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Worst football stadium disasters in history: The most tragic events

If the last year has proven anything it is that football is simply not the same without fans packing out the stadiums. Sometimes though, fans gathering in their thousands can lead to some horrific scenes. Here we look at the worst football stadium disasters to show exactly why safety protocols are in place.

The worst football stadium disasters: Top 10

Football is often described as a beautiful game. But apart from the glamour and grandeur that we associate with soccer, bad things happen on and off the pitch. Disasters in football range from stadium accidents such as fire, pitch invasion, stampedes and fights between rival fans. We have also had occasions where fans attack players. Let's take a look at some of the worst disasters in football history.

10. Valley Parade, Bradford City vs Lincoln City

Year: 1985

Cause: Fire

Deaths: 56

11th May 1985 was supposed to be a party at Valley Parade as Bradford celebrated their third division title win. It did not turn out like that. The on-field success quickly faded into complete and utter insignificance as a fire broke out in Main Stand and ripped through the entire stand with weather conditions making it difficult to get the blaze under control. Thankfully, unlike many stadiums in the eighties, Valley Parade's main stand didn't have fences, which means most fans escaped onto the pitch. Who knows where the death toll might have got to had fences been in place?

9. Ibrox, Rangers vs Celtic

Year: 1971

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 66

The Old Firm derby is widely recognised as one of the most ferocious rivalries in the world and, in some ways, that passion contributed to what was, for 18 years, the worst of the football stadium disasters Britain had experienced. Celtic had scored what looked to be a last-minute winner and the Rangers fans headed for the exit in their thousands. Then, the hosts bagged an unlikely leveller in the dying seconds; this caused those early leavers to rush back towards the terraces. One fan fell causing a domino effect resulting in 66 people dying in stairway 13.

ibrox stadium disaster

8. Luzhniki Stadium, Spartak Moscow vs HFC Haarlem

Year: 1982

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 66

This 1982 crash, which is the biggest football stadium disaster in Russian history, shares some factors with the two incidents mentioned previously. Firstly, the stampede occurred on an over-clogged stairway as the result of a solitary fan losing their footing. Then there is the role weather played in the tragedy. The capacity for the match had been reduced due to bad snow but with this came the closure of two stands and some entrance/exit points. Despite the smaller than usual crowd, the vast majority all opted for the same exit on full time owing to its closer proximity to the train station; it proved to be the stairwell that saw the disaster unfold.

7. Estadio Monumental, River Plate vs Boca Juniors

Year: 1968

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 71

Clashes between River Plate and Boca Juniors often bring with them blood and thunder football, bouncing stands and an atmosphere that draws viewers from every corner of the globe. The match that played out in 1968 didn't serve up any of that. The match itself was a drab affair ending 0-0 but it's the events that followed the ref's final whistle that saw the game scratched into history. As fans headed to leave the stadium gate 23 was found to be closed but the sheer volume of supporters flooded down causing a crush to take place with 71 dying. Nobody has been held accountable.

6. Port Said, Al-Masry vs Al-Ahly

Year: 2012

Cause: Riot

Deaths: 79

This incident is the most recent in our list of football stadium disasters so it's perhaps little surprise that the damage was not caused by a health and safety failure; instead, it was the fans of Al-Masry who were responsible. They entered the field of play after winning the match 3-1 but not in celebration. The ‘fans' – and we use the term loosely – attacked Al-Ahly players and staff with weapons before setting about their supporters in the stands. There were 1,200 Al-Ahly fans present – compared to 13,000 Al-Masry. 79 people lost their lives; the vast majority being Al-Ahly fans. The Egyptian authorities didn't mess around though; the government put the league on hold for two full seasons.

5. Mateo Flores National Stadium, Guatemala vs Costa Rica

Year: 1996

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 80

Guatemala and Costa Rica are not nations that can take a place in the World Cup for granted. It's for that reason that when they went head to head in a qualification game in 1996 so many fans turned up at the stadium to soak in the action. At the time, the capacity of the Mateo Flores National Stadium was 45,000 with it believed substantially more people were looking to get inside. Kick-off was still an hour away when the chaos began; a charge of sorts began, for which the trigger is debated with suggestions it was those without tickets forcing their way in and sent bodies tumbling down the stands.

4. Dasharath Stadium, Janakpur Cigarette Factory Ltd vs Liberation Army

Year: 1988

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 93

In terms of the fixture a clash between Janakpur Cigarette Factory Ltd and Liberation Army is not quite El Classico but it still attracted a 30,000-capacity crowd in Kathmandu. 75% of the stadium was open-sided with the one main grandstand dominating but, on this occasion, it allowed the elements to run rife. A hailstorm and strong winds whipped across the pitch lashing large balls of ice into the main stand. Fans scampered for cover but after being knocked back by police instead headed for the exit; the only problem was that the doors were closed and a crash took place.

3. Hillsborough, Liverpool vs Nottingham Forest

Year: 1989

Cause: Crush

Deaths: 96

When it comes to football stadium disasters, Hillsborough is probably the one that springs to most people's minds and certainly is in the United Kingdom where the 96 deaths are a national high. It was another case of overcrowding. Fans were already late arriving at the stadium due to traffic issues and then the turnstiles, staff and policing on duty weren't equipped to deal with the growing bottleneck as kick-off neared. Eventually, an additional gate – which was usually for exiting the stadium – was opened. It caused a swarm to enter the stands and that saw those at the front get suffocated and trampled against the anti-hooligan fences. The story that followed rumbled on for decades.

hillsborough stadium disaster

2. Accra Sports Stadium, Heart of Oak vs Kotoko

Year: 2001

Cause: Riot/Crush

Deaths: 126

When the two top teams of any nation meet it always sees emotions run slightly higher than normal. This match between two Ghanaian giants, Heart of Oak and Kotoko, was no different. Kotoko had been on course for victory but two late goals turned the tie on its head. Kotoko fans reacted badly by hurling bottles and seats onto the pitch. Police responded with tear gas, which sent the Kotoko fans to the exits. That usual problem arose though; the gates weren't open and 126 died.

1. Estadio Nacional, Peru vs Argentina

Year: 1964

Cause: Riot/Crush

Deaths: 328

Sitting head and shoulders above all the other football stadium disasters in terms of the death toll is this 1964 international game between Peru and Argentina. The match was billed as a must-win for Peru with a place at the Olympics hanging in the balance. Things were not going to plan on the pitch though with Argentina leading by a single goal as time ticked away. Peru had the ball in the net to level but saw it chalked off. Their fans were incensed and spilt onto the field of play in rage, which saw a strong retaliation by the Peruvian police. Like with the Accra Sports Stadium disaster before it, fans panicked and darted for the exit. Again, the doors were closed and the pile-up caused deaths. Lots of them.

There you have it, the worst football stadium disasters in history. It's important to remember that as bonkers as health and safety can seem sometimes, it is there for a reason. Hopefully, it will prevent us from seeing anything else like these 10 catastrophes ever again.

There are several other stadium disasters worth mentioning in the world of football. In 2022 for example, a stampede broke out in Yaounde, Cameroon, during a round 16 AFCON match between Cameroon and Comoros. Fans who could not gain entry to the newly built Olembe stadium were forced their way in, and a stampede that followed resulted in at least 8 deaths and dozens of injuries.

There are many other similar cases in Africa, so check out this other post on the worst stadium disasters that have happened in Africa.

Okello Steve

Okello Steve is a seasoned Sports and travel writer with over 10 years of experience in the journalistic enterprise. Steve honed his writing skills from a tender age and went on to study communication at the University and chose to pursue a writing career as an independent journalist crafting engaging content for the web on sports, casino gaming and travel.

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