Ellis Park disaster is a “terrifying and heartbreaking” memory that will live with us forever – Ertugral
It has been 20 years, but for Muhsin Ertugral the “really terrifying and heartbreaking memory” of the Ellis Park disaster remains as vivid – and painful – as ever.
Ertugral was the Amakhosi coach that horrific night when 43 football fans lost their lives at the Soweto Derby at Ellis Park on 11 April 2001.
“In the week leading up to that match we really felt just how much that game meant for people and how important it was for the supporters,” Ertugral recalled this week.
As always, the anticipation and excitement of this unique fixture was palpable and felt in every corner of the country.
But as Ertugral led his team out for the warm-ups before the game that night, he eerily knew something just did not feel right.
“I remember as we exited the tunnel and headed for the pitch, I told (then assistant coach) Steve Komphela I had never ever seen such a big crowd in the stadium while the team was still warming up. The stadium by then was already completely full. It was always a very loud atmosphere at a Soweto Derby, but that night the noise was louder than ever,” says Ertugral.
The game got underway and Tony Ilodigwe scored an early goal for Chiefs, but when Benedict Vilakazi equalized for Orlando Pirates, pandemonium broke out in the stadium.
“Sitting on the bench I recall Brian (Baloyi) frantically waving his hands from his goal and calling for help. The fourth official came over to our bench and explained to us that there was a tragedy unfolding and that we had to stop the game. I could see in the eyes of my players that they were all very concerned, but that they did not know the extent of what had really happened,” says Ertugral.
But the full terror and devastation of that night would soon become clear.
“It really hit me after the game when we went up to the Presidential Suite and saw there was a little boy in the hands of our Chairman, Mr Kaizer Motaung, and we were told that he had lost his brother and his father. That was really heartbreaking for all of us and in the days that followed we just could not get back to life as usual. We were devastated and nobody expected that such a tragedy could ever happen. My only wish is that hopefully this situation will never happen again” says Ertugral, adding “to all the lives we have lost, may their souls rest in peace”.