Never forget the 43 who died at Ellis Park‚ says Gordon Igesund
Former Orlando Pirates coach Gordon Igesund still remembers the Ellis Park disaster‚ in which 43 football fans died in a crushes from overcrowding‚ as if it were yesterday.
The 63-year-old former Bafana Bafana coach said the people who perished on April 11‚ 2001 – exactly 18 years ago – should never be forgotten as they paid the biggest price with their lives while trying to go and watch their favourite teams in the Soweto derby between Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
“No matter how long ago it was‚ those people will never be forgotten. I mean here we are‚ 18 years later and I can remember that day like it was yesterday‚” said Igesund who went on to win the league title with Pirates in the same season (2000-2001).
“It was a sad‚ sad moment for SA’s football. It’s a day that we will never ever forget.”
In remembering the day‚ Igesund said the families who lost their loved ones must be given space to grieve and pay their respects where it all happened.
“I just think we should celebrate their lives. Knowing that these people died in a tragedy at a match they had probably been looking forward to watching for weeks and weeks‚” he said.
“It must be remembered as a lesson for all of us going forward‚ that something like this must never ever happen again.
“It was the most horrific thing that I ever experienced. No one really knew that there were going to be 43 people dying on that day.
“It was supposed to be a special day. It was just a sad day for everybody.
“We should celebrate the lives of the people that died on that day and obviously pray for all the families that lost their loved ones on that day.
“I think the most important thing that should happen on the day is the prayer and a little gathering of some sort to remember that terrible day.”
Igesund‚ who also won the league with Manning Rangers‚ Santos and Mamelodi Sundowns before two years coaching Bafana‚ said he never expected the tragedy to unfold and was surprised when the game had to be stopped.
“All we saw was the crowd starting to get into the field. We didn’t know what was happening because the game was carrying on but all of the sudden we realised there’s something going on‚” he said.
“We had just equalised through [Benedict] ‘Tso’ Vilakazi and the score was 1-1‚ and then all of a sudden we saw people walking onto the field‚ carrying people and laying them down.
“The game then stopped and we started to realise the situation. The players were escorted off the field and they were also in shock.
“No one knew what to do and how can we help. There was a lot of chaos at the time and we suddenly realised that there were people who actually died.
“It was of the most horrific thing to have happened and everybody kept asking if everybody was okay.
“Some of the players had wives and girlfriends in the stands.
“It was sad because‚ you know‚ Pirates and Chiefs is one of the biggest matches in the world.”