History’s Top 15 Worst football tragedies

There are a lot of soccer stadium disasters in the history of the sport. This is probably due to the fact that football is the most popular sport in the world. Hooliganism may play a small part in some, but we think the problems are mostly because stadiums are old, and they can’t keep up with the increasing amount of spectators. There is usually no orderly or logical setup for efficiently moving people inside them. It’s basically a free-for-all, and if the match is big enough, that could end in tragedy.

15. Burnden Park Disaster
Date: 9 March 1946
Location: Burnden Park, Bolton, Manchester, England
Death Toll: 33

At Burnden Park, a game between the Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City was taking place when a wall collapsed, crushing spectators and starting a stampede which killed 33 people. More than 400 others were injured. The crowd was more than 85,000 people. The tragedy was thought to have started when some 20,000 fans locked outside broke down the gates and forced their way in. At the time, this was the biggest tragedy in British football history, until the Ibrox Park disaster at Rangers’ home ground in 1971 (see #8 below).

14. The Heysel Disaster
Date: 29 May 1985
Location: Heysel Stadium, Brussels, Belgium
Death Toll: 39

Hooliganism was the trigger for this tragedy among the worst soccer disasters. Back in 1984, when Liverpool F.C. (England) defeated Roma, the Liverpool fans were attacked by the Roma fans. So there was already bad blood between England and Italy when Liverpool faced off against Italy’s Juventus F.C. the following year. As for Heysel Stadium, it was old and outdated. Build in 1930, parts of the stadium were crumbling. But the 1985 European Cup Final was played there anyway, and about 60,000 fans crammed in the place.


About an hour before kickoff, Liverpool fans broke through a fence and attacked Juventus supporters. The Italian fans retreated, but there was a wall behind them, which soon collapsed. The retaining wall collapse killed 39 people and hurting hundreds more.

Juventus fans then started to riot, fighting against police with rocks and bottles. The game was still played despite what was going on, with Juventus eventually winning 1-0.

After the disaster, all English football clubs were placed under indefinite ban by the UEFA from all European competitions (lifted in 1990-91). The disaster has been called “the darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions.”

In 1995 the Heysel Stadium was demolished and the King Baudouin Stadium built in its place.

Trivia: the disaster was the subject of a song titled “38” by the group Revolting Cocks.

13. Orkney Disaster
Date: 13 January 1991
Location: Oppenheimer Stadium, Orkney, South Africa
Death Toll: 42

South Africa is not immune from some of the worst soccer disasters. In the mining town of Orkney, during a pre-season game between the Kaizer Chiefs (the South African football club, not the British band!) and the Orlando Pirates, (from the township of Orlando in the South African city of Johannesburg, not the Florida town where people go to see Mickey Mouse!), 42 people died in a stampede after a Pirates fan attacked Chiefs supporters in the crowd with a knife. (They called the match a “friendly” – we’d hate to see what an unfriendly game looks like!) Most of the victims were trampled along riot-control fences that surround the field when panic set in and people tried to get away.

12. Ellis Park Stadium Disaster
Date: 11 April 2001
Location: Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa
Death Toll: 43

The lesson of the Orkney tragedy was not learned. Ten years after that event, on April 11th, 2001, spectators poured into the Ellis Park Stadium for another match between the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. There was already a 60,000 capacity crowd in the stadium, but reports suggest a further 30,000 fans were still trying to gain entry to the stadium. Reports also suggest that 120,000 fans were admitted.

As the crowd surged to gain seats, they spilled into the press boxes. The resulting stampede crushed 43 people to death. Apparently untrained security guards fired tear gas at the crowd, making the situation worse.
When it became apparent what had happened the match was halted and the crowd was dispersed. It was the worst sporting accident in South African history, beating out the Orkney incident by just one body. Hopefully, these two teams will stop trying to break their records.

11. Kayseri Ataturk Stadium Tragedy
Date: 17 September 1968
Location: Kayseri Ataturk Stadium, Kayseri, Turkey
Death Toll: 44

The match: Kayseri Erciyesspor Turkish Sports Club vs Sivasspor Turkish sports club. Victims were caught up in rioting following incidents on the field between fans from neighboring Sivas and the home crowd from Kayseri. 44 were killed and 600 injured. Apparently, guns, knives, and other weapons were used.

From Soccer and Disaster: International Perspectives (Sport in the Global Society) by Paul Darby:

The Kayseri vs. Sivas football disaster is perhaps one of the most defining events to affect Turkish society during the late 1960s. Football teams were more than tools in the challenge of the provincial cities to Istanbul’s hegemony. They also contributed to symbolic forms of rivalry between the mid-sized cities, which competed to be regional centres. Conflict was more intense between cities like Kayseri and Sivas. Kayseri was more developed and wealthier than Sivas. Moreover, merchants of Kayseri origin dominated the economy of Sivas. Therefore, while football matches represented for Sivas the idea of challenging the traditional hegemony of Kayseri, for Kayseri it meant resistance to this challenge. Prompted by this strained social and economic background, several fights broke out between the amateur teams of Kayseri and Sivas.

Nearly 21,000 people attended the first league meeting between Kayserispor and Sivasspor. As the level of tension during the match escalated, fans began to throw rocks at each other. A group of people on the Sivas side, seeking to escape from the rocks, rushed toward the field and the exit gates. Those who tried to enter the field were met by police batons and turned back. In a panic, thousands of Sivas fans pressed towards the nearest gates, crushing their fellow supporters against the fencing at the front of the terrace. When the human wave drew back, the scene was horrific: 40 people were dead and at least 300 were injured.

As the violence on the ground grew, the referee cancelled the match. The players of both teams fled into the dressing rooms in fear of their own lives. All of the members of the Sivas team were locked in their dressing room and a policeman was charged with guarding them. Yusuf Ziya Özler, one of the of Sivasspor players, is sure today that if the Kayseri fans had seen that only one policeman was guarding the team, they would have been killed mercilessly. Once the Sivas fans had made their way out on to the streets, they destroyed around 60 private cars and the city’s gymnasium. They then left Kayseri in a convoy, but 50 kilometres out on the Kayseri-Sivas highway they stopped and began to set fire to cars, buses and trucks whose license plate numbers indicated that they were from Kayseri.

10. Bradford City Fire Disaster
Date: 11 May 1985
Location: Valley Parade Stadium, Bradford, England.
Death Toll: 56

Fire, this time. It broke out during a match between the home team (Bradford City), and Lincoln City, on the day that Bradford City were supposed to have celebrated their winning the Football League Third Division trophy.

It is believed that the fire started when a spectator discarded a lit cigarette down a gap at the back of a terrace seat, which fell onto a pile of trash that had been accumulating under the wooden stand for approximately 20 years.

Five minutes before half-time, white smoke was seen rising from the rear of the 77-year-old stand. The police began to move fans away. Flames emerged from the stand 3 minutes later, and the referee Don Shaw stopped the match. People were evacuated onto the field. The fire rapidly took hold 90 seconds later, with the entire main stand then engulfed within two minutes. Some people seated towards the rear of the stand were trapped in the narrow corridor at the back; most of the fire’s fatalities were found along this corridor where they had been overcome by toxic smoke, by the rear inward opening exit doors and turnstile entrances, which had been locked to prevent unauthorized access after kickoff.

The fire raced along the stand’s wooden roof with wooden boards and hot burning melting tar falling from its roof onto fans below.

56 people died in the fire, and over 450 were injured.

The inquiry into the disaster led to prohibiting the construction of new wooden grandstands at all UK sports grounds. Duh. Wood is a bad idea, ok?

FOX controversially aired footage of the disaster in the program When Good Times Go Bad 3 (Gotta love FOX). They incorrectly blamed supporters for deliberately starting the fire; and the program used punning language such as “as rabid as American fans can get, they can’t hold a candle to soccer fans around the world”. (We have no problem with this statement, because it’s true. However – this is not a good example – the Bradford fire is an unfortunate accident exacerbated by bad stadium design).

The footage of the fire is a sore point with Bradford City people and Yorkshire Television – they will do anything in their power to make sure it stays off YouTube. However, you can find it on WikiLeaks.

Honestly – the video of this event is horrifying. While initially “small”, the fire quickly spreads to the above canopy. From there, it’s only a few minutes before the whole stand goes up. People who made it to the field are actually celebrating the event, like they’re at Burning Man or something. Ironically, they (literally) were.

9. The Second Ibrox disaster
Date: 2 January 1971
Location: Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, Scotland.
Death Toll: 66

You gotta love a stadium that racks up accidents like some women collect handbags. Before the 1971 disaster, there was the First Ibrox Disaster (where, in 1902, a stand collapsed during a game between Scotland and England, killing 25 people and injuring over 500). Later, in 1961, two people were killed in a crush on the stairway.

Almost ten years later, at a Rangers vs Celtic game, things were still tied 0-0 after about 89 minutes in (welcome to the game of soccer). Then the Celtic took a 1–0 lead and many Rangers supporters left the stadium. As the crowd were leaving the ground, barriers on Stairway 13 gave way causing a massive chain-reaction pile-up of spectators. The tragedy resulted in the loss of 66 lives, including many children. Most of the deaths were caused by compressive asphyxia, with bodies being stacked as deep as six feet in the area. Over 200 other fans were injured.

It should be noted that in the last seconds, Colin Stein scored for the Rangers, tying up the game. (Cuz it ain’t over till it’s over!) Initially there was speculation that the fans who left early turned back when they heard roars from the crowd, colliding with fans leaving the ground when the match ended. The official inquiry into the disaster indicated that there was no truth to this – all the spectators were going in the same direction at the time of the collapse. However the “myth of the Stein goal” became widely believed and repeated for many years later.

8. The Luzhniki disaster
Date: 20 Oct 1982
Location: Lenin Stadium, Moscow, Russia
Death Toll: 66+

The Luzhniki disaster was a human crush at Lenin stadium (now known as Luzhniki stadium) in Moscow, during the UEFA Cup match between FC Spartak Moscow and HFC Haarlem on October 20, 1982. The disaster was initially covered up (for the good of the Soviet people, comrade!)

The number of tickets sold for the match was relatively low, as a result, only the East Stand was open for spectators, and for security reasons only one exit from the stand was left open. Minutes before the final whistle when FC Spartak were leading 1-0, the spectators began to leave the stadium through this only exit. Then during the injury time, FC Spartak scored its second goal (Sergei Shvetsov, who scored, later said: “It would be better if I had not scored it!”), and some fans who had previously left the stand turned back to return to the stadium. The returning fans collided with those who were leaving the stadium. Militsiya guards would not allow those leaving to change course and return to the stadium. A stampede ensued in which many people died or were injured. The official number of dead was 66, although many people including victims’ relatives claim this number to be significantly higher, as many as 340.

Sixteen year old Spartak Moscow fan Andrei Chesnokov, who was to become a professional tennis player, was present at the match:

“Near the end of the match, when the 2-0 goal was scored, it went wrong. On the slippery stairs there were crashes; everybody fell over everybody. It was like a domino-effect. You couldn’t get away, the steel banisters twisted under the weight of the people. They were just crushed to death. I also got trapped, but I managed to escape by jumping over the banister. I could get to safety through a row of bodies. Most were dead but some put their hands out to me to be saved, but they were stuck under the pile of corpses. Downstairs I saw rows of bodies. I alone saw more than a hundred that night.”

The only information about the disaster in the Soviet media was a short article that appeared in the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva the next day. It said: Yesterday in Luzhniki after the football match an accident occurred. There are some injured among the spectators. (We wonder what they said about Chernobyl – probably something about a minor flu bug and some rare weather phenomenon).

Soviet officials claimed the fans themselves to be responsible. The relatives of the victims were allowed to bury them only after thirteen days. For several years following the tragedy, matches were not held at Luzhniki at the end of October in order to prevent relatives of victims from laying flowers there. It wasn’t until a July 8, 1989 issue of the newspaper Sovetskiy Sport that the disaster was talked about openly. The Haarlem players didn’t even know anything of the tragedy at the time it was happening, and only found out about it seven years later.

NOTE: According to UEFA (and others), “various independent studies have since put the death toll as high as 340”. If this is true, it would make the Luzhniki incident the worst soccer disaster in history, beating out the Lima disaster (see #1). We wonder if we’ll ever know the truth (anybody know?)

7. Puerta 12 Tragedy
Date: 23 June 1968
Location: Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Death Toll: 71+

It was River Plate vs the Boca Juniors and it ended in the deaths of at least 71 people and more than 150 injured. The majority of the dead were teenagers and young adults.

Apparently, spectators mistakenly headed towards a closed exit after the match. The fans at the front are crushed to death against the doors by other fans unaware of the closed passageway at the back.

There are different theories about what really happened that day. Some claim that Boca Juniors fans threw burning River flags from the upper tiers of the stadium, causing a stampede of the their own fans in the lower tier. Others say that it occurred after River fans arrived at the Boca Juniors’ section, causing the stampede of the visiting fans. Yet others say that Door 12 was locked or would not open at the time, and the fans in the back did not hear the ones up front telling them to stop coming out. William Kent, River’s ex-president, said that the police were the culprits, since they began repressing Boca Juniors’ fans after these had thrown urine at them from the stands. A few witnesses say that the turnstiles to the exit were blocked by a huge iron pole.

After three years of investigation a government inquiry found nobody guilty. Since the tragedy the gates at El Monumental have been identified by letters instead of numbers. Strangely enough, there does not seem to be a consensus on the number of dead. One site puts it at 71, another at 72, and another at 74.

6. Port Said Stadium Disaster
Date: 1 February 2012
Location: Port Said Stadium, Egypt
Death Toll: 79

Two competing teams – Al Masry and Al-Ahly – competed in a match where Al-Masry won 3-1. These two teams had lots of bad blood between them. Following the victory, thousands of Al-Masry spectators stormed the stands, violently attacking Al-ahly fans, and also the club’s players. They used weapons – knives, clubs, bottles, fireworks, even swords. At least 79 people died and more than 1,000 were injured. See more here and at Wikipedia.

5. The Guatemala Disaster

Date: 16 October 1996
Location: Mateo Flores National Stadium, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Death Toll: 80+

Source: CNN

Scores of people were trampled or suffocated to death when fans trying to jam into a soccer stadium stampeded at a World Cup qualifying match. About 80 people, including children, were killed and about 180 more were hurt.

There were conflicting accounts on what set off the stampede before a scheduled match between the Guatemalan and Costa Rican national teams. Initially, firefighters attributed it to desperate fans trying to claw their way through a concrete passageway into the sold-out stadium. The world soccer association FIFA, however, said forgers apparently had sold fake tickets to the match, bringing far more people to the stadium than could fit.

The bodies of mostly young soccer fans were lined up under coats and blankets in a long row stretching far across the stadium after the match was suspended. The deadly stampede occurred about an hour before the match. One radio report said as many as 60,000 fans may have been packed into the stadium, which has an official capacity of 45,800.

Witnesses said gate-crashers, pushing into the bleachers through a concrete causeway at the south end, overwhelmed fans below, causing a mass of people to tumble down on top of one another. The entrance to the stadium is at street level, and the playing field is dug out below. A brawl between fans in the stands, some of whom had been drinking, apparently contributed to the stampede, said Oscar Mias, a government spokesman. But Alberto Chamale, 46, who said four of his brothers and a niece died in the rush, blamed ticket-takers, who he said continued admitting fans even after bleachers were clearly filled to capacity. “The (Guatemalan soccer) federation is at fault for letting in too many people,” Chamale said.

Victor Hugo Perez, the nation’s top prosecutor said at least 83 people died, most of them apparently by suffocation. The fire department confirmed 78 deaths. Other reports say 84 people died.

4. The Katmandu Disaster
Date: 12 March 1988
Location: National Stadium, Katmandu, Nepal
Death Toll: 93

At least 93 people were killed and 100 more were injured when fans attempted to flee from a hailstorm inside the stadium. Ice pellets rained down on the 30,000 fans watching a match between Nepalese and Bangladeshi teams. Witnesses said screaming spectators rushed to the stadium’s eight exits but found only one open. Police and hospital sources in the city confirmed more than 70 people, including two police officers, were trampled to death or suffocated. Government television reported 73 persons were killed, and witnesses said 20 other bodies were later retrieved by relatives.

Hey, people – Exits are there for a reason – so you can exit the premises. We’re sure that locking them all breaks some kind of fire rule, even in Nepal.

3. The Hillsborough Disaster
Date: 15 April 1989
Location: Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England
Death Toll: 96

At the Hillsborough Stadium FA Cup (Sheffield), police opened one of the main gates which resulted in a huge number of fans entering. The sudden surge crushed many Liverpool fans against the riot fencing.

Before the game started, there was a considerable build-up of fans in the area outside the turnstile entrances. A bottleneck developed; people who had been refused entry could not leave the area because of the crush behind them but remained an obstruction. Security opened a side gate to eject someone, and 20 people rushed in through it. With an estimated 5,000 fans trying to get through the turnstiles, the police opened another set of gates, intended as an exit, but instead there was a rush through in the opposite direction.

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History’s Top 15 Worst Soccer Disasters
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Top 15 Worst Soccer Disasters

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5. The Guatemala Disaster

Date: 16 October 1996
Location: Mateo Flores National Stadium, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Death Toll: 80+

Source: CNN

Scores of people were trampled or suffocated to death when fans trying to jam into a soccer stadium stampeded at a World Cup qualifying match. About 80 people, including children, were killed and about 180 more were hurt.

There were conflicting accounts on what set off the stampede before a scheduled match between the Guatemalan and Costa Rican national teams. Initially, firefighters attributed it to desperate fans trying to claw their way through a concrete passageway into the sold-out stadium. The world soccer association FIFA, however, said forgers apparently had sold fake tickets to the match, bringing far more people to the stadium than could fit.

The bodies of mostly young soccer fans were lined up under coats and blankets in a long row stretching far across the stadium after the match was suspended. The deadly stampede occurred about an hour before the match. One radio report said as many as 60,000 fans may have been packed into the stadium, which has an official capacity of 45,800.

Witnesses said gate-crashers, pushing into the bleachers through a concrete causeway at the south end, overwhelmed fans below, causing a mass of people to tumble down on top of one another. The entrance to the stadium is at street level, and the playing field is dug out below. A brawl between fans in the stands, some of whom had been drinking, apparently contributed to the stampede, said Oscar Mias, a government spokesman. But Alberto Chamale, 46, who said four of his brothers and a niece died in the rush, blamed ticket-takers, who he said continued admitting fans even after bleachers were clearly filled to capacity. “The (Guatemalan soccer) federation is at fault for letting in too many people,” Chamale said.

Victor Hugo Perez, the nation’s top prosecutor said at least 83 people died, most of them apparently by suffocation. The fire department confirmed 78 deaths. Other reports say 84 people died.

4. The Katmandu Disaster
Date: 12 March 1988
Location: National Stadium, Katmandu, Nepal
Death Toll: 93

At least 93 people were killed and 100 more were injured when fans attempted to flee from a hailstorm inside the stadium. Ice pellets rained down on the 30,000 fans watching a match between Nepalese and Bangladeshi teams. Witnesses said screaming spectators rushed to the stadium’s eight exits but found only one open. Police and hospital sources in the city confirmed more than 70 people, including two police officers, were trampled to death or suffocated. Government television reported 73 persons were killed, and witnesses said 20 other bodies were later retrieved by relatives.

Hey, people – Exits are there for a reason – so you can exit the premises. We’re sure that locking them all breaks some kind of fire rule, even in Nepal.

3. The Hillsborough Disaster
Date: 15 April 1989
Location: Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England
Death Toll: 96

At the Hillsborough Stadium FA Cup (Sheffield), police opened one of the main gates which resulted in a huge number of fans entering. The sudden surge crushed many Liverpool fans against the riot fencing.

Before the game started, there was a considerable build-up of fans in the area outside the turnstile entrances. A bottleneck developed; people who had been refused entry could not leave the area because of the crush behind them but remained an obstruction. Security opened a side gate to eject someone, and 20 people rushed in through it. With an estimated 5,000 fans trying to get through the turnstiles, the police opened another set of gates, intended as an exit, but instead there was a rush through in the opposite direction.

Fans were packed so tightly in the pens that many died standing up from compressive asphyxia. 95 people died and 766 were injured. The death toll reached 96 when another victim of the crush died after remaining in a coma for almost 4 years.

2. The Ghana Disaster
Date: 9 May 2001
Location: Accra Sports’ Stadium, Accra, Ghana
Death Toll: 126

CNN:

The disaster happened at the end of a match at the Accra Sports’ Stadium between premier league rivals Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. 126 people died and scores of fans were also injured as some 70,000 spectators tried to get out of the stadium after police fired tear gas at soccer fans who were tearing up seats. Ashietey-Odunton said there were reports that all the stadium’s gates were locked at the time of the incident and there was a general feeling was that police had over reacted.

“There was smoke and there was debris, and I counted at least 15 people lying on the floor in one part of the stadium. Some were injured and some were clearly dead.”

Accra Hearts of Oak were leading 2-1 against Assante Kotoko when the tragedy began. Bitter rivalry has long marked games between the teams, and the match was heavily policed. Harry Zakour, chief executive of Hearts of Oak, criticized police for firing up to a dozen teargas canisters in the stadium. “One would have been enough to scare the public,” he said. “It’s a very sad story.”

CBC Sports:

Home town team Accra Hearts of Oak was leading 2-1 against Asante Kotoko with five minutes left when Asante supporters began throwing bottles and chairs onto the field, witnesses said. Police responded by firing tear gas, creating panic in the stands as spectators rushed to escape the gas, witnesses said.

Classic case of the police making things worse.

1. The National Stadium Disaster
Date: 24 May 1964
Location: National Stadium, Lima, Peru
Death Toll: 318

The Lima disaster is the worst soccer disaster in the history of the sport, and we are surprised that there is not more information out there on this particular event. It was a match between Peru and Argentina – an Olympic qualifying match held at the National Stadium in Lima. The rivalry between the two countries was fierce, and when Argentina came out ahead people started looking to roll some heads.

The referee disallowed a Peruvian goal two minutes from time, sparking protests from the fans. Their protests soon turned into a full-blown riot and 318 people were killed in the ensuing violence, with more than 500 major injuries.

From the book Catastrophe! The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time by Stephen J. Spignesi:

The crowd was at a fever pitch and people lit fires in the stands and broke every window in the stadium. The ridiculously outnumbered police were terrified and reacted by lobbing tear gas grenades into the stands and firing live rounds over the heads of the mob. This not only further infuriated the thousands of angry fans, it caused a mindless panic, which resulted in even more people being crushed to death or being suffocated in the massive throng of rioters.

Thousands rushed the iron doors leading out of the stadium, but, as is the custom during play, they were all locked. An eighteen-month-old girl was crushed to death when her father lost his grip on her. Others choked to death on the thick cloud of tear gas.

The doors were finally broken open and the crowd stormed onto the streets of Lima. Thousands of people then marched to the home of Peruvian president, Fernando Belaunde, demanding that the game be officially declared a draw. The deaths, injuries, terrible violence, raging fires, and the people desperately choking mattered little to an insane mob that was fixated on only one thing: the Peru soccer team must not be judged the loser in the match that had just taken place.

Remember, friends. Soccer can be a matter of life and death. Know your exits and stay away from flames.

Gimme all you money! I’ve got a soccer ball! – Bill Hicks

PODIJELI