Last weekend’s crowd trouble in the Manchester Derby and the more violent one at home in the Kolkata Derby are proof that the problem of crowd violence and hooliganism is still very much prevalent in all parts of the footballing world. The coin (that inflicted a wound on Rio Ferdinand) and the stone (that caused Nabi to profusely bleed) are symbols that bring back memories of the tragedies of the past, and how, if not addressed immediately and properly, a lot more of these unfortunate events are waiting to happen. Here’s a reminder of the ugly face of the ‘Beautiful Game’ through the 5 derby matches worst affected by crowd trouble and rioting:
5. Danubio vs Nacional (2008)
The violence erupted after Danubio beat Nacional 1-0 and took over their city rivals’ position at the top of the table. The travelling Nacional fans did not appreciate the result very much and as soon as the final whistle was blown, hoards of them broke down the fencing and invaded onto the pitch at the tiny Jardines del Hipodromo stadium in Montevideo. The seizing of a Danubio flag by the rushing Nacional fans enraged the home fans and in retaliation, they too invaded the pitch, leading to a massive fist-fight. Such was the intensity of the whole fight that the opposing fans attacked each other with objects ranging from iron bars to even the corner flags.
Reportedly, no arrests were made despite the ‘no-holds barred’ fight on the pitch lasting close to 15 minutes before the crowd was finally dispersed off. The Uruguayan Football Association in response called for an indefinite halt to the entire season, with the then AUF president Jose Luis Corbo saying, “We have decided to cancel all top-flight action as a precaution following Sunday’s problems and previous troubles we have experienced. We think we have to calm things down.”
4. Slask Wroclaw vs Arka Gdynia (2003)
Poland is probably the one country which is worst affected by this epidemic of Football Hooliganism. Poland is home to something known as the ‘ustawka’, which are basically organised fights between the hooligan factions. Each club has its own hooligan firm which in turn forms alliances with other factions, who take part in organised or pre-arranged fights. On 30th March, 2003 while a game was being played between Slask Wroclaw and Arka Gdynia in Wroclaw, hooligans from the “Triad” (comprising of the firms of Arka Gdynia, Cracovia, Lech Poznan) and the “Three Kings of Great Cities” (comprising of the firms of Lechia Gdansk, Slask Wroc?aw and Wis?a Krakow) alliances took part in a huge ‘ustawka’ on the streets of Wroclaw, 1km away from the stadium.
Knives and clubs were among other objects that were being freely wielded as the riot slowly spread to the rest of the city and water cannons, among other means, had to be used by the police to stop the riot, which led to the brutal stabbing and eventual death of a young Arka Gdynia fan. Many others got seriously wounded by the stabbing, while others suffered fractures and dislocations. Reportedly, 229 rioters were subsequently arrested by the Wroclaw Police, half of whom were banned for 3 years from all stadiums in Poland while the rest were charged with assault and found guilty.
3. Catania vs Palermo (2007)
The Sicilian Derby has always proved to be a feisty affair but on 2nd of February, 2007 things went completely out of control, resulting in clashes during and after the match. The match began without the Palermo supporters, who entered the stadium 10 minutes into the game. To their joy, they found Palermo leading 1-0 via a controversial goal. This set off frenzied celebrations, including throwing of smoke bombs and bursting of fire-crackers. To restore order in the stands, the police had to resort to using tear gas. The referee suspended the match for approximately 40 minutes to allow things to calm down. The resumption of the match saw Palermo emerge as the victors after an eventual 1-2 scoreline. The trouble though didn’t end with the match, as Catania supporters clashed with the police outside the stadium and that resulted in the death of a police officer, Filippo Raciti.
The dramatic events of the Sicilian derby and other crowd related violence in other parts of Italy made the Italian Football Federation’s Commissioner, Luca Pancalli, pronounce an immediate stop to all football matches in Italy, including all Serie A and International fixtures. Pancalli’s directives were strong and only after a special law was passed by the government which “enforced the measures to be taken against violence in football stadia and forbade the presence of supporters inside stadia which didn’t agree with mandatory security dispositions”, did Serie A and other football resume in Italy.
The rivalry between these two Argentine powerhouses is considered to be one of the fiercest around the globe and the derby match between these city rivals is fittingly called the ‘Superclasico’. Crowd trouble has always been a regular feature in these matches, right from the first time these teams met in 1913. But the worst incident happened on June 23rd, 1968 after the ‘Superclasico’ at River Plate’s El Monumental stadium when a reported 71 Boca fans lost their lives and close to 150 were injured, as they got crushed at Gate No. 12 of the away stands.
The result of the official enquiry in the post-match incident found “no one guilty for the incident” but reports from the time have thrown up a variety of reasons for this tragic event. The most widely believed and accepted reason is that Boca fans seated in the upper-tiers of the Stadium threw down burning River Plate flags which had unfortunately landed amongst their own supporters below and as they tried to exit from Gate 12, they found it to be locked and that caused a stampede leading to the deaths of the Boca fans and injuries to many more. This incident has been the worst in the history of football violence in Argentina and has scarred the Superclasicos ever since, giving it an added sense of bitterness and rivalry.
1. Peru vs Argentina (1964)
Though derby matches usually involve clubs, South American nations have always had an intense rivalry amongst themselves even at the International stage. Also, this is the 3rd worst incident in history to have happened at a sporting event, in terms of the number of people that lost their lives and hence has to be at the top of any list that is talking about crowd trouble at a football match. The occasion was the final Olympic qualifying match at the National Stadium in Lima. Trailing 0-1 to Argentina, Peru had a goal disallowed by the referee in the 88th minute, which sparked off a series of protests from the home fans and it soon transformed into a full blown riot, forcing the police to use tear gas in the main grandstands to bring the crowd under control.
The police and the authorities also decided to block all the exits to avoid the rioting from spreading on the streets, a decision that led to the majority of the deaths as all the smoke and the suffocation inside the stadium caused the fans to suffer from asphyxiation. Close to 320 people lost their lives and over 500 were seriously injured as a result of the riot and the suffocation and smoke. The 1964 Lima riots have been till date the worst riots in Association Football history.
Although the intensity of crowd violence inside the stadiums has gone down all over the world, football hooliganism is still a very big and pertinent problem, the solution to which cannot lie in just the installation of meshes or nets in front of stands or bans for a few years from entering the stadium. Strict laws need to be passed and criminal action has to be taken against the so-called ‘Ultras’ at each club and only then can we truly hope for a violence-free football world.