Stadium Disasters: Poor Infrastructure, Neglect and Accidents

A look at some of the major tragedies that took place in football stadiums

Football Stadium Disasters: Poor Infrastructure, Neglect and Accidents

It is commonly accepted that football would not be the same without the presence of fans in the stands. Fans create the ambiance, the energy, the electricity in the air at a football game by supporting their beloved team through singing, clapping and chanting.

The final whistle can bring happiness and excitement to the supporters of the winning team and disappointment to the fans of the losing side. No matter the result, however, there is always the next game, a next chance for a fan to experience a positive result.

Unfortunately, there were some instances throughout football history that would be the last game some fans would ever attend. People have died inside stadiums for reasons such as wrong decisions taken by the police and other officials, or due to poor infrastructure and facilities. This article will take a look at a number of horrifying football stadium disasters that occurred and that aren’t perhaps as well-known as the Hillsborough and Heysel disasters.

Estadio Nacional Disaster

On 24th of May 1964, at Estadio Nacional of Peru, the terrible football disaster took place. At a game between Peru and Argentina, 328 people died and 500 were injured. The total number of deaths in Lima was higher than those killed in Hillsborough, Heysel, Ibrox, Bradford and Budren Park combined.

“328 people died and 500 were injured”

It was an important match for Peru in their effort of qualifying for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hence the stadium was full with 53 000 fans attending the game. Argentina were in front with a one-goal lead with six minutes to go when Peru managed to equalize. However, the goal was disallowed by Uruguayan referee Ángel Eduardo Pazos as a foul. The referee decision caused much anger in Peruvian fans.

A local bouncer, known as Bomba, was the first person to invade the pitch. He attempted to punch the referee but failed as police stopped him and removed him from the field. Then another Peruvian fan named Edilberto Cuenca ran onto the pitch and headed towards the referee too. Police and officers were brutal with him and began to kick and beat him while their the dogs were tearing at his clothes. This incident incensed the fans on the stands and a large number of them invaded the pitch. The police, aiming to prevent further fans from running onto the pitch, fired tear gas canisters into the northern grandstand.

“The total number of deaths in Lima was higher than those killed in Hillsborough, Heysel, Ibrox, Bradford and Budren Park combined.”

Fans panicked and started running towards the gates to get back to the stands. Instead of the standard gates, the stadium had solid corrugated steel shutters at the bottom of the tunnels that were, as normal on match days, closed. Behind the shutters there were steps leading to the seats. A number of fans that were still trying to invade the pitch couldn’t see behind the shutters that people were trying to return to the stands.

“It is estimated that more people died outside the stadium from police gunshots.”

As a result of the pressure with fans of both sides pushing the shutters, they eventually broke. The collisions between the fans led to deaths coming from internal hemorrhaging or asphyxia within the tunnels. Out of the ones that remained on the pitch nobody died.
Despite that the official number of deaths was 328 it is estimated that more people died outside the stadium from police gunshots. The disaster resulted in decreasing the capacity of Estadio Nacional from 53,000 to 42,000. Capacity was later increased to 47,000 for the 2004 Copa America.

Bradford City Stadium Fire

On the 29th of May 1985, before the start of the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool which took place at Heysel stadium of Brussels, 39 Italians fans lost their life after being pressed against a collapsing wall. 18 days earlier another football disaster occurred in England. This happened at Bradford, when at a game between Bradford City and Lincoln City, an accidental conflagration on the stands killed 56 spectators and injured 265.

“An accidental conflagration on the stands killed 56 spectators and injured 265.”

After an incredible season, Bradford City won the Third Division championship and hence their promotion to the Second Division. On the 11th of May 1985, and prior to the final game of the season against Lincoln City, the captain of the club Peter Jackson would have been presented with the league trophy which was Bradford’s first winning trophy in 56 years. 11, 076 people entered Valley Parade, Bradford’s home ground, including 3000 fans on the main stand.

The Main Stand was designed in 1911 by the renowned football architect Archibald Leitch and had a capacity of 5,300 fans in seats and a further 7,000 supporters in a standing paddock at the front of the stand. It was built on the side of a hill and, despite some minor changes, the wooden stand remained as it was first designed in 1911, having a wooden roof as well.

“Despite some minor changes, the wooden stand remained as it was first designed in 1911”

In addition, the structure of the stand had a gap underneath the seats where fans were dropping rubbish. As a result this caused a large buildup of rubbish and litter over the years. Despite warnings made to the club, Bradford just carried out some minor repairs with the rubbish remaining underneath the seats.

At the 40th minute of the game, the first sign of a fire was noticed. According to TV commentator John Helm, an Australian visitor was with his son on the Main Stand and after he dropped his cigarette on the floor of the stand he attempted to put it out with his foot. However, the cigarette slipped towards the rubbish area underneath the seats. The man and his son poured coffee in order to put it out and thought they had succeeded.

“The fire spread incredibly quickly, causing the roof and the wooden stand to be enveloped in flames.”

After some minutes, smoke began coming out. The fire spread incredibly quickly, causing the roof and the wooden stand to be enveloped in flames. In less than five minutes the entire stand was in flames. The back doors were shut forcing people to jump onto the pitch in order to save themselves. Some of them didn’t make it.

“6 people died and 265 were injured.”

56 people, including two Lincoln fans, died and 265 were injured. Half of those who died were either aged under 20 or over 70, with the oldest victim being the club’s former chairman, Sam Firth, aged 86.

Ibrox Stadium: 1902 & 1971

1902 disaster

Ibrox is the only football stadium in which two shocking disasters occurred. Three years after the home ground of Rangers opened (1902) 68,000 people attended the first-ever international match at the stadium, a game between Scotland and England.

The West Tribune stand was built with wooden planks supported by steel girders. Despite that it had been reported that it was unstable, no changes or improvements were made. Things became even more dangerous, after heavy rain the night before the game caused the wood to become softer and unable to support the weight above it. At the 51st minute of the match, the stand collapsed with people falling to the floor from a height estimated at about 12 meters. 25 people died and 517 were injured.

“25 people died and 517 were injured.”

Officials decided to let the game continue until the final whistle as an interruption would have caused supporters to run towards the exits, something that would have slowed down the rescue work. The result of the game was not taken into consideration and a replay match was played at Villa Park with all income from the match donated to the families of the victims.

1971 disaster

On the 2nd of January 1971, more than 80,000 fans gathered at Ibrox stadium to watch the Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic. Despite that during the 1960s Rangers had spent £150,000 making improvements to the stadium’s infrastructure and facilities, the 1971 disaster was sadly not avoided.

Celtic scored in the 90th minute and Rangers fans started leaving the stadium. However, some moments before the final whistle, Colin Stein equalized, causing Rangers fans that started walking out of the stadium to run back to the stands. Some declared that the disaster happened because of this, but the officials ruled this position out as the victims were going the same way.

Even today it remains unknown how exactly the disaster happened. It is hypothesized that a father who was carrying his child on his shoulders slipped and the child fell on the floor. This caused a massive chain-reaction pile-up of people. As a result, 66 people lost their lives, with most of them dying from compressive asphyxia.

“66 people lost their lives.”

Three years later, reconstruction work took place. As a result, three quarters of the ground was replaced by modern all-seated stands. By 1981, Ibrox was converted into a 44,000 capacity stadium. Further work in the 1990s increased the stadium capacity to 50,000, and Ibrox was subsequently awarded UEFA five-star status.

by Joseph Violaris


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