Ascoli vs Inter, 1988
Universitatea Craiova and Dacia Unirea Brăila, 1993
Steaua Bucharest vs Dinamo Bucharest, 1997




  1. Just a small correction on the second Bradford fire, which I was shockingly not aware of, Odsal is a Rugby League stadium, not a Rugby Union stadium – although, based on recent events, it seems it won’t even be that anymore.


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