In 2001, exactly 19 years ago, football enthusiasts in Ghana witnessed a very horrific scene at the Accra Sports Stadium – where 127 fans died and many injured in a stampede as a result of tear gas fired by the police during a match between Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko. May 9 on the calendar of Ghana would always remain the saddest day in Ghanaian sports history.
A match between these archrivals is always filled with tension. Both teams have passionate fans whose obsession with victory cannot be matched by any other. Officials are always alert, anticipating crowd disturbance during a match between the two. And this is exactly what happened on that faithful day. They came very prepared, but their actions led to an escalation of exactly what they wanted to curb.
During the match, two goals in quick succession gave Hearts of Oak (Phobians) the lead after they were down by one goal. The second goal which was also the winner came from the boot of Ishmael Addo. With just 5 minutes to end proceedings, fans of the Porcupine Warriors (Kotoko) were not happy how the second goal came about with sections of them blaming poor officiating by the referee.
Emotions quickly rose and the angry ones among them demonstrated their disdain by hurling chairs onto the pitch. The response of the police was to fire tear gas in a bid to stop the rampage but that turned out to be a decision many regret till this day. As fans fled the stands into safety outside the stadium, they met locked gates, hence trapped. This caused the stampede leaving many injured and 127 dead.
This sad incident became topical in both local and international media and has till this day remained a day of pain which will probably reamain a stain on Ghana’s great sports history.
A match between the Phobians and the Porcupine Warriors is Ghana’s own version of Spanish El Clasico (Real Madrid vs Barcelona). It will always be filled with tension but with May 9 night still fresh in our memories, never again must we allow another disaster to blow the final whistle.
May the souls of those who perished continue to rest in peace.