Former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly once famously said that football is more important than life or death. This sentiment, despite its extreme nature, is not an entirely alien concept to officials, fans and players of practically the entire range of competitive sports across the world.
Sports, in all its various forms and flavours, tap into our ancient tribal instincts, and provide an outlet for our deep seated primal urges. It comes as no surprise then, when these urges manifest themselves during emotionally charged moments in the sporting arena, from cries of rapture to screams of anger. However, some of these urges occasionally appear in much darker tones, often leading to physical altercations.
Evidence of this can be seen from as far back as 2,700 years ago (753 BC) in the chariot races of the Roman Empire. Riders, crews and horses were all fair game for the armed participants and spiked chariot wheels. Crowds would roar in delight as man and beast died brutal deaths in what was commonly referred to as the circus.
Some would argue that these barbaric practices were a reflection of a crueler and less civilized age, and have no place in the modern world. However, equally many would point out that these violent and tribalistic impulses have consistently reared their ugly heads over the subsequent two millennia – and they might just be right, judging by the voluminous accounts of violence and death in sporting events over the last century.
At times, these demonstrations of savage passion escalate outside of stadiums and arenas into everyday life, inflicting misery, pain and casualty to even the innocents. To make matters worse, it is not uncommon for violent participants to form groups such as the Italian Ultras and the South American Barra Brava to terrorize and stage violence against opposition supporters. Interestingly, the incidences of violence are significantly lower in pugilistic and martial arts sports, where participants make no pretensions about their intent to physically assault their opponents.
Another notable effect of these acts of aggression is the direct and indirect financial cost, which could run up to millions of dollars. And frequently, these damages are caused by fans celebrating their team’s victory! Quantifying these damages are sometimes difficult, as official estimates often only take into account incomplete property damages, excluding the cost of law enforcement, loss of revenues and wages, legal costs, and perhaps most importantly, the loss of lives. Our list of the top 10 most costly sports riots in history below does its best to take into account all of the factors listed above.
10SUPER BOWL XLIII: PITTSBURGH STEELERS VS. ARIZONA CARDINALS (2006) – $150,000 IN DAMAGES
9SUPER BOWL XXXIII: DENVER BRONCOS VS. ATLANTA FALCONS (1999) – $160,000 IN DAMAGES
8WORLD SERIES: DETROIT TIGERS VS. SAN DIEGO PADRES (1984) – $200,000 IN DAMAGES
7NCAA FINAL FOUR: MICHIGAN STATE VS. DUKE UNIVERSITY (1999) – $250,000 IN DAMAGES
6STANLEY CUP FINALS: MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. LOS ANGELES KINGS (1993) – $2.5 MILLION IN DAMAGES
5EGYPTIAN PREMIER LEAGUE: AL-MASRY VS. AL-AHLY (2012) – $3 MILLION IN DAMAGES
4STANLEY CUP: BOSTON BRUINS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS (2011) – $4.8 MILLION IN DAMAGES
3EUROPEAN CUP FINAL: JUVENTUS VS. LIVERPOOL (1985) – $8 MILLION IN DAMAGES
The European Cup final between Italian champions Juventus and English champions Liverpool was hosted by the Belgians at Heysel Stadium in Brussels. The stadium was selected despite failing a safety inspection earlier in the year, and over the objections of both teams. A little over an hour before the game started, a large group of Italian Ultras attacked a small group of Liverpool supporters outside the stadium. They were separated by the police, but the news quickly reached the ears of the travelling band of English supporters. Inside the stadium, a small group of Juventus supporters, separated by a thin line of policemen, heightened the already simmering atmosphere by taunting the Liverpool contingent, who reacted by stampeding towards them in large numbers. As the fighting escalated, unknown to both groups, the pressure began to suffocate, and subsequently, crush a large number of fans against the stadium wall. The wall suddenly crumbled, and all hell broke loose. Incredibly, fearing further violence, the game kicked off on schedule! Juventus went on to lift the trophy after a hard fought 1-0 victory over Liverpool.
21992 NBA FINALS: CHICAGO BULLS VS. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (1992) – $10 MILLION IN DAMAGES
1FA CUP SEMIFINAL: LIVERPOOL VS. NOTTINGHAM FORREST (1989) – INCALCULABLE
The semifinal match was played at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England. 24,000 travelling Liverpool ticket holders were herded into two designated zones in the North and West Leppings Lane stands. The local police and stadium stewards were struggling to cope with the large Liverpool contingent and started to haphazardly channel the fans into the stadium. However, as the situation became progressively more chaotic, they inexplicably began to channel more fans into two already crowded pens.
To cut a long and horrifying story short, 96 people died in full view of thousands from either suffocation or being crushed from behind. Hillsborough is now synonymous with the darkest period in English football. The incident led to the complete redesign of all major football grounds in Britain, and subsequently across the continent. Hillsborough Stadium itself underwent a £22 million ($35 million) renovation after the incident.