In a surprise move today, top European soccer officials voted unanimously to readmit English clubs into European competitions for the season beginning 1990-91.
Speaking after the Union of European Football Assns.' executive committee meeting in Palmela, 25 miles south of Lisbon, UEFA President Jacques Georges said, "Taking into account the great effort taken by English authorities for assuring security in stadiums, UEFA has decided for the reintegration of English clubs into the inter-European competitions from the season 1990-91."
Final Decision Next Year
Georges said the president of UEFA will go to England next year to meet Britain's sports minister and will file a report to UEFA's executive committee.
"Based on the report, the executive committee will decide whether to confirm the decision taken today," Jacques said.
But English Football Assn. Chief Executive Graham Kelly said, "It's unlikely the committee would go through the whole tortuous process again."
UEFA imposed an open-ended ban on English clubs after 39 people were killed during rioting at Belgium's Heysel Stadium before the European Champions' Cup final between the English club, Liverpool, and Italy's Juventus Turin in May, 1985.
UEFA rejected English efforts to gain readmission in 1986 and 1987 to the European Champions' Cup, Cupwinners Cup and UEFA Cup tournaments.
England's Football Assn. withdrew a formal application for reentry after English, German and Dutch fans fought street battles last June during the European Nations' Championships in West Germany.
Liverpool, whose fans rioted at Heysel, faces an extra three-year ban from Europe after other clubs are readmitted. But according to Georges, the club's situation could be reconsidered next year.
Football Spectators' Bill
By then, the British government hopes to have pushed its controversial football spectators' bill through Parliament.
The bill calls for strict controls of all convicted football hooligans to prevent them from traveling abroad for matches. Also under the scheme, supporters will have to carry membership cards of their clubs in order to pass turnstiles at stadium entrances.
Still wary of possible violence by English fans traveling to the Continent, the British government refused to back the Football Assn.'s latest bid, despite widely publicized support for the return of English clubs among UEFA officials.
Sports Minister Colin Moynihan had called the readmission of English clubs "inconceivable" because "no new measures have been taken since the appalling scenes of last June."
But Kelly said today that he stressed to the committee that English clubs have played between 200 and 300 exhibition matches against continental teams since the ban was imposed.