The world has witnessed some tragic events throughout the course of football history, including on-field accidents, stadium disasters, plane crashes, and riots.
It is never easy to discuss about disasters that happen on the pitch, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries of innocent people. You never know where and when a new disaster will happen, but disasters that happen on the pitch are so touching.
It should be mentioned that in this article, we will check out the most tragic disasters in the history of football by providing a list without any particular ranking.
Andrés Escobar (13 March 1967 – 2 July 1994) was a Colombian footballer who played as a defender for Atlético Nacional, BSC Young Boys, and the Colombia national team.
It’s just a game, but no one told that to those who assassinated the Colombian soccer captain Escobar dead in a nightclub parking lot in July 1994.
Escobar was murdered in the aftermath of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, reportedly as retaliation for having scored an own goal which contributed to the team's elimination from the tournament. His murder tarnished the image of the country internationally.
Escobar himself had worked to promote a more positive image of Colombia, earning acclaim in the country. His death announcement was by far the most heartbreaking moment in football history.
2. The Munich air disaster
Another shocking moment in football was an event that marked one of the darkest chapters in the club’s history, in which the airplane carrying Manchester United players skidded off the runway and crashed.
Known as the Busby Babes, the squad lost eight of its players in the aviation accident, as they were killed along with 15 other passengers.
The Munich air disaster occurred on 6 February 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane was the Manchester United football team along with supporters and journalists.
Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft died at the scene. The injured and some unconscious, were taken to a Hospital in Munich where three more died, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors.
It was reported that the plane, a six-year-old Airspeed Ambassador 2, had landed in Munich for a brief stopover to refuel.
After the aircraft had been refueled the crew twice attempted to take off, failing due to engine problems.
It had begun to snow heavily and it looked likely that the flight would be delayed until the next day. However, the crew was eager to keep on schedule and a third attempt at taking off was made.
The snow had caused the runway to be carpeted in a thick blanket of slush, which slowed the plane down so much that it could not reach a high enough speed to take off.
As a result, the aircraft skidded at the end of the runway, crashing through a fence surrounding the airport and into a nearby house.
As a result, seven Manchester United players died at the scene, and an eighth, Duncan Edwards, died 15 days later in hospital.
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Marc-Vivien Foé (1 May 1975 – 26 June 2003) was a Cameroonian international footballer, who played as a midfielder for both club and country.
In 2003, Foé, an outstanding Cameroonian midfielder who had enjoyed a successful career in the game, collapsed and died in the 73rd minute of the Confederations Cup semi-final between Cameroon and Colombia. The incident was one of the greatest tragedies seen on a soccer pitch.
It was televised across the globe and left the football world stunned. An autopsy would later show that Foé suffered from a previously undiagnosed heart condition, despite outwardly appearing to be at the peak of physical fitness.
Foe was stretchered off after attempts to resuscitate him and continued to receive mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and oxygen off the field.
Medics spent 45 minutes attempting to save his life and although he was still alive after being taken to the Gerland’s medical center, he died shortly afterward.
The 28-year-old midfielder had funded a football academy for boys and girls in Yaounde.
On 27 October 2018, an AgustaWestland AW169 helicopter crashed shortly after take-off from the King Power Stadium, the home ground of Leicester City Football Club in Leicester, England, United Kingdom.
All five people on board, the pilot and four passengers, including club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha , were killed.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch attributed the crash to a loss of yaw control and found that the pin had become disconnected, resulting in the helicopter becoming unstable and preventing the pilot from controlling it.
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Antonio José Puerta Pérez (26 November 1984 – 28 August 2007) was a Spanish professional footballer who played for Sevilla.
Spain international collapsed while playing for Sevilla in a La Liga match against Getafe and died three days later from multiple organ failure stemming from prolonged cardiac arrest. It was three months after he had helped Sevilla to win the UEFA Cup.
Sergio Ramos has a tattoo tribute to Puerta and wore a T-shirt dedicated to him as Spain won the 2010 World Cup.
Ramos said in an interview, "Antonio has always been with me. The next game, I went out on the field with his shirt and for a long time after that, I wore one that was dedicated to him."
One of the most dramatic football moments is when the Motherwell captain died of heart failure towards the end of his side's 5-3 Scottish Premier League win over Dundee United in December 2007.
The 35-year-old midfielder collapsed just as he was about to be substituted and was treated for around five minutes on the field before being taken to a waiting ambulance.
O'Donnell played for Scotland, Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday during his career and his death caused widespread grief in Scottish football, causing a number of fixtures to be postponed.
"He was a man among boys in every sense, in his attitude, his professionalism and integrity and sincerity," his manager Mark McGhee said.
O'Donnell was set to be replaced in the closing stages of the game by substitute Marc Fitzpatrick, but fell to the ground before the substitution could take place.
Players on the field, including his teammates and nephew David Clarkson, were visibly shocked by the incident and O'Donnell was carried from the pitch on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance outside Fir Park where he was taken to Hospital.
Motherwell chairman Bill Dickie confirmed O'Donnell's death to the press shortly after their home match had finished.
Club chief executive Ian Stillie said, 'The management, directors, players and fans are all stunned and having great difficulty in comprehending what has happened over the last few hours. At this stage we do not have all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Phil O'Donnell.
He was transferred almost immediately to an awaiting ambulance and taken to Wishaw General. It is believed Phil suffered some form of seizure and was pronounced dead at 17:18.”
The Heysel Stadium disaster happened on May 29th, 1985, which was the day of European Cup Finals between Juventus and Liverpool.
It was expected to be a great game, but it soon turned into a nightmare. The stadium was in terrible shape even before the beginning of the match.
The walls of the stadium were so fragil. Moreover, poor organization and separation of fans, who only had a chain fence in-between them, which was not enough to prevent riots and fights between the supporters according to the set standards.
Later, a riot broke out, when Liverpool fans started throwing rocks at Juventus supporters. This resulted in Italians moving away, trying to climb over the wall to avoid fighting Liverpool fans as well as the flying rocks, and then the disaster struck.
The fragile stadium wall collapsed under the weight of Juventus fans, resulting in 39 deaths and over 600 injuries.
The recklessness of Liverpool fans resulted in all English clubs ban from European competitions for 5 years, while Liverpool suffered a 6-year ban. In addition, 14 Liverpool fans were convicted of manslaughter.
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Hillsborough disaster happened on April 15th, 1989 in the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
The disaster was a result of overcrowding, which saw almost 100 people die and many more injured. It was also a disaster which threw a shadow on the Liverpool team which remained there for over 20 years.
The semi-finals of the FA Cup were to be played on a neutral venue, and the Hillsborough stadium was selected to be the place where Liverpool and Nottingham were to face off against each other.
The main reason was the outdated stadium. The problem started with thousands of people wanting to get into the stadium.
What sped the things up were the open exit gates, which allowed better flow of fans into the stadium, however, no policeman was assigned to watch the said exit, which resulted in overcrowding the already full stadium.
Under the weight, the 2 standing-only central pens, which were allocated to Liverpool supporters fell and crushed over 1000 people. The disaster resulted in 96 people dying and 766 injured.
It was reported by authorities that it was Liverpool fans fault as they had refused to follow orders.
The blame went even so far that it was said Liverpool fans pickpocketed the dead, however, a later study made in 2014 about the Hillsborough disaster disproved the claims and concluded that it was the lack of police control and poor organization that led to the disaster.
The Bradford City stadium fire occurred during an English League third division match between Bradford City and Lincoln City on May 11th 1985 at Valley Parade ground.
The problematic part of the stadium was the main stand, which had many issues from being outdated to wooden roof and holes in the stands, which could easily fell through and accumulated under the stand.
The problems have been pointed out several times before, but no actions were taken to fix it. With all the garbage under the seats, a simple spark could easily lit it all, which is just what happened on May 11th.
The match between Bradford and Lincoln City started as expected and it all went smoothly until the half time mark when some smoke was seen coming from the stands.
At first, it did not seem like a huge danger, but the wind played its role and the flames engulfed the whole stand within only a few minutes, leaving some people trapped in their seats, while others managed to save their lives.
The locked doors and closed escape paths did not do them any good, which ultimately meant over 50 people were left to burn to death. The fire spread so quickly, even the fire brigade who arrived 7 minutes after the smoke was too late.
In total 56 people died and 265 were injured on that day. Even after 34 years, the Bradford City stadium fire remains the biggest fire disaster in British football.
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The Estadio Nacional disaster is known as the worst and saddest disaster in football history. It happened on May 24th 1964, when Peru hosted Argentina in the qualifying round of the Tokyo Olympics football tournament at the Estadio Nacional in Lima.
It was a crucial game for Peru to win, who held the 2nd spot in the CONMEBOL table and were to face Brazil in the next and final game.
Because of the importance of the match, over 50.000 fans attended the event to see their team win. The stadium was filled to its last spot, which is a recipe for disaster on its own, but the cause of Estadio Nacional disaster was arguably the man who started a riot.
With only 6 minutes left, and Argentina a goal ahead, Peru scored a goal, which was disallowed by Uruguayan referee Ángel Eduardo Pazos.
One of Peru fans ran on the field, but was soon caught by police and brutally beaten up. That only poured more oil on already fuming Peruvian fire, which resulted in a riot, to which police responded with tear gas grenades.
Supporters ran to the gates to escape; however, the stadium did not have gates but rather solid steel shutters, which were closed like they always were during any game. But due to the panic, fans did not realize that, as they continued to run towards the shutters pushing the crowds in the lead down the stairwells.
Due to all the pressure shutters finally, burst open, revealing dead supporters who died from being crushed under the weight of other fans. Officially most of them died of internal hemorrhaging and asphyxia.
The number of deaths was estimated to be 328 and 500 were injured in the incident to make it one of the most horrific events in history.
On February 1st 2012, a match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry took place in Port Said stadium as a part of the Egyptian Premier League football match.
The whole incident started even before the match, as the match had to be delayed for 30 minutes due to Al-Masry fans refusing to leave the pitch.
Even during the match and at half time, Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch, after each goal scored by their team, which only further delayed the match that had its kick-off delayed for 30 minutes.
It was only after the final whistle that Al-Masry fans started a riot. Armed with stones, knives, fireworks and bottles, they attacked the Al-Ahly players who fled to their changing rooms under police protection.
After the players’ fleed, Al-Masry fans attacked the Al-Ahly supporters in what is now known as Port Said Stadium riot. Outnumbered 12:1, Al-Ahly fans tried to flee, but the closed doors prevented them to do so.
The riot ended with the death of 72 Al-Ahly fans, a police officer and 1 Al-Masry fan in addition to over 500 injuries. The riot resulted in at least 470 Al-Masry fans being arrested and 73 ending up facing trial.
This is now known as one of the biggest football disasters of the 21st century and hopefully, it will remain as the biggest.
However, subsequent investigations suggested that as many as 350 lost their lives, but the incident was covered up by the then-Soviet government.
From bad organization, bad infrastructure, and even actions of supporters/fans, we can never predict what will cause the next disaster.
However, with improvement in security, better-designed stadiums and more careful planning of important events, we can safely say, disasters in sports events have been reduced drastically and will hopefully be reduced to a minimum.