It’s never easy to bring up calamities that occur all over the world. You never know when or when a new disaster will strike, from fires to floods to earthquakes, all of which result in the deaths and injuries of innocent people. However, one type of disaster affects many people the most: tragic mishaps at sporting events, specifically during football matches. In this post, we will look at the five worst football stadium disasters in no particular order.
Heysel Stadium Disaster
On May 29, 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster occurred on the 1985 European Cup Finals between Juventus and Liverpool. It was supposed to be a fantastic game, but it quickly devolved into a nightmare.
Even before the game began, the stadium itself was in poor condition. The stadium’s walls were so thin that an average person could kick a hole through them. Another factor contributing to the disaster was poor organisation and fan separation, with only a chain separating them, which was insufficient to avoid riots and brawls even by today’s standards.
A brawl erupted throughout the match, as one could expect for a significant event, when Liverpool fans began throwing rocks at Juventus fans. As a result, Italians began to flee, attempting to scale the wall to dodge warring Liverpool fans as well as flying rocks, and then disaster struck. Under the weight of Juventus fans, the stadium’s flimsy wall collapsed, killing 39 people and injuring nearly 600 more.
The recklessness of Liverpool fans resulted in a 5-year ban for all English clubs from European championships, with Liverpool receiving a 6-year ban. Furthermore, 14 Liverpool fans were found guilty of manslaughter.
On April 15, 1989, the Hillsborough disaster occurred at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The entire incident was caused by overcrowding that started before kick-off, resulting in the deaths of about 100 individuals and the injuries of many more. It was also a calamity that cast a pall over the Liverpool team, which had been there for more than two decades.
The FA Cup semi-finals were to be held at a neutral location, and the Hillsborough stadium was chosen to host the match between Liverpool and Nottingham. The critical factor here, as in earlier disasters, was the out-of-date stadium.
Thousands of people attempted to enter the stadium, causing difficulty. The open departure gates sped things up by allowing a better flow of people into the stadium. However, no police officer was assigned to supervise the exit, resulting in overcrowding in an already packed stadium.
The two standing-only centre pens allotted to Liverpool supporters collapsed under the weight and crushed around 1000 people. Ninety-six persons died, and 766 were injured as a result of the accident.
Authorities said that Liverpool fans were to blame for the disaster because they failed to obey directions. The blame was even extended to Liverpool fans allegedly pickpocketing the dead. However, a 2014 research on the Hillsborough catastrophe debunked the charges, concluding that the disaster was caused by a lack of police control and lousy organisation.
Bradford City Stadium Fire
The Bradford City stadium fire occurred on May 11, 1985, during an English League third division match between Bradford City and Lincoln City at Valley Parade, Bradford’s home venue, for nearly 80 years.
The main stand, which had numerous faults, was the most problematic portion of the stadium. From being outdated to having a wooden roof and holes in the stands, litter readily fell through and accumulated beneath the stand. Those problems have been raised before, but no effort has been taken to address them.
A tiny spark might quickly light all of the debris under the seats, which is exactly what happened on May 11. The match between Bradford and Lincoln City went off without a hitch until the halftime break when smoke could be seen pouring from the stands.
It did not appear to be a major threat at first, but the wind played its role, and the flames overtook the entire stand in just a few minutes, trapping some people in their seats while others managed to escape with their lives.
They were unable to escape due to the barred doors and blocked escape routes, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 people. The fire spread so swiftly that even the fire department, which arrived seven minutes after the smoke began to appear, was too late. On that day, 56 people died, and 265 were injured. Even after 34 years, the Bradford City stadium fire remains the country’s worst fire disaster.
Estadio Nacional Disaster
The incident at the Estadio Nacional is still regarded as the worst in association football history. On May 24, 1964, at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru, faced Argentina in the qualifying round of the Tokyo Olympics football competition. Peru needed to win this game because they were in second place in the CONMEBOL table and had to play Brazil in the following and final game.
Because of the significance of the match, almost 50.000 people gathered in the hopes of seeing their team win. The stadium was packed to capacity, which is a formula for disaster in and of itself. Yet, the cause of the Estadio Nacional disaster was possibly just one man who started a riot.
With barely 6 minutes remaining in the match and Argentina leading 1-0, Peru scored a goal that Uruguayan referee Ángel Eduardo Pazos rejected. This enraged the home fans, as one could imagine. One Peruvian supporter dashed onto the pitch but was quickly apprehended by police officers and violently assaulted.
This merely added fuel to the already smouldering Peruvian fire, resulting in a riot where police fired tear gas. Supporters dashed to the “gates” to flee. However, the stadium lacked gates and instead had solid steel shutters that were closed throughout every game.
In their frenzy, fans failed to notice that as they continued to surge towards the shutters, they were shoving the crowd down the stairwells in front of them. The shutters finally burst open due to the strain, showing dead supporters who had been crushed under the weight of other spectators.
The majority of them died of internal haemorrhaging and suffocation, according to official reports. The official death toll is 328, but this figure is only an estimate. In addition, 500 people were injured as a result of the tragedy.
Port Said Stadium Riot
The Egyptian Premier League football match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry took place in Port Said stadium on February 1, 2012.
The disturbance began even before the game when Al-Masry fans refused to leave the pitch, forcing the game to be postponed for 30 minutes. Even during the game and at halftime, Al-Masry supporters flooded the pitch following each goal scored by their team, further delaying a game that had already been delayed for 30 minutes.
Al-Masry fans did not launch a disturbance until after the final whistle. They attacked the Al-Ahly players, who ran to their changing rooms under police protection, armed with stones, knives, pyrotechnics, and bottles.
After the players’ escape, Al-Masry fans attacked Al-Ahly fans in what has become known as the Port Said Stadium incident. Al-Ahly fans attempted to evacuate despite being outnumbered at 12:1 but could not do so due to the closed doors.
The incident resulted in the deaths of 72 Al-Ahly supporters, a police officer, one Al-Masry supporter, and over 500 wounded. At least 470 Al-Masry fans were arrested during the violence, with 73 facing charges. This is now regarded as one of the greatest football disasters of the twenty-first century, and it is hoped that it will remain so.
We can never foresee what will create the next tragedy, whether it is due to poor organisation, infrastructure, or even the activities of supporters/fans. However, with increased security, better-designed stadiums, and more careful preparation of significant events, we can confidently state that disasters at sporting events have decreased dramatically and will hopefully be reduced to a bare minimum in the future. Then again, like with any disaster, there is no way of knowing when or how it will strike.