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Sunday, 31 May 2020

Deep scars remain on second anniversary of Port Said disaster

Ahly has erected a memorial at the club's headquarters to honour the victims of Egypt's worst-ever football violence which left over 70 fans dead

Hatem Maher, Saturday 1 Feb 2014
Ahly fans, also known as “Ultras”, shout slogans against the Interior Ministry, in front of Ahly club after hearing the final verdict of the 2012 Port Said massacre in Cairo March 9, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Ahly football club commemorated the second anniversary of Egypt's worst-ever football disaster on Saturday, marking an event that left dozens of Ahly fans dead and ignited ongoing animosity with Port Said-based club Masry.

Over 70 Ahly supporters were killed in the aftermath of crowd riots at Port Said stadium on 1 February 2012, when thousands of Masry fans stormed the pitch following the end of an ill-tempered league game and confronted the visiting fans.

The ramifications of the tragedy led to further casualties in the coastal city, where many believed the local supporters who were subsequently charged with murder had been scapegoated to "conceal the identity of the real perpetrators."

"A memorial will be unveiled at the club headquarters to honour the victims of the Port Said disaster," Ahly said on their official website on Saturday.

"Chairman Hassan Hamdy will represent the club and team skipper Wael Gomaa will represent the families of the martyrs in a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial."

The second anniversary brought an outpouring of sympathy on social networking websites, with many users posting photos of the victims and recalling their own experiences on the day.

"[They are] martyrs in graves but alive in our hearts and our minds. We will not forget the 72 [victims]," said Ahly's recently-retired playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika, a club icon who was hailed by the fans as an ardent supporter of their pursuit of justice in the Port Said case.

Ahly's hardcore supporters, known as the Ultras Ahlawy, were involved in a dispute with the club's board in the aftermath of the disaster, accusing the board of not doing enough to exert pressure on Egypt's ruling military at the time.

The Ultras were also angry at their own players for taking part in an Egypt Super Cup, demanding that the club boycott any domestic games until a verdict had been reached in the murder case against a group of Masry fans.

"This is the worst day of my entire life. Today's ceremony is the least we can do for the martyrs. They will remain in our hearts forever," said Ahly forward Mohamed "Gedo" Nagy.

The die-hard fans issued repeated threats and clashed with security forces more than once until a ruling was finally delivered in March last year. Twenty-one Masry supporters were sentenced to death, sparking a fresh wave of violence.

Call for unity

Around 40 people were killed in clashes with police in Port Said shortly after the verdict was announced, prompting then president Mohamed Morsi to impose a curfew in a bid to quell unrest.

Masry mourned the loss of lives in a statement and called for unity between all clubs, a message that is unlikely to resonate among Ahly's faithful.

"We are calling on all Egyptian fans to abandon football fanaticism ... and avoid mixing politics with sports," said Masry, who opted to skip last season's league competition over fears of provoking tension with the Ahly fans.

Both sides were deliberately kept apart in this season's draw in a new two-group format and all Masry's home and away matches are currently held in Suez. Ahly and Masry can still meet if both reach the final four-team playoff.

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