Absa Premiership legend, Siyabonga Nomvethe, has opened up about one of the hardest days of his footballer career, something that the calls a ‘heart-breaking memory’.
The Premier Soccer League’s highest-ever goalscorer was just 23-years-old when the Ellis Park disaster took place on April 11 2001, and admits that he struggles to believe what happened on that fateful night in Johannesburg.
With Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans streaming into Ellis Park for a Soweto Derby encounter, a stampede took place that meant that 43 supporters tragically passed away.
Nomvethe, who has gone on to score 123 top-flight goals in South Africa, recalled the events of the day in a touching message on Chiefs’ official website over the weekend as the nation remembered the fallen supporters almost two decades on.
Speaking to the club, ‘Bhele’ said, “It is a heart-breaking memory… It is one disaster that I will never forget. No one would have expected something like that to happen. I still can’t believe this happened in our lifetime; it is a terrifying to remember that night.
“This unfortunate disaster was a demonstration of how much South Africans support their football and more specifically the Soweto Derby. It showed how much people support and love the Soweto Derby.
“I could hear the turmoil from the stands after Pirates equalised. That is when I could notice that something unusual was happening from the stands. There was more than usual noise from the crowd. It was the first time I saw the supporters jumping over the stands in attempt to watch us from the touch line.
“That’s when we also realised that there was a problem… We realised the seriousness of the case when we were informed in the dressing room that a stampede happened, and people died in the process.
“To date I can still see agony in the eyes of everyone in the dressing room, that was when the message was delivered that a regrettable situation had occurred in the stadium. I had never seen so many people in and around the stadium – it was packed. We couldn’t drive out of the stadium. It was a mission to leave the stadium, and that is when we started understanding that the situation was really bad.
“Days that followed were not life as usual. Going back to training was tough. But before that, I remember we joined the football fraternity to respect and give our support to the bereaved families. We visited and paid homage to the bereaved homes. I was still young, scared and horrified. As youngsters, we relied on senior players like Doctor Khumalo for consolation.
“But it took a while for us to come to terms with what happened. I can say that this is one date that I will never forget. I thought it was God’s will that something like that happened and that we must accept it at the same time never forget that people lost their lives for the love of football in our country. As we celebrate 50th Anniversary of Kaizer Chiefs, we must not forget that people paid dearly with their lives for the love of the game and this Club.
“It is one hard lesson. This disaster has ensured that the security be intensified at the games. I wish the supporters will look back at this disaster and cooperate with these safety measures.
“My respects go to the families that lost their loved ones. I wish to convey a message of love and peace to them and for the departed souls to rest in eternity.”