Football is the world’s most popular sport, and, every week during a regular season, fans will go to matches in their millions the world over. Whilst it is normally a fun day out, there are times when a combination of factors means that spectators find themselves in danger.
Local rivalries, stadiums filled beyond capacity, inadequate policing or outdated facilities all bring their share of hidden perils. And, sadly over the years, due to a one or more of these factors, incidents have occurred that have resulted in loss of life.
This series looks at some of the times that fans went to a match – and never came home again.
First Ibrox Disaster 1902
The earliest match to feature mass casualties happened as far back as 1902 in Scotland at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, which had been newly built, and was chosen as the venue for Scotland to face their “auld enemy” England in a game played on April 5, 1902.
The match attracted a bumper crowd, and the game had not long kicked off when a section to the rear of the West Tribune Stand collapsed. A mass of people fell 45 feet through broken boards, and, whilst the match was halted for a short time to allow those injured to be treated, play was allowed to resume, and it ended in a draw.
Reports at the time partially put the blame on young Scottish player Bobby Templeton, who was making his debut for the home team. With suggestions that the crowd were so keen to see him in action that they had surged forward, causing the stand to collapse.
However, in the aftermath, the investigation centred on the materials used in the construction of the stand and it led to the manufacturers being prosecuted for culpable homicide. They were subsequently found not guilty, but wooden terraces would no longer be used at grounds in future.
In the end 26 people died, and a further 587 were injured. Sadly. It was not the only tragedy that was to occur at Ibrox, as the events of January 1971 were to prove.
The Burnden Park Disaster 1946
The FA Cup was the first top-flight competition in England to start again after the Second World War, so the anticipation for any match was enormous, and there was a huge demand to see games.
This was especially true for the second leg of Bolton Wanderers quarter-final match with Stoke City in March 1946, especially because the legendary Stanley Matthews was expected to appear in the Stoke side.
The authorities had expected a crowd of 55,000 to attend the match at Bolton’s Burnden Park ground, which had a capacity of 70,000, and were wholly unprepared when more than 85,000 people turned up to watch the match.
Although the turnstiles were shut before kick-off, a number of other people managed to get into the ground anyway, climbing over fences and the locked turnstiles. Matters got worse when a locked gate was opened to allow a father and son out who were suffer from claustrophobia, as fans locked outside attempted to rush through.
The tragedy occurred at the Embankment End of the ground, access to which was available to fans who could pay on the gate on the day.
Supporters pushed forward towards the side of the pitch and a number of barriers collapsed, causing a crush of humanity with a number of people trampled underneath.
Although the match had already started it had to be halted as fans spilled on to the pitch. With the referee informed by local police that there had been one fatality, the two teams left to pitch, only to return half an hour later to resume the match, with the bodies of the deceased laid out on the edge of the pitch covered with coats.
Reports at the time suggest that new touchlines had to be drawn on the pitch in sawdust to make room for the injured and dying.
The official death toll was 38 people, but this was later revised downwards to 33. It was still the biggest stadium tragedy in the UK at the time.
An official report later recommended more rigorous controls of crowd sizes, include the adoption of turnstiles which automatically recorded numbers entering, and the use of internal telephone systems at grounds.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.