It was on Wednesday, 9th May 2001. The rain has just subdued, the two biggest and most successful teams in the country Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko took to the pitch at 5pm for a midweek Premier League fixture.
Little did anyone know it couldn’t be the darkest day in the country’s football history. Quite sure no one would have believed it even if “Paul the Octopus” had predicted the doom.
THE FOOTBALL MATCH
Hearts of Oak Line up: 1. Sammy Adjei (GK), 2. Amankwaah Mireku, 3. Jacob Nettey (C), 4. Dan Quaye, 5. Stephen Tetteh, 6. Adjah Tetteh, 7. Charles Allotey, 8. Edmund Copson, 9. Ishmael Addo, 10. Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, 11. Charles Taylor
Substitutes: 1. Eben Dida, 2. Kwame Ali, 3. Joe Ansah, 4. Bernard Don Bortey, 5. Kenneth Sarpong, 6. Dan Oppong
Coach: Jones Attuquayefio
Asante Kotoko Line up: 1. Osei Boateng (GK), 2. Kwaku Duah ‘Cashbola’, 3. Godfred Yeboah, 4. Dan Acquah, 5. Joseph Hendricks, 6. Stephen Oduro, 7. Lawrence Adjei, 8. Godwin Ablordey (C), 9. Shilla Alhassan, 10. Nana Frimpong, 11. Frank Asoah
Substitutes: 1. Eric Nii Baah, 2. Kwaku Kyere ‘puma’, 3. Anas Mohammed, 4. Francis Akwaffo, 5. Angelo Dedon, 6. Abedi Sarfo, 7. Joe Okyere
Coach: Ernst Middendorf
Hearts of Oak came into the game beaming with confidence. They had just won the CAF Champions league, the CAF Super Cup and the league in 4 consecutive occasions. On top of it they were yet to lose a game that season and had defeated their bitter rivals Asante Kotoko 4-0 a year ago at the same venue.
Kotoko had been knocked off their perch. They hadn’t won the league since 1993, they were hoping to end the drought and also avenge last year’s 4-0 humiliation.
The game kicked off at exactly 5:00pm. After a boring first half, the game came to live in the 60th minute when Lawrence Adjei broke the deadlock for the Porcpine Warriors.
The Phobians responded in the 77th minute through Ismael Addo.
From then, it looked like the game was going to end in a stalemate, but the inefallable happened. The Phobians went ahead in the 81st minute, Ismael Addo was on target once again.
Emmanuel Osei Kuffour dispossessed a Kotoko player off the ball after a series of shirt pulling and tugging, he squared the ball to Ismael Addo who planted it home with ease.
The Hearts of Oak fans went wild, they couldn’t hide the euphoric feeling of scoring two late goals against bitter rivals. The Kotoko fans on the other hand were despondent, they felt the referee should have whistled for a foul after the linesman raised his flag, but he allowed the game to play on and it resulted in a goal.
However, Jacob Wilson Sey, who was the referee on the day explained the incident, “People said that my assistant raised the flag. Of course he did but it was for a different infringement. The infringement he flagged for was on the same attacker who had the ball and they had the advantage. By the rules of the game, I had to play on and I did. The player scored and that was it,” he said in an interview with TV3 Ghana.
Hearts of Oak eventually won the game 2-1 and extended their lead on top of the table, but there was no cause for celebration.
REACTION TO THE GOAL
The game ended 2-1 in favor of the Phobians, but there was no cause for celebration, because the despondent and infuriated Kotoko fans had gone berserk minutes before full time.
They had taken matters into their own hands and started pulling off Chairs and hurdling projectiles onto the field to register their displeasure to the referee for allowing the second goal to stand.
REACTION FROM THE POLICE
The police after struggling to contain the rowdy crowd responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. Panic and a stampede ensued as fans tried to escape. Gates were locked.
The panicked and agitated fans had nowhere to go, they had nowhere to seek refuge, they were running from the people tasked to protect them. Hell broke loose. Death was on rampage.
The 37th Military hospital, Ridge hospital, Police hospital and Korle Bu hospital showed dead bodies deposited like “firewoods”.
The official report indicated that 127 lives were lost and numerous were left badly injured. But there’s a school of taught that suggest that the number of casualties were more.
“As I made my way towards the staircase, I froze! What I saw is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.” – Yaw Ampofo Ankrah
“I remember rushing down there and shouting at people; I think it was on the third body that one or two others also got involved. It was so pathetic; there was one guy who I was picking up and I remember him telling me in a low tone, ‘leave me I’m not dead o’… How I got through in the end, where all the others got the strength from, I don’t know.” – Herbert Mensah, former chairman of Asante Kotoko.
“A lot of people were on top of me that night. Blood was all over as people were crushed to death. I tried to force myself out, but my strength had gone. I didn’t know how I passed out. It was a big miracle for me to have my eyes opened at the mortuary, else I would have been buried alive.” – Abdul Mohammed
AFTERMATH OF THE DISASTER
An official inquiry blamed police for over-reacting with reckless behaviour and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas.
Six police officers – Assistant Superintendents of Police John Asare Naami, Faakye Kumi, Frank Awuah, Francis Aryee, Benjamin B. Bakomora and Chief Superintendent of Police, Koranteng Mintah were arrested and charged with 127 counts of manslaughter.
They were however freed by the court for lack of credible evidence.
The aftermath of the ghastly event also saw a wild protest on the streets of Accra. Protestors chant “No more police, we want soldiers”.
Then Ghana’s president, John Agyekum Kufuor, called for three days of mourning. The Ghana Premier Football League suspended play for a month.
A stadium disaster fund was put in place and yielded over GHC 300,000. This resource was shared among the relatives of the deceased.
Since 2001, former Asante Kotoko chairman Herbert Mensah has memorialized this tragedy by making donations to the victims alive and families left behind.
The laying of a memorial wreath and a memorial march called the “May 9th Remembered Street Walk.”
A bronze statue was erected outside the stadium of a fan carrying another fan to safety with the inscription title “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” in honor of the victims of that tragedy.
Fans who attend matches at the stadium now chant “Never Again! Never Again!” to remind themselves of that day.
It’ll be hypocritical of me to say we’ve learnt any lesson from the ghastly incident.
We still haven’t learnt our lessons, hooliganism in Ghana football persists. It is spreading like wildfire in spite all the lessons at our disposal.
The ill act continues to infect Ghana football and has become a drawback from the elite league, through to the lower leagues.
Security tasked to protect spectators at match centers must be efficient and execute their work to perfection. Excellent security requires the use of technical force and not brutal force.
Improvement of safety standards, stadium security and first aid facilities at match venues. Nationwide rapid response teams should also be set up.
Violence at stadiums must be seen as an issue of criminality, it should be handled just like issues of theft, rape etc. committals of this ghastly act should be arrested, arranged before court and jailed if found guilty.
Clubs whose fans are involved in this act should be banned, fined heavily and if possible deducted points.
The GFA and all clubs across the country should from time to time organize seminars to aptly educate fans and remind them of the ramifications of being violent at the stadium.
It is my hope and prayer that the issue of hooliganism soon becomes a thing of the past, I wish not to see another May 9th.