Soccer's Uglies- From Dead Rats to Deadly Riots
Last week’s soccer match between Danish rivals FC Copenhagen and Brondby IF introduced the latest form of fan misbehavior- tossing dead rats on the field.
Vile but harmless, hurling lifeless rodents on the pitch is still a benign act by historical standards for the world’s most popular sport.
Even pigs fly in heated soccer matches. At a 2002 game between bitter enemies Barcelona and Real Madrid, enraged fans who felt betrayed by star player Luis Figa’s move from Barca to Madrid, threw a pig’s head on the field.
From the Latin fanaticus, translating to “insanely but divinely inspired”, fan misconduct at sporting events is as old as the spirit of competition.
But when the atmosphere becomes unruly, impassioned fans can resort to more than just animal carcasses. Soccer violence is universal just like the game itself, and on occasion turns deadly.
British hooliganism reached its peak at the 1985 EuroCup Final when Liverpool met Juventus at Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
Following a period of stone throwing exchanges inside the poorly maintained arena, 39 people suffocated to death when English fans stormed the Italian side and chased a fleeing crowd (photo above) against a retaining wall.
For the next five years, English clubs were banned from participating in the continent's competitions; Liverpool was disallowed for an additional year.
More recently in 2012, over 70 people were killed in Egypt at a riot following a match between the country’s El Masry and El Ahly soccer teams. Due to political reasons as well, the government shut down the domestic league for two years.
Poor crowd control and inadequate facility management exacerbated fatalities at most stadium incidents.
The deadliest match recorded in soccer history took place in 1964 when Peru hosted Argentina in a qualifying round for the Tokyo Olympic tournament. A controversial call against Peru sent angry fans into the field where they were met by police. Pandemonium ensued as tear gas was fired inside the stadium, while spectators were crushed against exit gates that were locked. 328 people were killed.
Thirty seven years later in 2001, similar mayhem broke out in Ghana when the country’s two most prominent teams, the Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts, took to the field. Despite extra security, violence between fans led to police intervention and a massive exit stampede. 126 spectators were killed in what became Africa’s worst sporting disaster.
Europe’s deadliest soccer match, initially attributed to fan misbehavior, ended up as an indictment against police incompetence.
In 1989, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest faced off in a semi-final match at Hillsborough Stadium in neutral Sheffield. 96 fans were crushed to death when gates were opened on the Liverpool spectators side to allow more people into an already overcrowded pen area.
Police insisted that hooliganism and excessive drinking were responsible for the disaster, but years of persistent investigations by families of those killed proved otherwise.
As late as 2016, twenty seven years after the Hillsborough tragedy unfolded, families were vindicated when a jury ruled that the victims were “unlawfully killed” and that Liverpool supporters played no part in the disaster.