The National Stadium Disaster
The Estadio Nacional disaster of 24 May 1964 (also known as the Lima football disaster) is, to date, the worst disaster in association football history.
More than 50 years ago, back in 1964, football history witnessed one of the worst National Stadium disasters in Lima, Peru - second, only to the disaster reported in 1980 in Moscow 340 people died after the crowd became overexcited after a last minute goal was made and fans who were leaving returned fast to the stadium.
Peru was playing against Argentina for a chance to get to the Olympics in Tokyo. Argentina was winning 1-0 and 6 minutes before the end of the game, the Uruguayan referee annulled a goal that would allow Peru to tie with Argentina. He made that decision after declaring a foul was made by a player. Peru was second on the position table and needed the draw in order to classify to the Olympics even if it lost the next game against Brazil. The audience knew the next game was going to be a tough one and they desired to classify before that match.
The stadium was full with around 53,000 people watching the game. This happened at the time famous Peruvian player Chumpitaz was starting his successful career. In fact, the disaster was of such magnitude that in an interview, Chumpitaz stated he thought of retiring from soccer that day.
At first, two people made their made towards the field. The first one was a bouncer who tried to hit Angel Eduardo Pazos, the referee. However, the policemen quickly stopped him. The other one that entered was Edilberto Cuenca and the police started to beat him brutally.
It is important to note that Peruvians were infuriated not because of the referee's decision itself. Rather, it was the police's unfair punitive action against the second individual which made them strike back. The entire crowd made an attempt to run towards the field and destroy the wire barriers. People started destroying parts of the stadium. Later on, the police threw tear gas to stop vandalism and all people started to run away in panic in order to exit the stadium. It was at this point that individuals, especially women and children, were stepped on by others trying to escape. Police dogs were also used to scare the crowd which added to the crowd's impulsive behavior to get out to a place of safety. Others fought against the police throwing anything they could found from stones to bottles in an effort to take vengeance in their own hands. A few benches were set on fire and the barrier was violated in order to retaliate against the policemen's actions.
Outside the stadium, people started to set fire to both cars and buses. Later on, the police sent reinforcements in order to control the crowd's uncontrolled behavior. Younger individuals also engaged in vandalism in nearby sectors setting fire to homes and businesses and breaking windows too. It took three hours for the police to take control of the situation. However, the damage was already made.
According to statistics, 328 people died in the National Stadium Disaster in Lima Peru on May 24, 1964 due to the above-mentioned occurrence. However, this number is not accurate according to public opinion. People agree that the number of deaths was more than that since deaths resulting from fire guns were not counted. It was suspected that those who were killed by bullets were removed from the death count. The Hospital Seguro del Obrero reported 140 deaths alone. Most of them died from asphyxia due to the combination of tear gas and being stepped on by other people - resulting in a lack of enough oxygen to breathe. The number of people injured is not known for certain too. But reports estimate that 500 people were injured.
Additionally to human losses, there were also 100 cars stolen in the event. On top of that, and amid the confusion, 21 prisoners escaped from the Lima prison. Lima was labeled as a "dsiaster" region that fatidical day of May 24, 1964 given the huge impact that the National Stadium Disaster had for its population. Many people blamed the government for the negative outcome of the match. They thought that the authorities resorted to more power that they were entitled to and this ended up in a national disaster just before the match was about to end.
On May 25, 1964, the Peruvian government decreed 7 days of mourning commemorating 50 years of the disaster. The government also promised to pay for the funeral expenses.