Hillsborough Stadium disaster — where 96 deaths were recorded — is the worst disaster in English football history.
On the 1st of October 2022, a football pitch stampede incident killed 131 football fans after an Indonesian Premier League match held at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java province. It was one of the worst disasters in football history.
Football should be entertainment for people, but this tragedy becomes a deep sorrow for the world.
Moreso, it turns out that, throughout football history, matches have often experienced the worst and saddest tragedies that caused chaos, injuries and deaths.
Here, in no particular order; FootballOrbit presents you with the worst tragedies in football history.
Chapecoense Plane Tragedy
Cause: Plane crash
On the 28th of November 2016, a plane carrying Brazilian football club Chapecoense FC crashed — leading to the death of 71 people.
The team was travelling to play the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final — the first in Chapecoense’s history
The reasons cited for the crash were fuel exhaustion and poor decision-making from the pilot.
Survivors included one crew member, three players and two other passengers.
The people who lost their lives included 19 players, 14 club staff members (including the head-coach), 9 club board members and 3 Fox Sports Brazil journalists.
Hillsborough Stadium Disaster
The incident at Hillsborough stadium — where 96 deaths were recorded — is the worst disaster in English football history.
When it comes to football stadium disasters, Hillsborough is probably the one that springs to most people’s minds in the United Kingdom.
It was a case of overcrowding. Fans were already arriving late at the stadium due to traffic issues and then the turnstiles, staff and policing on duty weren’t adequately equipped to deal with the crowd as the game was about to kick-off.
Eventually, an additional gate — which was usually for exiting the stadium — was opened.
It caused a lot of people to enter the stands and that saw those at the front get suffocated and trampled against the fences.
The controversy that followed the incident went on for decades.
Estadio Nacional Disaster
The worst disaster in football history in terms of 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 at stake.
Things were not going to plan on the pitch for Peru though, with Argentina leading by a single goal as time ticked away.
Finally, Peru scored to level the game but the goal got cancelled. Their fans got enraged and stormed the pitch in anger, which saw a strong retaliation by the Peruvian police.
Fans panicked and ran towards the exit but, unfortunately, the doors were locked — resulting into a stampede that caused a lot of deaths.
Dasharath Stadium Disaster
Nepal recorded one of the worst disasters in football history at a match between Janakpur Cigarette Factory and the Liberation Army.
During the match, the 75 percent open-sided Dasharath stadium was hit by a hailstorm — forcing the fans to take shelter at the stands with covers.
The police aggressively beat them back and the panicked fans ran for the exit but met the gates closed.
It resulted into a fatal crush at the front that led to the death of 93 people.
Kanjuruhan Stadium Disaster
Cause: Fans riot/Crush
The most recent recorded football disaster in history took place in October 2022 at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Indonesia.
Fans of Arema (the home team) stormed the pitch after their side lost to its rival, Persebaya, for the first time in 23 years.
Police used teargas against the violent crowd who were throwing seats and bottles on the football field.
The gates of the stadium were closed and when the crowd ran towards the exit, it resulted in trampling and suffocation.
Consequently, 131 people got killed.
The disaster is the deadliest in both Asia and Indonesia.
It is also the second-deadliest in football history.
Heysel Stadium Disaster
Hooliganism was the trigger for this tragedy among the worst soccer disasters.
Back in 1984, when Liverpool defeated AS Roma; the Liverpool fans were attacked by the Roma fans.
So there was an existing bad blood between English and Italian fans when Liverpool faced Juventus in the European Cup final the following year.
As for Heysel Stadium, it was already old and outdated. Originally built in 1930, parts of the stadium were even crumbling.
But, strangely, the 1985 European Cup final was played there anyway, and about 60,000 fans crammed into it.
About an hour before kickoff, Liverpool fans (who had allegedly been drinking heavily) broke through a fence and attacked Juventus supporters.
The Juve fans retreated, but there was a wall behind them, which soon collapsed…….
The collapsed wall killed 39 people, hurting hundreds more.
Juventus fans then started a riot, fighting against police with rocks and bottles.
Shockingly, the game was still played despite what was going on — with Juventus eventually winning 1-0.
After the disaster, English clubs were banned from European competition for 5 years, with Liverpool getting 6.
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 was built in its place.
On 13 January 1991, there was a pre-season “friendly” match between two giant South African clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
The Oppenheimer Stadium that hosted the game had a capacity of 23,000, but about 30,000 fans were admitted and were not separated according to the team they supported.
The referee upheld a goal scored by the Chiefs, and supporters of the Pirates objected.
Pirates fans threw cans and fruit at Chiefs fans, and some knife-wielding Pirates fans attacked and stabbed Chiefs fans.
There was pandemonium thereafter and fans tried to escape but some were trampled or crushed to death against riot-control fences.
The worst sporting incident in South Africa, the Ellis Park Stadium disaster in 2001 (below) involved fans of these same two teams……….
Ellis Park Stadium Disaster
The lesson of the Orkney tragedy was not learned. 10 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 a 60,000 capacity crowd in the stadium, but a further 30,000 more fans were trying to gain entry to the stadium. Reports also suggest that 120,000 fans were admitted into the stadium.
An Orlando Pirates equaliser sparked a further surge by the fans trying to gain entry as they scrambled to see what had happened.
It led to a crowd crush that claimed the lives of 43 people.
Surpassing the Oppenheimer Stadium disaster, it became the worst sporting accident in South African football history.
The Ibrox Stadium disaster occurred on Saturday, 2nd of January 1971, when 66 people were killed in a crush as supporters tried to leave the stadium.
The match was an Old Firm Derby (Rangers v Celtic) and was attended by more than 80,000 fans.
In the 90th minute, Celtic took a 1-0 lead through Jimmy Johnstone. But in the final moments of the match, Colin Stein scored an equaliser for Rangers.
As thousands of spectators were leaving the ground by stairway 13; someone fell, causing a massive stampede that killed 66 people.
More than 200 other fans were injured.
Kenny Dalglish (then a Celtic player) was in the stands when the tragedy occurred.
Dalglish was also present at the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters — in 1985 and 1989 respectively — with Liverpool!!!
Bradford Stadium Fire Disaster
The match between Bradford City and Lincoln City — the final game of that season — had started in a celebratory atmosphere with the home team receiving the Third Division championship trophy.
A fan attempted to extinguish a lit cigarette but it slipped through floorboards and fell on rubbish, igniting it.
TV commentator John Helm remarked upon a small fire in the main stand and less than 4 minutes later, with the windy conditions, the fire had engulfed the whole stand — trapping some people in their seats.
In the panic that ensued, fleeing crowds escaped on to the pitch but others at the back of the stand tried to break down locked exit doors to escape.
Many were burnt to death at the turnstiles gates, which had been locked after the match had begun.
The disaster led to rigid new safety standards in UK stadiums, including the banning of new wooden grandstands.
It was also a catalyst for the substantial redevelopment and modernisation of many British football grounds within the following 30 years.
Munich Air Disaster
Cause: Plane crash
In another horrific accident in football, a British European Airways plane crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at the Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany.
The plane was carrying Manchester United players, who were returning from a European Cup fixture after defeating Red Star Belgrade to make their way into the semi-finals.
The players who lost their lives were famously nicknamed “Busby Babes”.
There were journalists and supporters with them as well. In total, the crash led to 23 fatalities.
Sir Bobby Charlton, goalkeeper Harry Gregg and manager Sir Matt Busby were few of the survivors.
The team lost one of its best generation of players. It took 10 years for the club to recover from the disaster.
Sir Matt Busby later won the 1968 European Cup with a new set of players, a decade later.
The incident holds an emotional place in the club’s history. Every year, on the anniversary of the accident, the club mourns the victims of the air disaster.
Accra Sports Stadium Disaster
This happened in a match between two Ghanaian giants, Heart of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
Kotoko had been on course for victory but two late goals from Heart turned the tie on its head.
Kotoko fans reacted angrily by throwing bottles and seats onto the pitch. Police responded with tear gas, which sent the Kotoko fans to the exits.
That usual problem arose again; the gates were locked. A stampede ensued, and 126 people died.
Luzhniki Stadium Disaster
The Luzhniki Stadium disaster was a deadly human crush that took place at the Central Lenin Stadium (now known as Luzhniki Stadium) in Moscow during the 1982/83 UEFA Cup match between Spartak Moscow and HFC Haarlem on 20 October 1982.
According to the official enquiry, 66 Spartak Moscow fans — mostly teenagers — died in the stampede, which was Russia’s worst sporting disaster.
Estadio Nacional Guatemala
83 people died and at least 147 were injured when an avalanche of fans tumbled down seats and a flight of stairs at a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City.
It is believed that nearly 50,000 people were trying to enter the stadium that day. Meanwhile, the stadium is capable of holding 37,500 people and of a maximum “congested” seating of 47,500.
The total amount of printed tickets was 45,796. The sale of counterfeit tickets led to overcrowding.
Furthermore, the improper design of the building in the event of an emergency caused the fans to stampede and fall onto each other, causing many people to suffocate.
It was one of the worst tragedies to have occurred in a sports stadium.
Port Said Riot
Al Masry fans rioted at the end of a match between Al Masry and Al Ahly in the city of Port Said.
Following a 3-1 victory by their club, the fans violently attacked Ahly fans using clubs, stones, bottles and fireworks.
Many of the deaths were due to police refusal to open the stadium gates, trapping the Ahly fans inside — leaving some to die and killing others in a stampede while trying to escape.
At least 73 people were killed and more than 1,000 got injured.
Moreso, riots erupted in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez when police fired tear gas at protesters.
The crisis continued until the 13th of February.
As a result of the massacre, the Egyptian government shut down the domestic league for two years, which affected the Egyptian national team.
Estadio Monumental Disaster
Clashes between Argentine giants, River Plate and Boca Juniors, often comes with 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 final whistle that saw the game become history.
As fans headed to leave the stadium, Gate 23 was found to be closed but the sheer volume of supporters rushed down — causing a crush that led to 71 deaths.
Burnden Park Disaster
At Burnden Park, a game between 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.
Assassination of Andres Escobar
Andres Escobar (13 March 1967 – 2 July 1994) was a defender from Colombia known as ‘the gentleman of the field’ for his great humane and leadership qualities.
Escobar was murdered because of his own goal against USA at the 1994 FIFA World Cup which gave the hosts a 1-0 lead.
USA went on to win the match 2-1 and Columbia got eliminated.
Following Colombia’s elimination, Escobar — who was captain — wrote a statement that appeared in El Tiempo.
“Life doesn’t end here. We have to go on. Life cannot end here. No matter how difficult it is, we must stand back up. We only have two options: either allow anger to paralyze us and the violence continues, or we overcome and try our best to help others. It’s our choice. Let us please maintain respect. My warmest regards to everyone. It’s been a most amazing and rare experience. We’ll see each other again soon because life does not end here.”
The own goal led to some drug cartels losing heavily on bet.
Unfortunately, Escobar paid with his life as he was shot dead (6 times) by an assassin in a local bar.
Superga Air Disaster
Cause: Plane crash
The Superga air disaster occurred on 4 May 1949, when an Italian Airlines plane carrying the entire Torino football team (popularly known as the Grande Torino) crashed.
The Torino team was travelling back to Turin after playing a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon, Portugal.
Due to low visibility and strong winds, the plane crashed into the retaining wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga, which stands on a hill on the outskirts of Turin.
All 31 people on board died.
Zambia National Team Disaster
Cause: Plane crash
In 1993, Zambia had a squad that seemed set to make it to the World Cup.
While on their way to a World Cup qualification match, the plane carrying Zambia’s team crashed into the Atlantic Ocean resulting in the deaths of the entire team.
As many as 25 passengers and 5 crew members lost their lives in the incident.
The official investigation concluded that the pilot had shut down the wrong engine following an engine fire. It also discovered that pilot fatigue and a faulty instrument had contributed to the accident.
Zambia’s captain at the time, Kalusha Bwayla, was not on the plane and led a hastily assembled squad through the rest of qualifications and into the 1994 African Nations Cups finals where they lost to Nigeria.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s Helicopter Crash
Cause: Helicopter crash
This was one of the most recent football disasters which shook the whole world.
Leicester City’s former owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was travelling in a helicopter which crashed after taking off from the King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018.
Everyone on board, the pilot and 4 passengers (including Vichai) lost their lives in the crash.
Vichai oversaw Leicester’s fairytale Premier League title triumph in 2015/16.
Death of Marc-Vivien Foé
Cause: Heart attack
Marc-Vivien Foé (1 May 1975 – 26 June 2003) was a Cameroonian midfielder who died on the pitch in a Confederations Cup match against Columbia.
On the 26th of June 2003, Foé collapsed and died in the 73rd minute of the game.
The incident was one of the greatest tragedies seen on a soccer pitch.
It was televised across the globe and left the football world stunned.
Foe was stretchered off after attempts to resuscitate him and continued to receive mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and oxygen off the field.
Medics spent 45 minutes attempting to save his life and although he was still alive after being taken to hospital, he died shortly afterward.
An autopsy would later show that Foé suffered from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
Death of Antonio Puerta
Cause: Cardiac arrest
Antonio José Puerta (26 November 1984 – 28 August 2007) was a Spanish professional footballer who played for Sevilla.
The Spanish international collapsed while playing for his club in a La Liga match against Getafe and died three days later from multiple organ failure stemming from prolonged cardiac arrest.
It was just three months after Puerta had helped Sevilla win the UEFA Cup.
Death of Phil O’Donnell
Cause: Cardiac arrest
On the 29th of December 2007, Motherwell midfielder, Phil O’Donnell, collapsed during a game against Dundee United just as he was about to be substituted.
He was treated on the pitch for about five minutes by the Motherwell and Dundee United club doctors before being taken by ambulance to the hospital.
However, he died at the hospital, aged 35.
Cause: Heart failure
Samuel Okwaraji was a Nigerian midfielder who collapsed to death on the pitch in 1989.
Okwaraji collapsed 10 minutes from the end of a 1990 World Cup qualifier against Angola in Lagos.
He died from possible complications of heart failure as an autopsy showed that the 25-year-old had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.