On February 6, 1958, British European Airways flight No 609, headed to Manchester, crashed on its third attempt to take off from Munich in the erstwhile West Germany.
The crash resulted in the deaths of 23 passengers, including eight first-team members of Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United team.
Imagine stadiums filled with fans screaming and cheering for their favourite teams battling it out. Sounds like the perfect recipe for an exhilarating football game. However, it’s also been the perfect recipe for some of the sport’s worst disasters. Fuelled by a run of emotions and bad crowd control, the sport’s history also has blood on its hands.
On the 58th anniversary of the Munich plane crash, here’s a look at some of the worst disasters that struck football.
Munich plane crash
Though this incident didn’t take place on a football field or in a stadium, it cost the sport one of its best players ever -- Duncan Edwards.
Part of Sir Matt Busby’s prized team, Edwards was on board an ill-fated chartered plane that crashed while attempting to take off in a blizzard.
Exactly 58 years ago, the ‘Busby Babes’ were on their way to European glory when the plane crashed in Munich. 23 passengers died, including eight of their First-Team players, United’s secretary, journalists and even a fanatic supporter of the English club -- whose death warrants a story for itself.
United’s “complete footballer” (as described by Busby himself) and infamous “manboy”, Duncan Edwards was on the plane, and died three days after the crash. Many believe the agile and quick 21-year-old player could have been one of the world’s greatest footballers.
Busby, who survived the accident, rebuilt the club and went on to lift the European Cup trophy in 1968. “When Bobby (Charlton) took the cup, it cleansed me... It eased the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification,” said Busby after defeating Portugal’s Benfica at the Wembley Stadium in London.
Luzhniki human crush
A disastrous human crush at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow, now called the Luzhniki stadium, is touted as Soviet Union’s worst sporting disaster. Media reports said t least 66 people died in the stampede which ensued after an injury-time goal from Sergei Shvetsov. He was playing the Uefa Cup match between FC Spartak Moscow and HFC Haarlem on October 20, 1982.
However, it is widely believed that the media coverage was silenced or grossly under-reported; in 1989, speculation arose that the death toll could have been as high as 340.
A Soviet media article that appeared in the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva said: “Yesterday in Luzhniki after the football match an accident occurred. There are some injured among the spectators,” quoted by oddculture.com.
At least 45 of the official 66 deaths were teenagers caught in the crush from leaving fans who attempted to turn back to witness the injury time goal. Other accounts suggested authorities made matter worse by not allowing people to change direction.
Port Said riots, Egypt
One of the most controversial tragedies is the recent 2012 Port Said stadium incident. At least 74 people died in clashes between supporters of rival teams al Masry and al Ahly on February 2, 2012, according to The Guardian.
An Egyptian court in January 2013 sentenced 21 people to death for the attacks that many claimed were politically motivated. Al Ahly fans, called ‘Ultras’, were believed to have played a major role in the Arab Spring uprising of 2012 against the then leader Hosni Mubarak.
“There is a strong political connection. What happened today was not just about trouble at a football match, it’s related to other events in the country,” an al Ahly fan told The Guardian.
Media reports said the Ultras had stormed into the stadium and attacked rival team supporters, including players, with weapons like knives, clubs, bottles etc.
A series of discrepancies by authorities, poor security measures and delayed medical care left 96 people dead and over 700 injured during a Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest FA Cup match in 1989.
Large crowds of supporters, mostly Liverpool fans, and insufficient police control at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield were crushed due to the fencing over the pitch boundary. Many died due to asphyxiation, while some fans tried to help by lifting others onto the stand and into the ground.
Fencing was banned in England, Scotland and Wales after the incident.
In a bizarre incident, thousands of fans attempting to escape a hailstorm were crushed inside the Dasarath Rangasala national stadium in March 1988 in Kathmandu. The stampede claimed 93 lives and at least a hundred were injured while no player of the Nepalese or the Bangladeshi teams were hurt.
The 30,000-capacity stadium was already occupied when people ran for cover from the sudden storm and found all exits except one locked. According to an Associated Press report, crowds angered by the failure of authorities, took to the streets after the incident and broke windshields of cars with government license plates.
The catastrophe is considered to be Nepal’s worst-ever football disaster.
‘Worst football disaster’
Classic rivalries are often fuelled with aggression, but some go even deeper than that. An Argentina versus Peru match took an ugly turn in 1964 in Lima when a late Peruvian goal disallowed by a Uruguayan referee incited fans to run riot inside the national stadium.
What began as protests soon turned into chaos, killing over 300 people and injuring hundreds. The police fired tear gas to quell the supporters who had run onto the pitch, which further worsening the situation.