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During a game in April 1962, one
of the fans got really angry with the referee. The fan did not agree with
something the referee had done, so he ran onto the pitch and killed the referee
with a knife. Then another person watching the game shot the fan dead.
Football is the most popular sport in the world. It is played in over 200 countries by over 117 million people, and is watched by millions more at football grounds and on television. The Brazilian footballer Pele was probably the greatest player of all time. He called it ‘the beautiful game’.
However it is also a crazy game
and brings out strong feelings in both players and fans. ‘Some people think
that football is a question of life and death’ said Bill Shankly, the boss of
the famous English football team Liverpool in the 60s and 70s.’but they are
wrong – it’s more important than that!’
The following story was written
by a man called Russ Williams. He was thirty-three when he wrote the book and a
great supporter of a team called Spurs, a north London Club. He is a journalist
who writes about football for TV and radio in London.
When I die, I’d like to die at
a football game. I’d like to go quietly and easily, hearing the shouts of the
crowd, smelling the smell of the hamburgers. As I leave my body, I’ll be above
the crowd and above the pitch and I’ll see the game better than the television
cameras. There’s just one problem, I’m never more than half lucky, so if I
die at a football match it will probably be just before the end so I’ll miss
the last five minutes and never know who won!
are lots of people like me who can’t live (or die) without football. For
example there is a true story about a Spanish fan. He was an old man and his
favourite team was Real Betis. He went to every Home game that they ever played.
Just before he died, he spoke his last words to his son. He said that he wanted
to continue going to the games after he was dead. It is traditional to cremate
bodies in his part of Spain and a few days after this had happened his son went
to the next game. He took with him a glass bottle that had a strange grey powder
inside. People were surprised when he put the bottle carefully next to him.
Perhaps you might ask why the boy put his father’s ashes in a glass bottle.
Maybe he thought his father could see the match better?
People have lived and died for
the game since it began. But when did it begin? Nearly 2,000 years ago, the
Chinese writer Li Yu wrote about a game between two teams with a round ball and
square goals. In about 1180, an English writer William Fitz also wrote about a
ball game that many people played in England. He said that the game was so
dangerous that it could be deadly for players and even for the people who were
watching. The name of the game was football. At that time, the game had no rules
and so any number of people could play and the ‘pitch’ could be anything up
to three or four kilometers long. There were of course always fights and many
players got badly hurt!!
By the 1600s people all over England were playing football. The King and his Government tried to stop it and even Churchmen spoke against it, but ordinary people loved it and so of course it didn’t stop.
Slowly over the next 200 years,
football became less like a war and more like a game. By the end of the 1800s
people were playing football all over the world and the game had some rules to
make it safer. From this time on, fewer people died on the playing field, but
even so modern football can be dangerous.
Most football accidents happen when two players try to get to the ball at the same time. That is how the famous young Scottish player, Jock Thompson died in 1931. He was playing for the famous Scottish team, Celtic in a game against another top Scottish team, Rangers. A Ranger’s player, Sam, tried to kick the ball. At the same time Jock Thompson tried to get his hands on it. He threw himself to the ground and got the ball just before Sam kicked it. But Jock’s head took the kick. He died in hospital five hours later.
The next day thousands of Celtic fans started walking from Glasgow to Jock Thompson’s hometown. The walk took three days and they slept in fields along the way. Football is so important to so many people in Scotland that even today Celtic fans often visit Jock Thompson’s hometown and the place where his body now lies.
During the two world wars,
football became less important. People did not have time to think about football
then. In World War 1 (1914-18) there was no football in Britain. The Government
stopped it. But a time when football brought the enemies together in a friendly
way was one Christmas Day in the middle of the war. That day some British and
German soldiers put down their guns and played a game of football on the land
between them ‘No Man’s Land’. What a pity they couldn’t be so friendly
every day of the year!
In the 1950s some people died at
a football match in a very strange way. The teams were playing in front of a
crowd of 3,000 people. Suddenly a storm blew up. There was a large CRASH and
very bright light cut through the sky. The referee and eight players dropped to
the ground. Most of the other players stood very still and then they fell to the
ground too. Eight of the players went to hospital and two of them died. Later,
most of the players said ‘It felt like something very heavy hit us on the back
of the head’ Some of the people in the crowd were very frightened. They said
later ‘It was terrible. There was this sudden bright light. It hit the referee
and he was the first to go down.’ The referee was very lucky not to die.
In South America, football has always caused a lot of passionate feeling. During a game in April 1962 one of the fans got really angry with the referee. The fan did not agree with a decision that the referee had made, so he ran onto the pitch and killed the referee with a knife. Then another person watching the game shot the fan dead! By this time the crowd was very scared and began screaming and shouting. They all started running out of the stadium at the same time. One of them fell to the ground but he was trampled to death as the others ran over him! In another game in South America, the referee gave a penalty to one team and the fans of the other team were so angry that they threw stones at the referee and killed him!
Maybe you believe in ghosts,
maybe you don’t. But in one club in UK ( called Oldham) it is said that there
is a ghost of a fan who still visits the stadium. They call him ‘Fred’ He
was a fan who always stood at the same place at games there. He died in the
middle of a game in the 1960s. Now people only see Fred early in the morning or
late at night. The cleaners at the club say they have seen him several times and
they will not work alone as they are a bit frightened of him. Once, Eileen, one
of the women cleaners, saw him in the kitchen. She was very frightened, but when
she shouted his name, he disappeared!
Fights can still be an everyday part of football in many countries. The story of fights at football matches tells you something about people from different countries. It is in South America that the most violent fights have always happened. Perhaps the past can explain the present. The great Argentinian writer Jose Luis Borges said ‘In the past, South Americans fought with knives; now they fight over a ball’ Sometimes it is fans who start the trouble. For example, by 1916 Argentina and Uruguay were already famous for the terrible things that happened when they met on the pitch. At one match so many people bought tickets that the fans couldn’t all get in to watch the game. They decided that the teams wouldn’t play that day after all and the fans became so angry that they set fire to the stadium and the fire raged for four hours until almost nothing was left standing!
Football can bring people
together or it can make matters worse. During the 1990s some people had the idea
that countries could get on better if they played football. The United Nations
planned match between two African countries, Ghana and Rwanda in 1995, but the
plan went badly wrong! One of the players was unhappy when a referee gave a
penalty against his team so he attacked the referee. A person speaking for the
United Nations said ‘When you put on your football shirt and tie up your
football boots, you leave behind any friendly feeling to the country you are
Football can bring people together or it can make matters worse. During the 1990s some people had the idea that countries could get on better if they played football. The United Nations planned match between two African countries, Ghana and Rwanda in 1995, but the plan went badly wrong! One of the players was unhappy when a referee gave a penalty against his team so he attacked the referee. A person speaking for the United Nations said ‘When you put on your football shirt and tie up your football boots, you leave behind any friendly feeling to the country you are playing against!’