Soccer is the world game. It is indisputably the most popular sport on Earth, and in a way, it represents humanity. It shows some of our more brilliant aspects – our competitive nature, our ability to come together, and our athletic skill. It has often been called “the world language,” because wherever you go on Earth, you can play soccer with people, whether or not you speak their language. But there is another universal human language – the language of violence. And this is a language that soccer supporters all over the world speak fluently. The sad truth is that sometimes, soccer represents the darker elements of human nature as well as our brighter qualities. This is exemplified by a long history of brutal soccer riots.
The riots are as varied as they are bloody. Sometimes it’s fans of one team versus other fans, but many times it’s the police force who are fighting fans. No matter who’s fighting, deaths are tragically common. Often, it is the innocent supporters who are killed – the children and elderly smashed against walls and trampled to death unwittingly by the belligerent hooligans. Sometimes police officers are killed. Sometimes people are killed simply because they’re mistaken for being of a certain nationality. What makes people riot? The obvious answer is that there is something tribal that is awakened within these people as they overzealously support their team of choice, and a soccer game (with all its emotional ups and downs) can be that crucial match that ignites fury and berserk rage. On the other hand, many people have also pointed out that “hooliganism” tends to erupt most intensely in decades of economic strife, where opportunities are limited, and class division is high.
15. England Vs Russia – Euro Cup 2016
The incident that immediately comes to mind is one fresh in our memories – the riot that erupted after the Euro 2016 match between Russia and England. England, in predictable disappointing fashion, drew 1-1 with the relatively low-rated Russian team. But the biggest disappointment was yet to come. Once again, English and Russian fans proved that football hooliganism is alive and well, as a massive brawl erupted in the stadium between hardcore supporters of the two nations. It was later revealed that the Russians had been waiting for a moment just like this.
For many decades, the English supporters were seen as the “hard men” of football, and this was a title that the Russians wanted to steal from the English. Here was an opportunity for the Russians to show that they were tougher, stronger, and more brutal than the famed English hooligans. And they seem to have proven their point. The Russians, not the English, were the aggressors in this situation, as they were the ones who charged the English fans after the match. These Russian supporters had reportedly been “training in the woods” for months to prepare for this fight, and created an army of 150 supporters who flew in for the sole purpose of attacking the English. The riots left 35 injured, and one English fan in critical condition. The violence in the stadium later spread throughout the city, and has since been called simply “The Battle of Marseilles.”
14. Germany Vs Yugoslavia – World Cup 1998
The 1998 World Cup was one of the most violent of all time. There were many instances of hooliganism, but perhaps one of the worst occurred before the match between Germany and Yugoslavia. Like the clash between Russia and England, this also occurred in France, in the city of Lens. Before the match began, German hooligans attacked 3 police officers. These police officers quickly became outnumbered, and one of them, Daniel Nivel, was beaten over the head with advertising boards. He was quickly singled out and isolated from the other officers, and while he was on the ground his helmet was removed. He was then repeatedly struck and stomped, suffering severe head injuries. He fell into a 6-week long coma, and was left with permanent brain damage and disabilities, including a speech impediment. Many of his attackers suffered severe charges, with one being tried in France, jailed for 5 years, and banned from ever entering France again. Four were tried in Germany, with one being charged with attempted murder and receiving a ten year prison sentence. The others were given less severe sentences.
13. The Battle of Beverwijk
The Dutch are very infamous for their football hooliganism, and one of the worst displays of this activity took place in an event that became somewhat of a legend. It was nicknamed “The Battle of Beverwijk.” Two teams in the Netherlands hate each other the most – Feyenoord and Ajax FC. The hooligans on both teams are always waiting for an opportunity to kick each other’s teeth in, and in March of 1997, that opportunity presented itself. Amazingly, this incident didn’t even take place in a stadium, or even outside the stadium. It took place on a motorway. This was actually a common battleground that hooligans on both sides had mutually chosen for their fights in the past, but the last meeting here had ended in retreat for Ajax, as the Feyenoord fans arrived in the hundreds, while the Ajax supporters arrived with the previously agreed upon number of 50 men. The Ajax hooligans were forced to retreat.
The Ajax fans essentially told the Feyenoord hooligans to bring everyone they could, because in the next battle they would be bringing their entire army. They met on a meadow near the A9 motorway near Beverwijk. This battle had no rules, with both sides bringing knives, baseball bats, and even electro-shock weapons. The fighting was intense, and when the police arrived the bloody battle was already over. One man was killed, Ajax supporter Carlo Picornie. He was hit so hard with a claw hammer that he instantly died. Many supporters on both sides were arrested and charged with varied crimes, and those apparently responsible for Picornie’s death were charged with murder.
12. Upton Park Riot – 2009
Rivalry is always fierce when two London clubs meet, and one of the worst clashes of this type was between Millwall and West Ham, two clubs that absolutely hate each other. Several times during the game, fans invaded the pitch, and the game had to be stopped and restarted repeatedly. Outside the stadium, there was even more violence, and the FA (The British Football Association) was unpleasantly reminded of the 1980’s, where hooliganism was much more common and violence happened on a daily and uncontrollable basis. The game in 2009 proved that hooliganism is alive and well in football. A 44-year-old Millwall supporter was stabbed outside the stadium, but was later reported to be in a stable condition. One manager in English football advised the FA to pass a rule forbidding Millwall from playing West Ham ever again, which obviously never happened. One West Ham supporter was even photographed invading the pitch carrying his child on his shoulders.
11. The 1996 Euro Cup Semi-Finals
The 1996 Euro Cup Semi-Final between Germany and England is just one instance in a long list of hooliganism that has given English fans such a bad reputation in the international community. To make matters worse and even more inexplicable, the match took place in England, and resulted in English hooligans vandalizing and terrorizing their own country. The riots erupted after England lost to Germany, with Gareth Southgate missing a penalty late in the game, and cities and towns all over England were struck with simultaneous rioting. The worst of these riots took place in Trafalgar Square in London, where a 2,000 man mob threw bottles at passing cars, people, and police. They also set fire to several cars and vandalized shops. In Brighton, a 17-year-old Russian boy was stabbed 5 times when a group of youths mistook him for a German. A police officer suffered a head injury when a bottle struck him on the head in Wiltshire.
10. 1985 – Luton Vs Millwall
Millwall has already been mentioned in this list, and as you will see from this incident, they have a history of being at the very heart of some of the most brutal soccer riots ever recorded. The year was 1985, during a decade classified by some of the worst hooliganism in English history. The Millwall hooligans (nicknamed the “Bushwackers”) showed up en masse to the Luton Town stadium for the FA Cup tie, only to find out that there weren’t enough tickets. Determined not to go home without causing a raucous, they smashed the windows of several shops and attacked news vendors. The ones who did get in were crowded into an away section of the stadium, with some overflowing into areas they weren’t supposed to be. Since they were already overflowing from the assigned seating area, it wasn’t difficult for them to break free of these confines, onto the pitch, and towards the Luton Town supporters. These home fans were pelted by rocks, coins, and bottles. They then continued to attack the home fans, and rip apart the stadium, destroying many of its seats. This prompted Luton Town to ban all away fans from visiting their stadium for years. It also sparked a reactionary movement by the Thatcher government against hooliganism.
9. The 1982 North London Derby
Another example of the kind of fierce hooliganism that existed during the 80’s in England happened during a match between Arsenal and West Ham. The year was 1982, and fans were getting more and more brutal and adventurous with their flavors of violence. They were starting to bring weapons into the stadium, and the supporters leading the way towards an ever-rising standard of brutality were those behind West Ham. They have been mentioned before in this list, and they are generally thought to be one of the most dangerous gangs of supporters in England. But Arsenal also had their own gang of violent supporters, nicknamed the “Gooners,” and these two gangs were the only ingredients necessary in this recipe for destruction.
The West Ham expected to be unopposed when they rioted and invaded the Arsenal home supporter’s stands, but the Arsenal supporters put up a surprising fight. Still, it wasn’t enough to defend their turf, and they were pushed back out of their own stands. But while the West Ham supporters taunted their opponents, a group of Arsenal fans regrouped and pushed back into their stands, intent on retaking their territory. West Ham fans were shocked and overwhelmed by this move, and were pushed back so far that they almost fell off the edge of the stands. The police moved in to protect the West Ham supporters, and the situation was diffused. However, later that night an Arsenal fan was surrounded by West Ham fans and brutally stabbed to death. Still, that night proved to be a turning point for Arsenal fans, and West Ham supporters never tried to invade their stands again.
8. The 1975 European Cup Final
England fans were once again at the center of controversy when Leeds United played Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup Final. The match took place in Paris, and after a series of questionable refereeing decisions that went against Leeds United, their fans lost it. They started hurtling bottles and other objects onto the pitch, and eventually invaded the field. They also ripped apart seating of the stadium, and attacked pretty much anyone they could find. They also somehow caused a German cameraman to lose an eye, as well as breaking the arm of another photographer, and reportedly smashed a video camera worth thousands of dollars. But the violence was not all one-sided. Former Leeds United legend Bobby Collins was beaten up outside of the stadium. This, at the time, was one of the worst instances of violence in soccer history, and prompted UEFA to consider abandoning all future European competitions. But little did they know, the 80s were about to bring a whole new wave of violence.
7. Matokeo Stadium Riot
We now move on to disasters and riots in stadiums that have claimed multiple lives. The first of these is an inexplicable riot at Matokeo Stadium in Congo. Socozaki and Nyuki System were playing each other in a league match, but there was a rumor going around that one of the players was using witchcraft. As you may or may not know, in some African countries, people still vehemently believe in witchcraft, and those accused are often burned or brutally executed. So when this rumor spread across a soccer stadium, violence was sure to occur. People began to riot, and the police were quick to step in to protect the players and the people. But almost immediately, the police commander was struck in the head and injured, so the police began firing their rifles into the air in a vain effort to subdue the crowd. All this did, however, was to cause a stampede that crushed multiple people, leaving 13 dead and 36 injured. Most of the victims were young people from age 11 to 16, who were trampled to death or crushed against walls by the mob who were fighting desperately to escape the police and their gunfire.
6. Heysel Stadium Disaster
One of the worst riots in soccer history was the Heysel Stadium Disaster of 1985. Once again, English fans were involved, and the fans on the receiving end were Italian Juventus supporters during this 1985 European Cup Final in Brussels. A whopping 39 people were killed, and over 600 people were injured. The cup match was between Liverpool and Juventus, and the rioting began a full hour before the match was even due to begin. The two sides of fans were within a stone’s throw of each other in the seating plan, made obvious by the fact that they were actually throwing stones at each other. This prompted a hand to hand conflict to break out when Liverpool fans broke through a fence and charged at the Juventus fans. After a brief confrontation, the outnumbered Juventus fans were pushed up against a wall when they tried to retreat. They were driven straight into a concrete wall, and many people were crushed against it by the mob. Then people tried to climb the wall, and the combined pressure caused the wall to collapse, and in turn part of the stadium fell apart. This lead to UEFA banning English clubs from competing in European competitions until the 90’s.
5. The Kayseri Atatürk Stadium Disaster
The Turkish soccer fans are famous for their hooliganism, and one of the worst instances of rioting in Turkey happened at the Ataturk Stadium in 1967. Once again, initial fighting between fans caused a stampede, which left many people crushed to death. When the dust settled, 43 people were dead and over 300 injured. The two teams playing were Kayserispor and Sivasspor, but they were anything but the main event that day. Kayserispor was leading 1-0 at half time, and the Sivasspor fans began to provoke them. It started with rock throwing, and quickly evolved into full-fledged violence. Many of the supporters were armed with weapons such as baseball bats and knives, and when the two sides started to go at it, the innocent non-combatants tried to flee. This led to a huge crowd of people rushing towards the exits and trampling each other to death. Later, the violence continued into the streets of Kayseri, with Sivasspor fans attacking innocent people. The government had to allocate tremendous resources just to contain this violence.
4. The Ellis Park Disaster
One of the most fatal soccer riots ever occurred in South Africa during a 1991 football game at Ellis Park Stadium, in Johannesburg. It occurred during a match between the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. It was immediately clear that the stadium was over capacity, and rioting, combined with a stampede, led to the second-worst sporting event disaster in South African history, with 42 deaths. The worst sporting disaster happened ten years later, but was the result of stampeding, not violence. In this situation, 30,000 people were packed into a stadium that could only hold 23,000 people. Not only that, but the fans were not separated based on who they supported, with Pirates fans mixed in with Chiefs fans. Soon into the match, violence erupted between both supporters after a questionable goal scored by the Chiefs was allowed by the referee. This prompted the Pirates fans to attack their enemies with knives, also throwing fruit and cans at the Chief fans. But the most deaths came from the ensuing stampede, which caused the deaths of dozens as they were trampled or crushed against fences.
3. Port Said Stadium Riot
The Egyptians take their soccer incredibly seriously, and can become violent extremely easily. This was never more evident as during the Port Said Stadium riot of 2012. This is another riot that is recent and fresh in our memories, and it proves that hooliganism is still a major threat all over the world. The match was between El Masry and El Ahly, and the ensuing violence left 74 people dead and over 500 injured. The match ended in a 3-1 victory for El Masry, and resulted in the El Masry hooligans storming across the pitch to attack the El Ahly supporters with knives, bats, fireworks, bottles, and even swords. The deaths occurred in a variety of ways. Some were stabbed and beaten to death, while others were thrown from the top of stands. Many were trampled or crushed to death in the ensuing stampede. The police were blamed by many, as video footage shows they did little to stop or contain the violence. They were also blamed for not opening the exit doors to allow fans to leave. This led to the government shutting down the Egyptian Premier League for two years.
2. Accra Sports Stadium Disaster
The Accra Sports Stadium disaster went down in history as one of the worst soccer riots, one of the bloodiest events in all of sporting history, and the worst sporting event disaster in African history. The incident, which took place in 2001, claimed the lives of 127 people. It happened at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Ghana, during a match between the country’s two biggest clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club and Asante Kotoko. The rivalry between these two clubs was fierce, and this was one of the factors that led to the disaster. Two late goals from the home side resulted in a stunning comeback and 2-1 victory. This emotional twist enraged the Kotoko fans, who began throwing bottles and chairs into the pitch. Before the game, extra security measures had been taken by the police, who had anticipated violence. But it was this beefing up of security that may have caused the large number of deaths. When the police started firing tear gas canisters into the crowd, a huge stampede erupted. Countless people were crushed underfoot and against walls, dying from the impacts or asphyxiation. The police were blamed for the incident, but never charged.
1. Estadio Nacional Disaster
The worst riot and disaster in soccer history was the Estadio Nacional Disaster of 1964. Peru hosted Argentina in a qualifying match for the Tokyo Olympics’ Football Tournament, and for those who don’t know, rivalry between these two nations is incredibly fierce when it comes to soccer. Over 50,000 people attended the match. In an all-too-familiar situation, the referee was at the heart of the conflict when he disallowed a late equalizing goal by Peru. The home fans were incensed, and they invaded the pitch. The police responded by firing tear gas canisters at the fans, which prompted a massive stampede of people who desperately tried to avoid the gas. The corrugated steel exits were located below the stadium, after staircases. The amount of people that piled in towards these exits caused hundreds of people to die, crushed in one of the biggest disasters of sporting history. Everyone who stayed inside the stadium and didn’t try to leave survived without harm. Outside the stadium, tremendous damage was done by vandals. The official number of those dead is 328, although many say the real number is higher. Over 500 people were injured.