On Wednesday night two Egyptian football clubs and fierce rivals, al-Masry and al-Ahly played in Port Said. According to witnesses, the atmosphere had been tense following an al-Ahly fan raising an insulting banner in the direction of the home team (al-Masry). Al-Masry were, surprisingly, winning the game 3-1 when clashes first broke out. By the full-time whistle, the skirmishes had turned into full-blooded violence as fans ran onto the pitch attacking other fans and players.
At the time of writing the death the toll stood at 74 with security staff being among the fatalities. Concussions, deep cuts to the heads and suffocations from stampedes were outlined as the main causes.
Violence within Egyptian football is notorious and in particular fans of al-Ahly are known as Ultras. It is believed that the Ultras confronted police during the recent political upheaval in Egypt. There is also speculation that the security forces may have had an interest in taking on al-Ahly supporters.
It is evident that some fans carried knives into the stadium, probably as a result of lower level security and police presence at football matches since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the presidency.
Al-Ahly player Mohamed Abo Treika said to reporters, “This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us.”
In Cairo, another match was abandoned by the referee following reports of the Port Said violence. This prompted fans to set parts of the stadium on fire.
All top-tier matches have been postponed and the newly elected Egyptian parliament is to hold an emergency session on Thursday.
Sepp Blatter (FIFA President) released a statement, “This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen.”