Referred to as the beautiful game, soccer, or football, is played by hundreds of millions of people and watched by billions of fans each year. Soccer brings different fans and cultures together and can even bring enemies together, as witnessed in the Ivory Coast when the national soccer team helped warring parties come to a truce. On the other hand, soccer can also bring out the worst in people. Fans often follow their clubs with such passion that soccer is not only a sport, but a religion. Extreme supporters, known as ultras, are some of the most fanatical fans who are willing to resort to hateful chants and fighting when it comes to supporting their clubs. Over the past decades this fanaticism has translated into numerous cases of fighting, reported stabbings and damage to restaurants, pubs and shops associated with rival fans.
Of course, extreme fans are not the only dangerous aspect of the beautiful game. Inefficient emergency policies, inadequate security measures and poorly designed or built stadiums can all contribute to creating a potentially deadly environment for players and fans. Lacking policies to deal with emergencies in the stands can place fans in danger and help bring about panic and ‘mob’ mentality. Insufficient or poorly prepared security measures can allow a few arguments or fights to spread throughout the stadium until they are uncontrollable. Equally, heavy handed tactics, including beatings and the use of rubber bullets and tear-gas can further anger or panic fans, making the situation worse. If all of this happens in a poorly designed or built stadium, the potential for disaster is only magnified as thousands are placed in danger of being trampled, beaten or burned.
Unfortunately, such disasters are not unheard of in the sport of soccer. Nor are they limited to one specific country, league or team. The following are the top 10 worst soccer tragedies of all time.
10. Valley Parade Stadium, Bradford, England: 56 Dead
On May 11th 1985, Bradford City hosted Lincoln City in a Third Division match. The match was attended by over 11,000 spectators, a larger than normal crowd, thanks to the fact that Bradford City FC were presented with the Third Division Trophy right before kick-off. Forty minutes into the match, as the crowd watched the teams play, a lit match, cigarette or cigar caused garbage under the stands to catch on fire. Within a few minutes the entire stand was ablaze. Spectators ran for the exits which were all closed. Fans spilled onto the pitch and could only watch in horror as the fire spread. There were no nearby fire extinguishers which could have stopped the fire before it became too large. The entrances and exits had been locked, which at the time was customary after a game had started. This left fans scrambling about the smoke and fire looking for a way to escape. After this tragedy, a ban was placed on all wooden football stands throughout England.
9. Ibrox Park, Glasgow, Scotland: 66 Dead
On January 2nd 1971, Scottish football rivals Rangers and Celtic faced off at Ibrox in what is referred to as an Old Firm match. These matches were often heated affairs, with fans brawling before, during and after games. This time, however, tragedy struck for a different reason. On one stairway heading out of the stadium, while thousands of fans were exiting, someone near the front fell. This caused a pile up as following fans crushed the fans ahead of them. Most of the 66 dead were said to have died from compressive asphyxiation as the mass of bodies piled up. An additional 200 people were injured. As a result of the accident, Ibrox was converted to an all-seater stadium and reduced from an 80,000 to 44,000 capacity stadium.
8. Lenin Stadium (Luzhniki Stadium), Moscow: 66 Dead
The tragedy which unfolded at the Lenin Stadium on the 20th of October, 1982 was similar in many ways to what had occurred at Ibrox, eleven years earlier. Heavy snow and cold weather meant only tow of the found stands were opened for the game between Spartak Moscow and Dutch team HFC Haarlem. Most of the 16,500 fans took their seats in the stand closest to the subway station. As the match neared its end, fans started to move toward the exits, all of which were open and accessible. Unfortunately, the majority moved for the same exit. All it took was one spectator to fall at the bottom steps and start a chain reaction. The situation was made worse by spectators further up pushing ahead, trying to get out of the stadium. Although official Russian sources say 66 people died, there has been considerable speculation over the years that the figure is higher.
7. El Monumental (River Plate Stadium), Buenos Aires, Argentina: 71 Dead
On June 23rd, 1968, rival Argentinean soccer clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate squared off at the El Monumental Stadium. After the match, a crush of fans occurred at one of the exits resulting in 71 deaths. To this day, no single reason for the tragedy has been identified, although a number of factors undoubtedly helped cause it. First, police were reported to have beaten Boca Junior fans, causing a panic and rush of supporters to the exits. Second, fans on the upper tier supposedly burned flags and threw objects which fell onto the Boca fans below. This caused panic and resulted in a surge to the exits. Third, fans from the two clubs came together unexpectedly, resulting in panic. Whatever the reason, the crush of fans killed 71 and injured over 150 more. Unofficial figures put the fatalities at 74.
6. Port Said Stadium, Port Said, Egypt: 74 Dead
The most recent soccer disaster on this list, the February 1st, 2012 game between clubs Al-Masry and Al-Ahly ended in total chaos for fans and players. Following the conclusion of the match, supporters of the victorious Al-Masry stormed the pitch and began attacking the Al-Ahly players and fans with clubs, swords, knives and rocks. In the ensuing chaos, fans were stabbed, beaten and trampled to death. The situation was so bad that the Egyptian military had to be called in to rescue players hiding in the stadium. Investigations afterward suggest that police not only did nothing to prevent the riot, but they may have actually made it worse by opening barricades between the two groups of supporters.
5. Estadio Mateo Flores, Guatemala City, Guatemala: 84 Dead
On October 16th, 1996, Guatemala and Costa Rica were preparing for a FIFA 1998 World Cup qualifying match at the Estadio Mateo Flores. Moments before the game was to start, a surge of people entering the stadium caused a crush of fans against the fence separating the stands and the pitch. It was widely reported that approximately 50,000 people were in, or attempting to enter, the stadium which was rated to hold around 37,500. The lack of individual or designated seats made it even harder to keep track of fans. In addition to poor stadium design, the disaster was blamed on counterfeit ticket sales which caused far more people to attend the match than normal.
4. Dashrath Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal: 93 Dead
On the 12th of March, 1988 a hailstorm struck while Nepal were playing against Bangladesh at the Dashrath Stadium. As only one of the four stands at the stadium was covered, many fans made a rush for the covered area. In an effort to maintain order, police beat back the crowd, resulting in a rush toward the exits. Unfortunately, the exits were closed and locked. The masses of spectators created a crush of fans in the tunnel leading out of the stadium. In addition to the 93 killed, a further 100 people were injured as a result.
3. Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England: 96 Dead
The worst English football-related tragedy to date, took place at Hillsborough which has become synonymous to disaster. On the 15th of April 1989, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were set to square off in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Event planning had meant that Liverpool supporters were all sent to one main entrance of the stadium. This created congestion and delays, as there were more fans than the turnstiles could handle. Exit gates were opened in an attempt to relieve the congestion. The surge of fans headed towards the closest entrances leading to already overcrowded viewing enclosures. Spectators were soon packed together and pressed against the fence along the pitch. Fans tried climbing over or cutting holes in the fence in order to relieve the pressure of the crush. To make matters worse, rescue efforts were hampered by police and security who were concerned with keeping rival fans separate. A total of 94 people died that day and two others died later. All standing terraces were removed from English stadiums following this tragedy.
2. Accra Sports Stadium, Accra, Ghana: 127 Dead
On May 9th, 2001, the soccer clubs Hearts of Oak Sporting Club and Asante Kotoko faced each other at Accra Sports Stadium. Hearts of Oak won the match 2-1. Defeated, the fans of Kotoko started throwing seats and other objects onto the pitch. The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. This action caused panic in the crowd. Spectators were trampled and crushed as they tried to get out of the stadium and away from police. A total of 127 people were killed as a result. An investigation put blame on the police for using excessive and indiscriminate force, and several officers were charged with manslaughter. Stadium first-aid facilities were also deemed inadequate.
1. Estadio Nacional, Lima, Peru: 318 Dead
On May 24th, 1964, Peru and Argentina played an Olympic qualifier at the Estadio Nacional. Argentina was winning the match 1-0. With only minutes left in the game, Peru scored an equalizer, only to have it waved off by the referee. Some fans jumped the fence around the field and challenged the referee. Police reacted quickly, beating the fans in the process. The crowd became angry and charged the field resulting in a barrage of tear-gas by police. Panic ensued and fans made a dash for the exits, trampling each other in the process. Located down several flights of stairs, the steel doors were locked, as was customary at many soccer stadiums after kickoff. Panicked fans continued to press forward not knowing the doors were shut and those at the front were being crushed and suffocated. The riot spread to the streets, as angry fans damaged property and attacked police. Poor stadium design and policies, inadequate and heavy handed policing, and a crowd which developed into an angry mob, all combined at the Estadio Nacional to produce the worst soccer related disaster the world has ever seen.