“The rains, the smell of tears gas, the pain, the struggle to get out of the stadium, the bodies are all part of the memory of the May 9, 2021 Accra sports stadium disaster that still lives with me even today,” that’s former chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko Herbert Mensah who says he is still traumatized by the events of the day.
Soccer fans numbering 127 lost their lives in a stampede during a clash between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko at the Accra Sports Stadium on May 9, 2001, regarded as the worst stadium disaster in the history of Ghana football.
Herbert Mensah, who was Chairman of Asante Kotoko when the incident occurred, has been leading the commemoration of the May 9 disaster annually.
The founder of the May 9 Foundation, who endured the terrible experience of helping to convey some of the dead bodies and injured fans to the hospital on a sad day, noted that the annual marching to the stadium to lay a wreath is not enough to show support to the victims.
Contributing to a BBC Outside Source program hosted by James Reynold to look at soccer disasters, Mr. Mensah said the stadium must provide safety and comfort for spectators, adding that anything that threatens their lives must not be encouraged.
The program was in response to the October 1, Indonesia soccer disaster that left over 100 people dead. Hundreds were also hurt in aftermath of home team Arema FC’s loss to bitter rivals at the overcrowded stadium in Malang, East Java.
The crush took place after police tear-gassed fans who invaded the pitch.
As panic spread, thousands surged towards Kanjuruhan stadium’s exits, where many suffocated.
Another panelist from Cameroun also share their personal experience in related soccer disasters.
Herbert Mensah who is currently the president and Board chairman of Ghana Rugby said he is still haunted by events of the day.
‘It is almost as though it was yesterday because I remember the issues with officiating, the supporters agitations and the police response with tear gas and as the sup[porters attempted to flee the impact of the tear gas the main gate was locked and that’s how the pandemonium started and I saw bodies tangled up and I could hear the screams, the blood and we had to help to carry the bodies, some dead, some unconscious and with tears in my eyes we tried to break the gate, call people to help and that still breaks my heart he indicated.
To keep the memories of the victims alive, Herbert Mensah has since in 20 years singlehandedly observed the day on a yearly basis drawing attention to the victims, and families left behind the need to make the stadiums safe.
“I’m in touch with the people of Hillsborough, I’m in touch with the people of Ellis Park, so I know what is done in different countries, continuously remembering the occasion and the symbolism,” said Herbert.
Under the May 9 foundation, Herbert Mensah and his partners have supported some of the victims financially for the upkeep of their children.
‘I gave my word that no one will be forgotten and that’s the rationale behind the walk which usually attracts over 20 thousand people and through that we have helped with medical bills, counseling, and even some of the mothers who were pregnant and didn’t even know their husbands had gone to the soccer match and died as a result so it is our responsibility to keep their spirit high’ he added.
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