Imagine you’re a 16-25 year old disaffected Birmingham male on a beautiful evening in the spring of 1982. We wish we could say “so and so are number one in the charts” but unfortunately that was this song which doesn’t really fit our scene at all, so just imagine some appropriate new wave/punk/ska shit playing in your head. You are in Belgium to watch your beloved Aston Villa take on one of Europe’s classic sides, Anderlecht, on the way to eventual European Cup glory. And yes, of course you are exceedingly drunk.
With all that in mind, the events that unfold are fairly easy to comprehend. 38,000 were packed into Anderlecht’s “tight English style ground”, known at the time as the Émile Versé Stadium. While there was a separate official Villa supporter section, a large number of Villa fans ended up sharing an Anderlect home terrace behind the goal. Of course this was not accidental (allegedly some supporters had traveled over the previous weekend to secure batches of tickets for the terrace) and for the time period and the parties involved, it would have been extremely suspicious if some sort of incident HADN’T occurred. Comparing camera shots, we can see that early in the game somewhat of gap has already appeared on the terrace suggesting disturbances:
Duly, business really picks up mid-way through the first half as the camera shows clashes between Villa supporters and both the home fans and police. Commentator Martin Tyler remarks that there were also “problems” before the game had started.
Play goes on for a few moments before we see the young man that you are still imagining you are from the first paragraph, and the main subject of this first installment of People On The Pitch here at Pyro On The Pitch. Perhaps overcome with the ecstasy of youth and the novelty of the occasion, he has spontaneously used the ongoing chaos as an opportunity to exit the supporter’s enclosure and in fact enter the field of play. As he triumphantly lays down at the 6 yard line, the referee blows his whistle to temporarily suspend the sports game.
If you look closely, you can see that in addition to his fine burgundy polo top, he also has a black jumper in hand which he drops beside him on the pitch. This was a mistake and he would never see the jumper again, as police are swiftly on hand to apprehend the casualistic ruffian and several of them rush him away along the pitch. But the discordian moment has had already made it’s mark on the parchment of time.
Leading the pitch invader away proves harder than the police had imagined, resulting in a Christ-like fall:
The poor lad seems to have suddenly lost all energy and simply cannot move another muscle. Humorously, the rest of his journey from the pitch is provided at the expense of King Leopold himself as a result, much to the delight of the home crowd:
Meanwhile, Villa goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer, among other players, naively appeals for calm as trouble continues behind his goal:
Riot police stream up the terrace to try and separate the groups of fans while another separate regiment of authoritarians make their way onto the pitch, who’s uniforms suggest they are not exactly prepared for physical confrontation.
The home supporters respond to the situation with the topical chant of “Argentina! Argentina!”, referencing the Falklands War as a sort of verbal retaliation as the fighting continued:
In a trademark British display of willful ignorance, the commentator mentions that it is “impossible of course to say who started it”. The fact that the rest of the Villa supporters were apparently chanting “You’re the shit of Birmingham” to those behind the goal was perhaps evident enough.
Some unfortunate casualties (literally, because casual) from the mayhem can be seen being taken away for treatment. We hope they made a speedy recovery and that they are living good lives these days.
Eventually the situation is resolved to a somewhat satisfactory degree, at least enough for the referee to resume the game:
But in one last display of the absurdity of man, we can quite clearly see one Villa supporter who has cunningly alluded the police line, who are apparently blind to his extremely conspicuously Union Jack waving:
The game would finish 0-0, enough to send Aston Villa to the final, but Anderlecht would appeal to UEFA to have the game overturned due to psychological damage of the traumatic events seen above. While Villa were punished by being ordered to play their next European home game behind doors (vs Besiktas the following September), Anderlecht’s request was denied, clearly indicating that at the time players were expected to be able to deal with your run of the mill crowd trouble as part of the job. Truly a golden age.
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