Dark Soweto Derbies
Posted: 30 July 2017 Time: 10:51 am
The Soweto Derby is the highlight of the South African football calendar for many fans, but is also a fixture mired in tragedy and with something of a dark past.
The latest incident to cast a pall over the game came on Saturday when two fans were killed and scores others injured by a stampede at the FNB Stadium, all while the game carried on inside the cavernous venue.
Nobody should go to a stadium to watch a game of football and not come home but history, it seems, will continue to be repeated with tragic consequences.
Two Soweto Derby incidents stand out for the sheer number of people who lost their lives so tragically.
The first was at the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney in January 1991, when Chiefs and Pirates met in a pre-season friendly.
Pirates fans started pelting their Chiefs counterparts with objects and then charged at them, which caused a stampede in which 42 people were killed.
No judicial inquiry was ever held and nobody was ever held accountable.
A decade later, in April 2001, 43 people died at Ellis Park when fans forced their way into the stadium, causing a crush that claimed young and old.
This time an inquiry was held and the report from Justice Bernard Ngoepe ran 130 pages long, but stopped short of apportioning blame, claiming the commission lacked jurisdiction.
Just months earlier police had been forced to shoot rubber bullets at fans trying to gain entrance to FNB Stadium after the latter had become impatient at the late sale of tickets.
Police also fired rubber bullets at fans at Ellis Park in 1998 as supporters tried to enter an already full stadium. The problem? Fake tickets that saw genuine ticketholders left outside, unable to get in and frustrated.
The subsequent SAPS report said Premier Soccer League security personnel “allowed spectators through the gates after corruptly receiving monies from them, resulting in ticket-holding spectators being unable to enter the stadium”.
All of these warnings went unheeded until tragedy struck, and early reports of Saturday’s latest incident suggested that fake tickets were involved too, though it should be stated that has yet to be proven.
After a peaceful start to their rivalry, violence and mayhem and matches between Chiefs and Pirates became commonplace from the early to mid-1970s onwards.
In 1972 visiting English referee Norman Burtenshaw had to flee for his life after a 2-1 win for Chiefs, a game at which a father of three, Selby Masemola was stabbed to death and 27 other people injured.
A BP Top Eight game in 1974 had to be abandoned after a crowd invasion, while there was a riot after Chiefs won the 1975 Champion of Champions final.
Just a year later and another game was abandoned after a pitch invasion, this time with Pirates leading, while visiting English referee Alan Robinson was threatened with knives and bottles by fans of The Buccaneers at half-time of a Soweto Derby in 1979. The break lasted 40 minutes before things were calmed down.
In 1980 there were stabbing at the games, in 1982 teargas and in 1985 an attempted attack on a linesman.
Fans ripped up seats at Ellis Park (1987) and FNB Stadium (1994), and the year before gunshots were heard after running battles between fans.
It should be stated that these types of incidents have mostly been eradicated in the last 15 years, though obviously not altogether.
The Soweto Derby is a game of high passion and heightened emotions, and a “not-to-missed” fixture on the South African football calendar.
It is also therefore a high-risk event for officials and every measure should be taken to ensure the safety of everybody involved.
Somebody failed those poor two souls killed on Saturday though. But just like all the incidents listed above that went unpunished, don’t expect any culprits to brought to book soon.