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

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

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, part Twelve here; part Thirteen here, part Fourteen here; part Fifteen here, and Part Sixteen here).

Africa has seen its fair share of stadium tragedies, from deadly crushes in South Africa to riots and inept policing in Egypt.

Both of those elements were present in the deadliest fan disaster yet to occur in the history of the Dark Continent.

Accra Sports Stadium Disaster, Ghana

In May 2001, Ghana’s leading teams, Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko met in a top of the table clash.

Due to the heated nature of the rivalry and history between the two clubs, officials had expected trouble, so extra security measures had been put in place for the match, whilst a larger than normal contingent of police were deployed to help maintain order.

Two late goals and some contentious refereeing decisions saw Accra Hearts win 2 – 1 and, when the final whistle blew, disappointed and angry Kotoko fans began ripping up plastic chairs out of the ground and throwing them onto the pitch.

The police responded by firing tear gas and launching plastic bullets into the crowd. People began to panic and, as they tried to escape, it quickly turned into a stampede. However, the gates had been locked, and the stadium had been designed in such a way that a bottleneck was created, with fewer exits than originally intended.

Those caught up in it had literally nowhere to go, and the bodies began to pile up.

By the time that some sort of order was established again an hour had passed, during which time 116 people had died, and many hundreds more had been injured.

It was later alleged that medical staff had already left the stadium, because they thought the match was over.

Miraculously, one of the victims, a mechanic Abdul Mohammad who was thought to be dead after being gassed, regained consciousness when he was already in the morgue.  

An official inquiry into what was the worst disaster in African sporting history laid the responsibility at the door of the police. It was judged that they had over reacted with the indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas, whilst some officers were accused of dishonesty and inexcusable laxity on duty.

However, although six officers were charged with 127 cases of manslaughter, the prosecution was  unable that the cause of death was due tear gas, and not asphyxiation as originally ruled. The charges were eventually dropped.

However, improvements to stadium security and first-aid facilities were recommended, and, in the wake of the tragedy, the first nationwide rapid response teams were set up.

After the match three days of national mourning were declared and Ghana suspended all league matches for a month.

A bronze statue was erected outside the stadium showing one fan carry another to safety, whilst those who attend matches now at the ground chant “Never Again! Never Again!” as a reminder of what happened on that day.

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