Black February: A new episode of the history of football stadium tragedies

Daily News Egypt
18 Min Read
The deaths took place before the match as fans were attempting to enter the Air Defence Stadium, before the 8 February Zamalek SC and ENPPI football match. (Photo Public Domain)
Over 20 Zamalek supporters died from suffocation and stampede when police fired at the crowd at the entrance of the stadium (Photo Public Domain)
Over 20 Zamalek supporters died from suffocation and stampede when police fired at the crowd at the entrance of the stadium
(Photo Public Domain)

By Amr Ebeid

It is the month of the third anniversary of the worst accident in the history of Egyptian football, known as the Port Said massacre, which resulted in 72 deaths from Al-Ahly’s fans audience on 1 February  2012. Now, Egyptian football faces a new disaster after the deaths of 22 of Zamalek fans at the Air Defence Stadium, according to official statistics. The accident occurred due to the audience’s attempts to enter the stadium to attend a match between Zamalek and ENPPI, after a decision to limit the audience attending.

We all remember the incidents of Port Said, when the stands were heated with anger. Directly after the end of the match, a number of Al-Masry Club fans stormed the stands of Al-Ahly, resulting in 72 deaths and tens of injuries.

For the second time in its history, Zamalek was part of a disaster after the big accident in 1974. It was one of the worst tragedies in Egyptian football history, taking place during the game between Zamalek and Dukla Prague.

There  was a huge turnout, then, with Zamalek fans wanting to attend and cheer for their team. As many as 80,000 spectators thronged into the stands of Zamalek’s stadium, which could barely even accommodate half that number. There was no foothold, not in the stands or on the grounds, especially around the tracks surrounding the pitch. The major problem was in the third class stands, which could not accommodate 24,000 spectators – according to the official capacity – which had more than double that number. The referee refused to hold the game when the stands were overcrowded with fans, and a part of the iron fence surrounding the land of the stadium collapsed out of the pressure and constant scramble. And so began a football tragedy, victims falling and thousands of spectators darting around the wreckage of the collapsed portion of fence to the pitch, running from the huge pressure, with tens falling under the stamping feet of thousands of rushing, terrified spectators seeking survival.

The disaster increased when a part of the concrete third class stands collapsed, which raised the number of victims and resulted in the death of 48 fans and the injury of 47. The general  prosecutin then discovered an astonishing surprise from the stubs of the game tickets; the tickets were printed and sold on the grounds where the game would be held, not in the Zamalek stadium, but in Cairo Stadium, which accommodates more than 100,000 spectators.

The disaster is considered the worst in the world, after the 1982 Moscow disaster, and after the events of May 1964 which took place in the international stadium in Peru’s capital Lima, in a game during the South American playoffs for the Tokyo summer Olympics 1964.

In the latter period, the enmity between the two countries playing in the game, Argentina and Peru, was in its peak, and when the Argentinean scored a goal, the Peruvian fans began bursting. Then the referee made the situation escalate when he cancelled a Peruvian goal, two minutes before the end of the game. This led the Peruvian fans into a hysterical state that caused the deaths of 318 fans, most of whom were from the Argentinean camp, in addition to 500 injured.

As the spectators went down to the pitch and tried to attack the referee, the rest started rioting, in addition to setting fire to stands. It triggered a fast response from terrified police, who threw teargas and fired some shots in the air, which scared people even more and increased the number of victims in the stadium.

While many people tried to save themselves from the riots by escaping the pitch, the metal gates remained locked from the outside, as the security officers awaited the end of the game, without knowing what was going on inside. Once the fans were able to break open the gates, some of them spread out into the streets of Lima, while thousands of fans gathered outside the house of the Peruvian president, Fernando Belaúnde, asking him to intervene in order for the result of the match to be a draw of 1-1.

In Turkey in 1967, 40 fans were killed and 600 injured on the back of a game between Kayserispor and the guest team, Siavsburs. These events started with skirmish by the Kayseri fans after they scored the  goal which put them ahead, which escalated during half-time to an exchange of stone-throwing. It then led to clashes using weapons between the two neighbouring rival teams. Some of the victims attempted to escape from the gates, which were probably locked too, a turn of events which was repeated in the Kerala stadium in 1969, witnessing the shootings and direct confrontations that resulted in the deaths of 10 people.

Another tragedy occurred in June 1968 between Argentine teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, because of closed gates, as officially mentioned. While the fans of both teams were leaving the game before it officially ended, because of a draw that seemed to be the final result of the game, some of them returned to the stands because of the closed gates. It was later made famous in the song by the fans of both teams that police batons and unjustified violence were the reasons, as the reverse stampede between those returning to the stands to escape the front gates, and those leaving the game resulted in a stampede and collision that led to the deaths of 72 fans.

Egyptians football fans rush to the fiels during clashes that erupted after a football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly and Al-Masry teams in Port Said, 220 kms northeast of Cairo, on February 1, 2012.  (AFP File Photo)
Egyptians football fans rush to the fiels during clashes that erupted after a football match between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and Al-Masry teams in Port Said, 220 kms northeast of Cairo, on February 1, 2012.
(AFP File Photo)

Another major accident occurred in 1982, the events of which never saw the light until years later due to the nature of the USSR’s leaders and administration. Neither the players nor anyone else knew about it for seven years, until a journalist was able to fathom its events in 1989. This revealed the truth about what happened on the eve of 20 October 1982, in a game that brought together the Russian team Spartak Moscow, and the Dutch team Haarlem, in a UEFA Cup game.

That night was a nonstop snowy night in Moscow, and the Luzhniki Stadium had only 10,000 fans, as a result of the inclement weather, watching the game between the two teams. When the final minutes were striking, indicating Moscow’s team win with 1 goal to 0, the audience started to leave the stadium, but suddenly there was a cheering from inside after the Dutch team scored a goal at the last minutes.

Fans started to return back to the stadium. The numbers were huge and they were pushing to go in until no one knew their way in or out. Things escalated and people started to trample those who fell to the floor of the stadium. Fights broke out, while fear and asphyxia filled the place, making it a “real cemetery” as one Russian journalist said. Tens of fans fell on the floor dead. The guards started to bring out the biggest number of Dutch fans, according to an editor who reported this from eye witnesses.

One of the eye witnesses was a famous Russian basketball player who was a fan of the Spartak team. He saw what happened and said that “the tragic incident is painted in my memory and will stay there forever. I saw with my own eyes more than 100 dead people.” This incident resulted in the deaths of 340 fans and more than 1,000 injured.

In 1985, on the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, there was a game between Italian club Juventus and Liverpool of England in the European Cup Final. The stadium was chosen despite much criticism for its outdated style, and because it had no renewal or renovations since 1930. It could only take 60,000 fans.

An hour before the match, some of the Liverpool fans remembered the events of the previous season when Juventus fans attacked the Reds fans after the game. Liverpool fans broke the fence between the two fans and started attacking Juventus fans who were consequently forced to retreat, putting a huge pressure on one of the old walls of the stadium. The wall fell upon them in a few minutes, causing the death of 39 fans and 600 injuries.

The game was played despite all of these events, and Juventus won against Liverpool with 1 goal to 0 in a penalty kick by Michel Platini, dedicating their win in the European Cup to the victims of the incident. This disaster, which is considered the worst in the history of the European cup championships, led to the banning of the English clubs from participating in any European championship for six years. The Heysel Stadium was demolished in 1995 and The King Boudewijn Stadium was built on that area instead.

In 1989, Liverpool was involved in another disaster at its home grounds, the Hillsborough Stadium, which was hosting the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs. The incident started as a result of undeclared road works on the M62 motorway. As a result, fans were at the stadium only a few minutes before the match, and because the media announced that the stadium gates would close 15 minutes before the match started, they started to flow to gates 3 and 4. When the game was about to start, fans standing by the two gates were estimated to be 3,000 fans.

At first, the number of fans at the gates was easy to control, but the negligence of the security forces led to the flow of these fans at the two gates to increase, which came in the way of the forces to control the entrance 15 minutes before the start of the match. Later, whenever the fans would try to retreat, a huge number of the ones who had just arrived would push them further in.

The increasing number of fans, their huge pressure on the gates, and the news of some vacant seats in the stadium led the security to open the gates randomly. Gates opened on the Liverpool fans, those gates being on the west side of the stadium, led to few to none vacant seats left. The stadium saw a great traffic of fans through the tunnel leading to the west gates. Fans hit the fence built between the two team fans.

The only way out to fans was to climb up to the west of the stadium without looking for any vacant seats or stairs, running away from the great traffic of fans. This led to the death of many fans. Six minutes after the game started, the police inside the stadium noticed the problem and opened the gates at the fence of the stadium. The game was stopped and fans ran to the play pitch to save their own lives.

This event caused the death of 96 fans and the injuries of 300 more. As a result, a decision was made to remove the fence between the pitch and the fans ground of all English stadiums. All stadiums were then set to fit only sitting fans so as to control the number of fans in the stadium.

Accra Sports Stadium also witnessed one of the worst riots in the history of the African football, after 126 fans died in a clash between fans of Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko in May 2001. Ghanaian police threw teat gas bombs which resulted in the large number of casualties during this match.

A Moroccan fan lost his life in April 2012 following violent clashes between fans of Wydad Casablanca and FAR Rabat. The clash started after some Wydad fans fought with security forces when they would not let them in without tickets. The clash started, causing an escalation, and resulted in the death of one fan and the injury of tens of fans from the two sides. Security forces detained around 120 fans, while 44 others were presented to court.

The Ivory Coast also witnessed another incident in March 2009 with 12 dead fans.

The last of these events were riots in the game between Mazembe and Vita Club on May 2014 during the Congo Premier League. The events resulted in the death of 15 fans and the injuries of 21 others after the police used tear gas bombs to disperse the fans.

FIFA announced a report with all these lamentable events in the history of football. The events are according to date:


  • Ibrox Park disaster in 1904.
  • Burnden Park in 9 March 1946: 44 deaths and 500 injuries
  •  Bradford City stadium fire in 11 May 1955: 53 deaths and more than 200 injuries
  • 24 May 1964 in Peru: 318 deaths and 500 injuries.
  • 23 June 1968 in Buenos Aires, Argentina: 71 deaths, most of them with asphyxia.
  • Glasgow Ibrox Stadium in 2 January 1971: 66 deaths and 150 injuries.
  • 17 February 1974: Zamalek and Dukla Prague game: 48 deaths and more than 50 injuries.
  • 20 October 1982 in Luzhniki Stadium: 340 deaths and 1,000 injuries.
  • 29 May 1985: Heysel Stadium: 39 deaths and 117 injuries during the European Championship.
  • 1985: Bradford City stadium disaster.
  • 12 March 1988: Dasharath Rangasala Stadium, Nepal: 50 deaths.
  • 15 April 1989: Hillsborough Stadium disaster, Shefpitch, England: 95 deaths and 175 injuries.
  • 7 July 1990: Somalia disaster: 62 deaths and more than 200 injuries.
  • 14 January 1991: South Africa disaster: 42 deaths.
  • 16 October 1996: Mateo Flores Stadium, Guatemala: 80 deaths and 150 injuries.
  • 11 April 2001: Ellis Park Stadium disaster: 42 deaths and 150 injuries.
  • 9 May 2001: Ghana disaster: 130 deaths.
  • 2007: Fonte Nova Stadium disaster.
  • 25 July 2007: Iraq disaster: 50 deaths.
  • March 2009: Ivory Coast disaster: 12 deaths.
  • 1 February 2012: Port Said massacre: 72 deaths.
  • 8 February 2015: Air Force disaster: 22 deaths and tens of injuries.
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