Euro Moments: Ray Wilkins produces moment of magic as English fans riot

Manchester United midfielder’s sublime goal was overshadowed by trouble in the stands

England’s Ray Wilkins is challenged for the ball by Belgium’s Walter Meeuws during their Group Two match. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

England’s Ray Wilkins is challenged for the ball by Belgium’s Walter Meeuws during their Group Two match. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

 

The year was 1980 and football hooliganism was at its height in England. Firms intent on wreaking havoc on the terraces and outside the ground were the constant bane of of the Metropolitan Police.

When the European Championships rolled around in the haze of an Italian summer Europe braced itself for an English invasion.

Sadly, as was often the case at the time, it was matters off the pitch that overshadowed what happened on it.

It was the opening game of Group 2 and Ron Greenwood’s side were set to take on Belgium at the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin.

After failing to qualify for the previous two World Cups England went into the tournament with renewed optimism as upcoming stars such as Steve Coppell, Glenn Hoddle and Ray Wilkins prepared to take on Europe, led by captain and current European Footballer of the Year Kevin Keegan.

And indeed it was Wilkins who would take matters into his own hands on the pitch when he produced a moment of magic that would be remembered in a much fonder light if it wasn’t for other incidents taking place in the stands.

With 26 minutes gone the Belgian defence failed to deal with a cross from the left.

The Manchester United midfielder surged forward to nick the ball 30 yards from goal. Stretching out his right leg he flicked it beautifully over the Belgian defensive line before storming into the box.

As Theo Custers came out to close down the angle Wilkins composed himself before calmly lobbing it over the Belgian and into the top left corner of the net.

Cue havoc in the stands.

Just three minutes later Jan Cuelemans equalised for Belgium but it was just before half time when everything got out of hand.

Not content with watching their side compete in a first major tournament in four years, a section of the English support decided to take on the Belgian fans and Italian police in the stands.

A full-scale riot ensued as the police became particularly heavy-handed with the tear gas.

The trouble caused a stoppage in the game just before the break with both sides taken off the pitch.

The match went on to finish 1-1 but the scenes on the terraces were a scary indicator of what was to come, most notably five years later when 39 Juventus fans were killed after a wall collapsed at the Heysel Stadium during the European Cup final between Liverpool and the Italian giants.

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