Home » Football History » They went to a match and never came back (Part Thirteen)

They went to a match and never came back (Part Thirteen)

Continuing the series that looks at those thankfully rare times in football history when fans went to a football match but never made it home afterwards.

(For Part One click here; Part Two here; Part Three here; Part Four here; Part Five here; Part Six here; Part Seven here;  Part Eight here; Part Nine here; Part Ten here, part Eleven here, and part Twelve here).

So far, this series has looked at football stadium disasters in chronological order, but the two biggest stadium tragedies in South African history can be bracketed together, although they occurred ten years apart, because the fans od the dame teams were involved, and the resultant death toll was also almost identical. 

Oppenheimer Stadium Disaster 1991

Also known as the Orkney Disaster because of the city in which it took place, at the time this was the biggest sporting tragedy in the country’s history.

Orkney is a city located 120 miles to the North-West of Johannesburg, and its Oppenheimer Stadium was chosen as the venue for a pre-season friendly between South Africa’s biggest teams and deadly rivals, the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

Although the stadium had an official capacity of only 23,000 people, due to a failure of stewarding and police control 30,000 crowded into the ground and there was no segregation between the two sets of supporters.

When the Chiefs scored in controversial fashion and the referee upheld the goal, supporters from the Pirates objected. Some threw cans and fruit at their opposite numbers whilst a group armed with knives began attacking Chiefs’ supporters.

Innocent bystanders attempting to flee the violence were trampled underfoot, or crushed to death against riot-control fences. 42 people died, due to asphyxia related injuries and scores more were injured.

Ellis Park Stadium Disaster 2001

In what was an eerie case of Deja vu, the two teams were involved again, this time at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, which has a normal capacity of 60,000. However, so many wanted to see the Soweto Derby that day that at least 30,000 extra supporters crammed into the ground and later reports suggested that as many as 120,000 may have got into the ground.

The Chiefs went ahead, but then the Pirates equalised and that caused a further crush at their end of of the ground, as more people tried to get a glimpse of the action.

They spilled over into the press boxes and 43 people were crushed to death. There were allegations at the time that untrained security staff had made the situation worse by firing tear gas at the stampeding fans, although this version of events was later denied by the South African Police Service.

When it became obvious that something serious had occurred, the game was stopped and the bodies were laid out on the pitch, either for medical attention in the case of the living a or identification for those that had died.

An inquiry was launched and it concluded that, apart from poor crowd control a major cause of the tragedy was bribed security staff admitting fans who did not have tickets into the ground.

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