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The darkest day in Egyptian football history: What did we learn following Port Said?
Four years have passed since the night when the whole country came to a standstill – the night when chaos and misery began to crescendo throughout the streets of Cairo. February 1, 2012, is the date when the fans, the heart and soul of Egyptian football, were subject to a massacre that claimed 72 Al Ahly fans in Port Said following a game between the Red Devils and Al Masry. KingFut’s Youssef El Hadidy discusses the lessons learned, and those yet to be learned from the Port Said disaster on its fourth anniversary. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of KingFut.
In a country still experiencing the aftermath of a revolution, it seemed like football was Egypt’s only break the only opium of the masses – or at least that was the masses thought until that night.
On that night, football became another source of pain – fans losing their lives in a tragic massacre on a cold winter night in Port Said – bludgeoned to death. The painful sight of families and friends screaming on live television, families and friends waiting at a train station, either you see your loved one, or you don’t.
That moment should have been a lesson for all us; even though the country had experienced a lot of blood in the year before the events of the 1st of February, the victims of the Port Said disaster were the first to die in an event that wasn’t directly related to politics, they were just young men who were supporting their favorite team.
That day was extremely painful, making a reciting extremely tough, but what did we learn from that painful experience?
A rival is not an enemy
This was a lesson the hardcore fans of Egypt – the Ultras – taught us, in perfect fashion. Ultras groups belonging to Zamalek (The White Knights) and Ismaily (The Yellow Dragons) – showed solidarity with their rivals, departing the game contested between both sides after the news reached Cairo International Stadium. In fact, Zamalek star Shikabla – as quoted by Egyptian football commentator Bilal Allam – was heard screaming in the dugout: “We’d be absolute ba*****, if we resume the game with people dying at the same time.”
The solidarity continued at the train station when members of both groups were the first to reach Cairo’s train station to wait for the fans returning from Port Said. After that day, the solidarity continued with the trials, until the final verdict of the case was out. The fans also taught us that they can coexist without the need for security. In 2015, both Ultras Ahlawy and Ultras White Knights attended both youth handball and football games together without a single problem and without any members of police force.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
When the massacre occurred, Al Ahly’s board were keen on doing everything possible to ensure an ultimate penalty to those involved with killing the fans. The board – led by Hassan Hamdy – hired one of the best lawyers in Egypt to follow the case, supported the families, and did not try stopping the Ultras from applying pressure on the government. The pressure paid off as some of the Masry fans involved were sentenced to death or to long jail time, one Green official was also sentenced to jail, as well as few of the police officers who were responsible for Al Ahly fans’ safety.
What we didn’t learn
Football fans shouldn’t be treated like criminals
Three years after the Port Said disaster, the 8th of February 2015, 20 Zamalek fans died in front of the Air Defense Stadium while they were going to Zamalek’s home game against ENPPI in the Egyptian league. This match was the first league game with fans attending since Port Said. Everyone expected a plan ensuring everyone’s safety; instead we saw 10,000 fans being forced to go through a steel cage and when the numbers increased, tear gas was used against them. As a result, 20 Zamalek fans perished, and football fans were banned again. The police forces failed to find a better way to treat football fans – tear gas was used against them while they were in a cage. The Air Defense events thus raised the number of stadium deaths in Egypt to 96 in a matter of three years.
Ticket selling process
Since the Port Said disaster, only a handful of matches were played with fans in the stands. It’s expected of the Egyptian football association to develop a reasonable way to sell tickets that ensures the respect of fans and their safety. However, what we saw is tickets being sold randomly without any way to identify the ticket buyer. Except the Egypt vs. Tunisia game in AFCON qualifiers which tickets were sold via national IDs. However, what happened was unacceptable, tickets were only sold by Zamalek under the supervision of club chairman Mortada Mansour, and the ticket selling process turned out to be a fest for black market ticket sellers, after they were able to get dozens of tickets directly from people at the selling stations.
Club officials should be responsible
Club officials prior to the 1st of February used to attack each other verbally on television, everyone thought that this will end and that reason will finally takeover. However what happened was the absolute opposite as the reasonable talk came from the hardcore fans while clubs officials became more aggressive and started cursing and attacking each other on television and in stadiums.
All in all, the Port Said disaster changed Egyptian football forever, even if the attitude of the security forces or the FA doesn’t appear to have changed. Despite our differences, we have one very important thing in common: we all love this sport; we can all agree that no one deserves to die while attending a football match. The death of the 74 was painful, the 20 deaths years later proved we still have much to learn, but we should always remember them and their legacies. We should tell their stories to the younger generations, and their deaths will always help us remember to hopefully never repeat the mistakes that led to these massacres once again. Seventy-four fans died for freedom on February 1, 2012. 74 perished watching their favourite football side. We will never forget you.