“That day the head of security of the Port Said stadium said to us everything is going to be fine,” said Diaa Aly, 21, a professional footballer who was watching the Al-Ahly and Al-Masry match on Wednesday evening.
But everything was not fine – the match descended into a bloodbath in which 74 people died, including one of Mr Aly’s friends, a 23-year-old student called Karim Ahmed.
The atmosphere between the rival fans of Al-Ahly, a Cairo team, and Cairo-based Al-Masry was tense from the start, and worsened when Al-Ahly scored first. “Al-Masry were holding up rude signs and getting more aggressive,” said Chaker Fahmy, 23, a sales assistant who was with the Al-Ahly supporters.
At half-time, Al-Masry’s supporters managed to jump over the 3m perimeter barricades and run on to the pitch. “They started to shoot fireworks at the Ahly football players while they were playing,” Mr Aly added.
Security forces managed to remove aggressive fans from the pitch as Al-Ahly’s supporters begged for the match to be abandoned. “Even the players looked scared but the guy managing security said, ‘No, we should continue the game’,” Mr Aly said.
In the second half, Al-Masry scored three to win 3-1 but Al-Masry fans were on the pitch even before the final whistle blew. Mr Fahmy said: “The security must have opened the gates – that’s the only way it was possible.”
A mob chased Al-Ahly players into the changing rooms. “We tried to leave and security forces told us we couldn’t because it was not safe,” said Mr Aly said. By this point, armed gangs had broken into the Al-Ahly stands. “I saw the mob throw about 40 people out of the stadium – it’s a seven-metre drop. Then they tried to throw me over too,” he said. “Their faces, the way they spoke, they way they held their knives and sticks, they didn’t look like football fans.”