The saddest and most beautiful
sight I have ever seen.
KENNY DALGLISH, Liverpool
FC coach, on the sea of wreaths and
team scarves assembled by mourners
on the field at Hillsborough stadium
in sheffield after the fan stampede be-
fore a 1989 English F.A. Cup match that
claimed ninety-six lives. As a Liverpool
player, Dalglish had witnessed the
1985 Heysel stadium disaster in which
thirty-nine spectators were killed.
In the United States, soccer is associated with fan riots and similar mayhem. But the dark side of the sport is darker than that. This chapter opens with accounts of air crashes involving top teams; later, accounts of player deaths, as well as stories of stadium disasters. Imagine the New York Yankees’ plane going down in the midst of a pennant race, or a star Green Bay Packer collapsing and dying on the fifty-yard line during a nationally televised game. Soccer has suffered that and much more.
It’s the unthinkable that haunts the world of sports: a plane plummets, claiming a star athlete or an entire team. Such a dreadful tragedy has happened several times since the emergence of commercial flight, and the worst of all involved defending Italian first-division champion Torino Calcio in 1949.
On May 4 the plane carrying the entire Torino team plunged into the Basilica di Superga that overlooks Turin, killing all thirty-one aboard, including every first-team and reserve-team player, the manager, the coach, and the trainer. Torino was returning from Lisbon,