Moments of Tragedy, Pain and Loss in Football: Healed with Love
As a sport, football is perhaps recognized more as a “game of love” than as a “game of goals”. And rightly so. Sports, by its very nature, is a celebration of the spirit of life, of challenges, of records made and broken, and of stories full of struggle and emotion. Football history is dotted with incidents that have the power to melt millions of hearts—irrespective of the narrow borders of land, culture, race, or religion. The rigorous tenures of training that the footballers have to go through, the faith and loyalty with which they represent their teams make the game beautiful to watch. And one of the most integral parts of football is the bond that footballers share with their fans. Without the huge support of spectators, the game of football would have forever remained incomplete. All these “fans” from all over the world are not only present in the galleries, but also extend their support and love through different media sources. The unquestionable love and faith of the fans towards their clubs, country, or even certain footballers are very often reflected through their heart-warming gestures. These are stories where people have cried with their heart out when their side has lost, where people have mourned along with the players in their toughest times. These are stories of fans who have travelled hundreds of miles just to be there to support their team, stories of people who have ignored their economic conditions and saved all they could just to catch a glimpse of their beloved players.
What is football without its followers, the fans? Here at Goalden Times, Ragini Chakraborty explores that football–fandom bond through two very contrasting images. While Hillsborough saw disaster and delayed justice but taught the world of football a lesson, Roma emerged as the epitome of love and warmth—winning hearts all over.
However, football has also been shadowed by many dark and tragic incidents that have affected both fans and the sportsmen. There have been several accidents and disasters that have created a furore in the media. These have destroyed the poise of the game and are considered to be some of the darkest days in football history. Although disasters bring or do no good, it often highlights a particular side of human nature. It brings into attention the spirit of love and brotherhood that one man might have for another. The history of football is littered with numerous such examples of sacrifice, endurance, and celebrations of love.
The following incidents present quite a contrast. While one of them is about the irresponsibility of football administrators, the other highlights the sensitivity and warmth that can be shown by the football world towards all.
A massacre that resulted in the loss of 96 innocent lives and injuries to around 766 people should probably never be forgotten. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 shook the world. The fateful incident took place during a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield. The thrill of the FA cup semi-final match had brought thousands of spectators to the stadium. Little did they know that they were awaiting one of the most massive disasters that could occur during a football match. Entry to the stadium was possible only via one of the seven feeble turnstiles, which led to dangerous overcrowding outside the gate. Police Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield ordered one of the exit gates to be opened in order to ease the pressure of the crowd entry. Unfortunately, the tunnel that led the spectators to the gallery was already overcrowded, and being unmanned, there was no one to take charge of the situation. This resulted in tremendous chaos and a stampede, causing many casualties and unfortunate life losses. The worst, however, was when there was a complete apathy towards attending the injured. Supporters tore down banners to make stretchers to carry the hurt. Duckenfield later even put the blame on fans, claiming that they had forcefully opened gates. However, in 2012, an investigation conducted through an independent panel brought to light the fact that the Liverpool fans were innocent and had been victimized. Duckenfield’s early retirement after this incident helped him to escape the proceedings of the case. However, he later admitted that his inability of taking control and acting properly that led to the fatal disaster. To share the terrible pain caused to the shattered families and friends of the dead, the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) organises every service held at the Anfield Stadium since the disaster. The unanimously-decided last service is to be held on the 15th of April 2016, 27 years after the disaster. According to Margaret Aspinall, Chair of HFSG,: “The 96 will never be forgotten. It is likely that the inquests will be concluded before the anniversary. So this final memorial service will provide the families with some closure. The HFSG would like to thank everyone for all the support the families have received over the past 27 years and all those people who have attended the service at Anfield each year.” The Hillsborough disaster has also led to other significant safety measures for fans. In the years leading up to the Hillsborough disaster, the terraces of English soccer were rough areas. Huge metal fences installed at the front of stands stopped pitch invasions and fans fighting with each other. Cages known as “pens” placed on the main terraces were intended to split up sections and serve as crowd control. After the disaster, measures were taken so that every person attending the Premiere League has one allocated seat now. Every stadium, by law, must have a seat for everyone in attendance. This came into effect after the Taylor Report was published in 1990, and standing areas in England’s top-flight were abolished. Inside the stadiums, the vast steps of concrete have been now replaced by plastic seating, while many other famous old stadiums have been leveled. Currently, even consumption of alcohol is banned inside stadiums that are Premier League venus, and one can indulge in drinks only in the concession stands below.
Although this incident showcases the failure on the part of authorities to call for immediate help and action, there have also been other incidents which show a completely different picture of the football world.
While fans have always shown love and support for their teams, there are also instances when the teams have overwhelmed fans with their gestures of love and respect. On October 2014. A.S Roma and Bayern Munich were playing against each other in the UEFA Champions League. The gallery was occupied (along with hundreds of other spectators) by father and son duo Stefano and Cristiano, who were hardcore fans of Roma. After the match, on their way back home, they were unfortunately killed in a scooter accident. This left Stefano’s wife Luana devastated and their daughter Michelle without her father and brother. In the next match of Roma, Luana and her daughter Michelle were invited by the team. When the match was about to begin, all the players and staff members of Roma came out wearing T-shirts with pictures of Stefano and Cristiano inscribed on them. The picture had been taken at the last match. A surprised Luana was overwhelmed with tears on witnessing the beautiful tribute. The team observed a moment of silence to pay respect to the fallen fans. On the day of the match against Cesena, Morgan De Sanctis, the Italian goalkeeper for A.S Roma laid a wreath under the Curva Sud at Stadio Olimpico (the stadium where the match was being held) in tribute to the pair. The whole atmosphere was one of compassion and kindness, as spectators emerged holding a huge poster that had the following message written on it: “The Gods have called the most beautiful angel and his guardian. Cristiano and Stefano are with us.” Not only this, a few weeks after the incident, a tournament was organized in memory of Stefano and Cristiano and the amount collected from the match went to the family. Many actors and sports personalities came out to support them that day.
We all come across incidents that touch us, but there are very few incidents that win our hearts and make us cry at the same time. The blessed game of football sometimes manages to do just that.