In what is being dubbed one of the deadliest sporting disasters in history, at least 129 people died in a stampede in Indonesia’s Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, with several more critically injured. Clashes broke out between the fans of Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya after Arema, the home team, lost 2-3. 

The stampede is the most recent in a string of stadium mishaps throughout human history. One of the most memorable ones is the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

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Hillsborough disaster 

Hillsborough disaster: an event in which a mass of football enthusiasts pressed together and caused 97 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. On April 15, 1989, a game was taking place at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, when the accident happened. The police’s errors were substantially to blame for the catastrophe.

On April 15, 1989, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were due to play in the FA Cup semifinal at Hillsborough, a neutral site. More than 53,000 spectators were anticipated to attend the sold-out game. Fans of the two clubs were instructed to enter the stadium from different sides in order to prevent hooliganism. Tickets for the standing terraces allowed Liverpool supporters to enter via Leppings Lane.

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They had to go through one of the seven turnstiles there, after which there were two tunnels that led to areas known as “pens,” which were surrounded by high fencing and had a little gate. The side pens were entered by the less noticeable corridor, whereas the central pens 3 and 4 were accessible from the main tunnel.

A bottleneck developed when roughly 10,100 spectators tried to enter the stadium from the Leppings Lane side since there weren’t enough turnstiles. Approximately 30 minutes before kickoff at 2:30 PM, more than half of those spectators remained outside.

At 2:52 PM, Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who had no prior experience policing soccer games at Hillsborough, gave the go-ahead for exit gate C to open in an effort to reduce congestion. Around 2,000 spectators passed through that gate, and even though the side pens were largely vacant, the majority made their way to the main tunnel and the already-packed pens 3 and 4.

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A terrible rush developed as fans crammed into those pens, with some frantically attempting to escape. It took five minutes after kickoff for the game to be stopped because several law enforcement officers initially thought that the issue was rowdy supporters. The large incident protocol was never “fully activated” by the police, nevertheless.

Rescue efforts were exacerbated by poor communication and coordination, and in many cases, fans assisted and provided medical care. There were 97 fatalities in total; one victim passed away in 1993 after being removed from life support, and another with brain impairment died in 2021. Additionally, about 760 people suffered injuries.

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Police attributed the incident to Liverpool supporters who they claimed were intoxicated and unruly right away after the tragedy. Duckenfield also asserted that gate C had been forced open by spectators. However, a 1989 interim investigation chastised law enforcement, specifically for failing to shut the main tunnel once pens 3 and 4 were full.

An inquest the year after concluded that there wasn’t enough proof to file charges. When the first ambulance arrived at 3:15 PM, according to the coroner’s report, all of the deceased were already beyond rescuing, which prevented a review of the rescue operations. The deaths were also labelled accidental.

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The need for additional investigations persisted, and in 2009 an impartial panel was established to evaluate the incident. Three years later, it was revealed that the police had staged a massive cover-up, blaming supporters and fabricating information to cover up their own errors.

The panel concluded that there was no proof that alcohol or disorderly behaviour contributed to the accident and that up to 41 deaths might have been prevented with better rescue operations. The coroner’s determination that the deaths were unintentional was reversed in December 2012.

A new investigation was launched in 2014, and that year Duckenfield testified that he had lied about fans unlocking gate C—a claim that had been debunked in the past but was still being made. In addition, he acknowledged that the deaths were a direct result of his inability to shut the main tunnel going to the central pens. A jury concluded that the 96 victims had been “unlawfully killed” in 2016.

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Six people with ties to the disaster were charged with crimes the following year. Notably, Duckenfield was charged with 95 counts of manslaughter; however, due to legal complications, he was not held accountable for the victim’s 1993 death. 2019 saw the trial of Duckenfield, however, the jury was deadlocked.

Later that year, he underwent a second trial, and this time, he was found not guilty. Other defendants were exonerated or had their charges dropped at this time. The stadium safety officer, Graham Mackrell, was the lone defendant found guilty. He was found guilty and punished in 2019 for failing to supply enough turnstiles.