On May 11th, last day of the season, Bradford City were celebrating their third division championship and promotion to the Second Division at home to Lincoln. Then just before half-time a fire started in the wooden main stand. Within five minutes the entire 76 year-old stand was a raging inferno from end to end and the hurrahs turned to howls of terror.
Those that survived clambered onto the pitch, which provided the only safe means of exit. Fifty-six people died and hundreds were burnt, many seriously. The cause of the fire was identified as years of accumulated rubbish under the main stand which was probably set alight by a cigarette or dropped match.
Only Barry McGuigan could outlaw Ian Paisley in Belfast and the Pope in Dublin, as the Clones Cyclone did on his triumphant return to Ireland with the World Featherweight Title. The appeal of the articulate and handsome fighter transcended sport, politics or religion.
McGuigan did not unite the warring factions in the North, but at least on those unforgettable nights when he went to work in the Kings Hall the violence was confined to the ring. He was at his considerable peak and not even the magnificent Eusebio Pedroza, could cope with him.
English football hit its nadir at the Hysel stadium in Brussels on May 29th. All the ills of the game came together at the summit of European football: the final of the Champions Cup, Liverpool v Juventus. And when the dust had settled 39 people were dead and more than 400 injured.
The catalogue of mistakes that led to this tragedy indicted everybody involved in the game. The stadium was a crumbling dinosaur; the fans were drunk, many of them ticket-less and there was no proper segregation; the policing was so inadequate that sticks, bottles and iron bars were easily smuggled into the stadium The facts of the incident were commonplace, it could have happened at almost any average English ground. The outcome was appalling.
Two sets of rival fans taunted each other, hurling insults and missiles, and Liverpool fans charged Juventus fans three times. The third time Juventus fans tried to run to safety, but there was no way out. An old wall collapsed under the pressure and in the ensuing panic people tumbled over each other and crushed each other to death.
SQUASH - England’s women won the first of their four successive world team titles.
TENNIS - Ivan Lendl won his first of three successive US Open titles.
Lendl, who had lost the previous three finals, beat John McEnroe
7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Golden Bear’s 46 year-old back was creaking, his sight was not as keen, and his $5 million swing looked ready for the Seniors Tour. He had slumped to 44th in the money winners’ list had not won a tournament for 2 years or a major for 6 years. But there was something about the Masters that brought out the best in Jack Nicklaus. The 50th gathering at Augusta was billed as a parade of the foreign big hitters. Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Greg Norman. Instead it became the last hurrah for one of America’s favourites.
Nicklaus was four shots behind Norman on a crowded leader board starting the final round. He did nothing to suggest a memorable late charge until the ninth, where he picked up a birdie to turn in 35. He birdied the tenth and eleventh too as the adrenaline in his old veins began to flow. He collected birdies on 13 and 16 an eagle at the 15th to storm home in 65. The field faded, Ballesteros went into the water at 15, Kite took too many putts and Nicklaus was the oldest Masters Champion at 46.
Diego Maradona and Argentina deservedly won the World Cup in Mexico on June 29. They were the best team with the world’s best player. But the abiding memory of the tournament will surely be Maradona cheating against England in the quarter-finals.
Peter Shilton, England’s goalkeeper and Maradona together went up for a lofted ball, Maradona palmed it over Shilton’s head and the goal was allowed by a Tunisian referee who should have known better. “The Hand of God,” Maradona called it after the match. Within minutes of his devilish behaviour, Maradona had bewitched almost the entire England team to score a solo goal of scintillating brilliance. Thus the modern demigod.
England were somewhat fortunate even to have got to the second phase. Bobby Robson had picked his ideal team for the first two games. And what happened? A 1-0 defeat at the hands of a squabbling Portuguese team and a dispirited goal less draw against a craven Morocco. Luck did not favour Scotland or Northern Ireland. Scotland were in a particularly tough group and went under to a cynical Uruguay. Northern Ireland despite having the incomparable Pat Jennings, were no match for Brazil or Spain.
American Football had started to catch on in Britain, and William “The Refrigerator” Perry became its first household name. Perry, a defence lineman with the Chicago Bears, was given his nickname by a team-mate because of the prodigious amount of food he ate to maintain his weight at well over 300 lbs. Soon, television audiences were cheering Perry on as he sacked opposing quarterbacks and flattened running backs. On the night of January 26, they had more to cheer about when Perry lumbered in for a touch-down as the Bears routed the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl IXX
New Zealand confirmed their status as the most powerful rugby nation by winning the first World Cup. The All-Blacks beat France 29-9 in an unimaginative final of a competition that had taken years to get off the ground. The International Rugby Board, convinced a World Cup would be the first step towards professionalism, had passed a resolution in 1958 that forbade member nations from “organising a World Cup. But when the inaugural competition finally kicked off, it produced some entertaining and one-sided matches. New Zealand opened the event with a 70-6 victory against Italy.
They then beat Fiji 74-13 and Argentina 46-15. England thrashed Japan 60-7 and France and Scotland had big wins in their group games. The French crushed Romania 55-12 and Zimbabwe 70-12, Scotland hammered Romania 55-28 and Zimbabwe
In the final the French were no match for New Zealand on June 20 at Eden Park in Auckland. Once the All-Black fly-half Grant Fox put on his kicking boots, David Kirk’s team cruised to victory. Fox scored 17 of their 29 points.
The quiet water of the Isis and the Thames were stirred by a mutiny as Oxford tried to prepare for the Boat Race. The dispute started in late January when the president of the Boat Club, Donald MacDonald, dropped the American Cris Clark from the squad in a dispute over the seating order in the boat and the team selection.
Seven other rowers including 4 Americans, then refused to train until Clark was reinstated. MacDoinald with the backing of Oxford’s coach Dan Topolski, survived a series of challenges. Cambridge were made favourites but Oxford won by 4 lengths.
Iron Mike Tyson the one-time New York street delinquent moulded into the perfect fighting machine by the eccentric and enigmatic Cus D’Amato unified the heavyweight championship for the first time since 1978. He became the youngest heavyweight king in history when he won the WBC title by trouncing Trevor Berbick in 2 rounds in Las Vegas in November 1986, and added the WBA belt with a laborious points win over James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith on March 7. In Las Vegas on August 1, he completed the set by out pointing the tough and durable IBF champion Tony Tucker. After years of fat men and non-entities, the world has at last a heavyweight champion who looks the part.
ATHLETICS - Ed Moses was beaten for the first time in 122 races by Danny Harris in Madrid on June 4.
GOLF - Ian Woosnam became the first player to win more than £1 million in a season - £1,042,662
RUGBY UNION - New Zealand beat Japan 106-4 in Tokyo on November 1, the highest score in an international.
It was the year of Eddie the “Eagle”. Michael Edwards was a plasterer from Cheltenham with thick glasses and an ability to ski-jump. Not very well, but he could jump all the same. So he turned up for the 15th Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada, and stole the show.
He was Britain’s first entry in the ski-jumping, and to the amusement of millions finished last in both jumps. Although he broke the British record of 71m, he finished 20 m behind the rest of the field. “Everybody back home thinks I’m crazy”, he said. “They’re probably right”. There was also traditional success for Britain. Martin Bell surprised himself by finishing eighth in the men’s downhill, won by Pirmin Zubriggen of Switzerland. Bell had clocked mediocre times in training but produced a world class performance on the big day.
Nick Faldo’s hope of emulating Tony Jacklin’s feat of holding both the Open and US Open titles were destroyed by Curtis Strange in a play-off at Brookline. Although Faldo finished level with Strange on 278 after 4 rounds he was beaten by four shots in the play-off. Stranger became the first player in 38 years to retain the US Open title when he won at Oak Hill the next year.
To future historians the dominance of Ben Johnson in setting a world record of 9.79sec in winning the 1988 Olympic 100m title on September 24 in Seoul would not have appeared inconsistent with his 1987 World title victory over Carl Lewis in the former world mark of 9.83. But those who had seen Johnson decisively beaten by Lewis in a 100m race at Zurich on August 17, it seemed that Lewis was on his way to retaining the Olympic crown. Even in the preliminaries in Seoul Johnson was not convincing and only survived to the final as a fastest loser.
In the final however, Johnson appeared a different man. He pulled ahead of Lewis early on and won by more than a metre. In the time honoured cliche, Johnson expressed his preference for the title over the world record: “They can break my record but they can’t take away my gold medal”. How wrong he was!. Three days later, Canadian Olympic officials were informed that Johnson had been disqualified because traces of an anabolic steroid , stanozolol after mandatory drug testing. Johnson was rushed out of Seoul amid a media stampede. His disqualification ranked as probably the biggest Olympic scandal of all time.
With a cavalier disregard for the massed ranks of contenders, Sugar Ray Leonard emerged from a 19 month retirement to take the WBC light-heavyweight championship from Donny Lalonde of Canada on November 7. The new-fangled super- Middleweight (12 stones) title was thrown in to enable Leonard to become the first man to win versions of world championships at five different weights. Lalonde, a glamorous but predictable fighter, almost ruined the script when he floored Leonard in the fourth round, but the great man rallied brilliantly and knocked out the Canadian in the ninth.
On the same day 100 miles to the south, Leeds fans rioted at their match in Birmingham and a wall collapsed, a boy was killed and 96 police were injured. These two incidents pinpointed the malaise that grips football, unsafe antiquated stadiums and hooliganism.
Meanwhile the police were using batons to clear the area while people lay dying. The FA reacted by withdrawing English clubs from European football and Prime Minister Thatcher demanded quick solutions. Despite Heysel, despite Bradford, despite Thatcher, football saw no need for root and branch reform. Until the next disaster!.
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