Independent Football Historian
Who are the most dangerous hooligans in the global history of football? When do they appear? Where do they strike? What are their darkest deeds? Those are the four questions I will attempt to answer in this essay. Personally I think all four are vital to understanding anything about the spread of football violence around the globe. And without understanding we are not likely to ever experience sustainable solutions.
Many great researchers have put hard efforts into the hooligan issue from different perspectives. The Dutch sociologist Ramón Spaaij uses a comparative model for a handful of clubs in three European countries for his studies. His Scottish colleague Richard Giulianotti compares club hooligans from Argentina and three European countries and English scholar Eric Dunning analyzes 14 countries on all continents except for Africa. These three are all great studies. But when it comes to a broad international analysis they are all quite limited. Choice of countries and clubs seem to suggest that hooliganism would be most thoroughly rooted in European club football. A global analysis has never been done before. This essay is written in an explorative mode, and I will try to bring a new perspective to a truly global phenomenon.
Thanks to the fact that there are several great minds working on these questions, there has never been a common definition of what a hooligan really is. I have chosen an inclusive perspective where anyone committing violent acts connected to football can be called a hooligan. By the word anyone I include violent actions taken by the legislative powers, those responsible for security at the games as well as all kinds of sub-groups of supporters. I have included both intended incidents and sheer accidents that probably could have been avoided with improved planning. To the dead it will not matter if they were killed by accident or intention, and we, who are still alive, should focus on accountability rather than our prejudices. It is my hope that my list will shed light on what a hooligan does, rather than what he or she is.
I have put together a list, which contains all known episodes where at least two humans have died in connection to a football game. Overall, I have found 80 violent examples in history. Episodes of deaths without violence, such as traveling teams involved in accidents, are not counted. Please keep in mind that a) the number of deaths and wounded vary depending on which source you choose to rely on and b) there are rumors about even more incidents where I haven’t been able to verify the number of deaths. These rumors are not counted. A few games have been confirmed by different sources, but I still lack information about an exact date etc. These games have been counted. Naturally this is a work-in-progress, and I would be happy if readers with more information would send their comments to me. Still, it is the longest and most detailed research I know of in this area. This is the Hooligans’ Death List!
When going through the list I would like the reader to notice how widely these tragedies are spread. There were in all 20 different teams playing, in six different decades, ten different cities, ten different countries, five different continents and nine different tournaments. Only the world’s most popular football competition, the World Cup, has two of its worst tragedies among the top ten. Based on this historic list it is fair to say that football and violence is not an unusual marriage of heaven and hell. Whether you think that your favorite media pays too much, or too little, attention to it – it is now a very real global problem.
When do they appear?
Over all I have found 80 games with at least 2 deaths. They are spread out over time from 1902 up to 2012, encompassing 111 years of exciting and sometimes deadly football. If we organize them into decades we will get the following stats:
It seems that we can divide the world-history of football-related deaths into three periods. The early period, 1900–1959, contains from 0 to 3 tragedies per decade. Deaths were very rare – but were tremendously tragic when they happened. Take for instance the very first incident occurring on the 5th of April in 1902 at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, where Scotland played England in the British Home Championship. At the time it was considered to be the most prestigious international tournament in the world and would therefore draw a large audience. While the game was being played the newly built wooden West Stand broke under the weight of the excited crowd. People fell several meters down and on top of each other – resulting in 26 people dying and 517 being injured. Blame was put on the rain that had fallen the night before the game, causing the wooden construction to become unstable. Arena architects abandoned wood as material for higher audience facilities after this episode.
The middle period, 1960–1979, had 9 or 10 tragedies per decade. It is the shortest period when deaths were quite rare – but would still be unimaginable momentous when they happened. The deadliest of them all was the aftermath to a game on the 26th of June in 1969 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where El Salvador and Honduras played a decisive qualification game to the World Cup. It is worth noticing how the game was played abroad and how most of its followers must have gotten the news from radio and papers. Reactions to the game sparked a war between the two countries, which lasted for four days and left approximately 2100 people killed and 12000 injured.
In the period between 1980 and 2012, the incidents have risen again to a new level from 16 to 17 per decade. Football-related deaths are now quite common in a global perspective. The present decade seems to suggest that the same level of tragedies will continue (unless something is done on a worldwide basis that is different than before). The deadliest example from this period (so far) is from the 9th of May in 2001 at Accra Sports’ Stadium, where Accra Hearts of Oak SC played Asante Kotoko FC in Ghanaian Premier League. The teams are Ghana’s two most successful in history and come from the two biggest cities and rival cultures, and matches are therefore often intense and prestigious events. With only a few minutes left, the home side took the lead. The away supporters protested the goal, suggesting it should have been called an offside, and began throwing their seats and other things onto the field for the referee to notice their point of view. The police, who were in charge of the game’s security, perhaps fearing the whole thing would turn into a hooligan riot, choose to respond to the protesters using a harsh method. They fired teargas into the stands, causing people to run for the exits in order to get out into clean air. The exits were, however, locked as a security method for avoiding hooligans slipping back and forth between the two supporter-groups, attacking in the back. People crushed into the locked gates and suffocated as others pushed on from behind – resulting in 126 people dying. The number of injured are not known.
Where do they strike?
Football violence is fairly common in both club and national team games. This study suggests that deadly violence is more than twice as common in club games than when national teams meet. That is what to be expected since every country has a larger number of club games, than games played by its national team. Bearing this in mind one could actually argue that football violence at national team level is much more frequent than what to be expected from its relatively small proportion of all football games played. The twelve unknown games are the ones where I have not been able to determine what teams were playing. Since the number of unknown games is quite high, it is not possible to tell the exact relation between the two categories.
Let us look at the more violent club games more closely. All through football history there have been literally millions, not to say billions of games played. It is now obvious that deadly violence is not random – but highly specialized into the highest league of each country. Hooligans do attend and kill at other games too, mostly in the national cups.
If we compare our results with the deadly violent games for national teams, there is one category that stands out. Qualification games for the World Cup are by far the most violent of national team games. If we think about the small proportion of World Cup games compared the larger proportion of league games, it is fair to say that the biggest tournament the world has known, is also the deadliest, relatively speaking. It is indeed the only category that seems likely to challenge club games in the highest league in absolute numbers.
The joint connection between the two categories with the most significant numbers of deadly football violence is economic inequality. In competitions where the economic differences are most noticeable, football violence increases. Deadly violence is not as common in tournaments involving the richest, but economically equal teams, such as the international cups or national teams’ championships. The same goes for the poor, but economically equal teams, such as in the lower amateur leagues. Friendly games are significantly less violent than any game involving financial gains.
It would be very hard to think of any cultural aspect being even half as influential as the economic inequalities for deadly football violence. While these incidents are collected from different cultures, groups, religions, authorities and levels all around the globe – the economic inequality is widely spread and seems to be the most productive soil for deadly football violence to flourish in.
Turning our eyes to the geographical aspect of football violence, there are two points to be made. The continent with the absolutely most incidents is Africa – with a number of European and South American violent episodes combined. These three continents are also the part of the world where one would expect football to be given most importance. It is also arguably the places with most unequal football economics. The two continents with the least deadly violence is North America and Oceania, where football (i.e. soccer) is a marginalized sport compared to its brothers and sisters of American and Australian Rules Football.
Moving the magnifying glass a little closer we will discover how one country stands out above all on the football violence scene. The country that has given the world players like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and coaches like Helenio Herrera and César Menotti has also seen twice as many deadly incidents as any other country in the world. There are eight occasions, included in this study, with at least two individuals being killed involving football in Argentina. The violence in Africa is spread out on several countries with five of them reaching the worst 10 list. The UK countries England and Scotland are the most deadly in Europe. If counted together they are the only ones that almost reach Argentinian level. Mexico alone represents half of deadly violence in North America, while Indonesia is Asia’s most violent football country.
Getting even closer, there are certain teams that have experienced more of deadly football violence than others. As one might expect from previous results there are two Argentinian teams on top of the table – namely CA Boca Juniors and CA River Plate. They are at the same time both local, national and international rivals from Buenos Aires. A similar deadly rivalry has been established between Celtic FC and Rangers FC in Scottish Glasgow and between Kaizer Chiefs FC and Orlando Pirates FC in South African Johannesburg. Apart from these three rivalries, the top of the list consists of four national teams of Africa. These results suggest that deadly football violence is not simply linked to a specific club, but to the relations between different clubs competing for the same areas of influence. This analysis could be applied to the national teams of Africa as well, since we have already established in table 5 that deadly violence is most frequent in qualifications for the World Cup. Africa contains around 55 nations, competing for up to five World Cup-places, making it the most competitive part of the football world, together with Asia.
What are their darkest deeds?
The causes behind deadly football violence will always vary considerably depending on the source you choose to consult. Generally speaking official representatives from government, police and military, clubs and federations – will be more accustomed to media-relations and will therefore more easily get their views out than your everyday John or Jane in the stands. Bearing this in mind, it might still be interesting to see what causes world media has given behind the deadly acts. Naturally a lot of the deaths have been given several causes to the tragedies.
The most frequent cause of deaths related to football is when game-organizers do not respect the arena’s capacity. The reason is usually that selling more tickets than allowed makes a bigger profit. One example of this occurred on the 16th of October in 1996 at Mateo Flores National Stadium in Guatemala City, where Guatemala played Costa Rica in a qualification-game for the World Cup.
The second important cause, initially meant to increase security in football-games, is the people hired to deliver security. To empower security people they need to be more powerfully equipped than the majority passing through the turnstiles. Whether they are educated as security guards, police or military units will depend on the football political situation in the specific country. In situations when these empowered security groups become overpowered by their own fear, they are a significantly dangerous threat to the order they were deployed to protect. Due to their empowerment combined with fear they are one of the most important causes for violent football deaths. Such was the earlier example from Accra, Ghana, in 2001. Another example of this occurred on the 24th of May in 1964 in Estadio Nacional, Lima, where Peru played Argentina in a qualification-match for the Olympics. Local police threw teargas-cans into the stands in an attempt to calm down the audience, after a goal for the homeside had been disallowed. This resulted in 318 individuals being killed and somewhere between 500 and 4000 people injured. On the 12th of July in 1996 in Tripoli, Libya, a military unit opened fire at supporters in an attempt to silence political shouts, resulting in at least 8 individuals dead and 39 injured. It is worth noting that match stewards have not been responsible for any violent deaths during all the years. I would suggest that this is not because match stewards does not feel any fear, or because they are not a part of game-security. They are indeed both, but since they are not equipped with anything but their wits they are practically incapable of killing anyone.
Quite important are also the causes 3–6. Social conflict refers to several kinds of conflicts, which core lies outside the football stadiums. One example of this is the so called “Football War”, as previously mentioned between neighboring countries El Salvador and Honduras. This social conflict had been going on for years, but escalated into full war by decisions taken by the responsible politicians in the two countries. Another example of social conflict occurred on the 1st of February 2012 at Port Said Stadium, where Al Masry Club had played Al Ahly in the Egyptian Premier League. Armed homefans attacked and killed 74 individuals supporting Al Ahly, leaving up to 1000 people injured in what was supposed to be a revenge for the political Arabic Spring.
Another medium important cause is locked exits. This is a complex cause since the reasons for locking exits are both economical (to keep audience who are not paying away from the game) and safety (to make sure no individual or group is leaving the arena to fight elsewhere). Locked gates however, also creates a trap for all supporters – frustrated or joyous – as they chose to leave only to find they cannot get anywhere while other supporters push on from behind. One example of horrified fans trying to leave occurred on the 12th of March in 1988 at Dasrath Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal, where the home side Janakpur Cigarette Factory Limited Club played Muktijoddha Sangsad KC from neighboring Bangladesh in the final of the prestigious Tribhuvan Challenge Shield. The stadium was without roof and was therefore defenseless against the heavy hail that began to fall about half an hour into play. The match was stopped and the crowd ran for cover against the locked gates where 93 individuals suffocated due to pushing and up to 100 people were injured. Another example are the Hellenian fans who on the 8th of February in 1981 left the stands of Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium after the game, running to celebrate their team Olympiacos FC’s 6–0 triumph over Athens rival AEK FC. The fans crushed against the locked gates resulting in 21 individuals dying and at least 54 people injured.
There are two more medium important causes. First of all, the fights fans against fans. One example of this occurred on the 13th of January in 1991 at Oppenheimer Stadium, Johannesburg, where Kaizer Chiefs FC played Orlando Pirates FC in a supposedly friendly game. Fans fighting fans in an overcrowded stadium with locked gates caused 42 individuals’ deaths and 50 injured. Since fans are the lowest in the football pyramid of power, they tend to be the most popular scape-goats, from people higher up in the hierarchy. And this is indeed a medium important cause. However, the global research suggests that their significance to violence is highly over-valued. Secondly, there are the examples of where walls or barriers of the arena collapse, due to poor maintenance and security control by the owners. One incident like this happened on 5th of May in 1992 in Stade Armand-Cesari, Bastia, where local up-comers SC de Bastia were to play the country’s richest team Olympique de Marseille in a semifinal of the French Cup. A temporary stand was put in use to increase capacity, but broke down even before the game started. Results were 18 individuals dead and between 1900 and 2400 people injured.
Of course there are less frequent causes of football violence as well. We have the episodes where a whole section of a stadium has fallen, due to supporters moving, which is fortunately a lot less frequent than separate walls falling, as mentioned previously. Another cause is when a referee’s decision is impossible for the audience to accept. One example of this occurred on the 16th of August in 1980 at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, where one player from each team, Mohun Bagan AC and East Bengal FC, were sent off, which triggered objections from the audience who could not or would not tolerate the referee’s decision. The game did not have enough security personnel and the violence escalated leaving 16 individuals dead and up to 1000 injured. There are also the episodes of the tight exits, apart from the locked gates. The tight exits are due to poor constructional design and are likely to be an obstruction to any supporter going in or out of the arena – rather than the locked gates which are due to excellent design and poor judgment of arena-owners and people working with security. Fires and subsequent smoke are also a fairly important cause of deadly football violence, especially when combined with poor safety strategies.
Come forward the world’s most deadly hooligans!
So let us get back to the original question for this essay. Who are the most dangerous hooligans in the global history of football?
Answer: the world’s most dangerous hooligans are usually someone who tries to make money by selling too many tickets, not respecting the capacity of the arena. They build the interest of the game on social conflicts and lock their gates as an attempt to keep people calm. They also have a tendency not to educate security personnel efficiently.
The world’s most deadly hooligans have been around since the beginning of the 20th century, but became more lethal in the 1960s and have been on top of their game in steady numbers since the 1980s. They are a part of both club and national team football, but lay their main focus on the highest leagues of each country and qualification games for the national teams. Their joint interest is based on economic inequality, since these two kinds of tournaments are the ones creating the biggest gap of income between teams. Tournaments for rich or poor clubs only seem to be of significantly less interest to hooligans.
They operate on all continents of the world, except for Oceania. The most popular continent for hooligans is Africa, though the most popular country is Argentina. The most deadly hooligans are loosely associated with a specific club. Rivals of Buenos Aires have the deadliest history, but the numbers of incidents are comparatively low. If a hooligan is someone who is prepared to kill at football, then we need to increase our focus from only supporters to a wider perspective including club- and arena-owners as well as security personnel. Taken together these conclusions point in the direction of someone in power of football – and rarely to someone without it. This is quite logical since people with power will have a better chance of using their resources to create both good and harm, to bring both joy and death. The Hooligan’s Death List is dedicated to all people with power in the football-world, to help us build a more secure future. It is my hope that we can learn from our mistakes in the past, so we can build a much brighter tomorrow.
Copyright © Martin Alsiö 2013
 Ramón Spaaij, Understanding Football Hooliganism: A Comparison of Six Western European Clubs (Amsterdam, 2006)
 Richard Giulianotti, Football, violence and social identity (London, 1994)
 Eric Dunning [editor], Fighting fans: Football Hooliganism as a World Phenomenon (Dublin, 2002)
 The search for a definition has perhaps been deepest looked into by the Norwegian social scientist Aage Radmann in his Att äga en huliganberättelse (Malmö, 2012).
 Herald Scotland 2008-04-07 and Iain Duff, The Ibrox Disaster 1902 – A National Tragedy, http://iainduff.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/the-ibrox-disaster-1902-a-national-tragedy/ (retrieved at 2012-10-21)
 Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Soccer War (1990) and Jon Carter, Rewind to 1969: The Football War, http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story/_/id/933162/rewind-to-1969:-the-football-war?cc=5739 (retrieved at 2012-10-21). Football was of cause not the most important reason fighting this war, but was definitely one of the key factors to get the war started.
 Kent Mensah, May 9 2001 – When the beautiful game became ugly in Ghana, http://www.goal.com/en/news/1717/editorial/2011/05/09/2477743/may-9-2001-when-the-beautiful-game-became-ugly-in-ghana (retrieved on 2012-10-21) and Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, “At least 126 die in Ghana football stadium stampede” in The Guardian 2001-05-11.
 New York Times 1996-10-18 and Spiro G Doukas, “Crowd Management: Past and Contemporary Issues” in The Sport Journal November 2005.
 The 1964 Lima Soccer Riot, http://enperublog.com/2010/12/13/the-1964-lima-soccer-riot/ (retrieved on 2012-10-21) and Aniversario 45 de la tragedia en el Estadio Nacional de Lima, http://www.rpp.com.pe/2009-05-24-aniversario-45-de-la-tragedia-en-el-estadio-nacional-de-lima-noticia_183306.html (retrieved on 2012-10-21).
 Mass Hysteria: History, http://psyed.org/r/psd/anx/mh/mhd/mh_hist.html (retrieved on 2012-10-21) and Major Stadium Disasters, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/world/news/2000/07/09/stadium_disasters_ap/ (retrieved on 2012-10-21).
 Abdel-Rahman Hussein, ”Port Said fans blame security, infiltrators for match violence” in Egypt Independent 2012-02-03 and Sherif Tarek “Egypt military rulers accused of instigating Port Said disaster”, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/33589/Egypt/Politics-/Egypt-military-rulers-accused-of-instigating-Port-.aspx (retrieved on 2012-02-04).
 Rajendra Chapagain, ”Dasharath Stadium marks 25th year of disaster” in The Himalayan Times 2012-03-11 and Weena Pun, “Wandering souls, wondering families”, http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/4563-wandering-souls-wondering-families.html (retrieved 2012-10-21).
 http://www.olympiacos.org/en/stadium-gate-7 and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/3003121/Football-stadium-disasters.html (both retrieved on 2012-02-21)
 Christopher S Wren, ”40 Are Killed and 50 Injured as Fans Riot at a South African Soccer Math” in New York Times 1991-01-14, http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/14/world/40-are-killed-and-50-injured-as-fans-riot-at-a-south-african-soccer-match.html (retrieved on 2012-02-21) and http://oddculture.com/weird-news-stories/historys-top-15-worst-soccer-disasters/ (retrieved on 2012-02-21)
 Gary Armstrong & Richard Giulianotti, Fear and Loathing in World Football (2001), page 117 and http://www.mohunbaganac.com/community-detail/football-lovers-day-the-story-behind (retrieved on 2012-02-21)