Untitled

This is one of the hardest blogs I’ve had to write and I was in two minds before writing this because I feared my plain little words would not do the subject justice. New Year is a time for reflection and events from the past have caught up with us. Some anniversaries can be hard to take. The past week I’ve spoken to friends and family and some people I know from the other “tradition” and it does put things in perspective.

In a few days time it will be the fortieth anniversary of the Ibrox disaster and there will be a minutes silence at the ground before the Old Firm match on January 2nd 2011. A memorial service will be held at Ibrox Stadium the following day.

On the 2nd of January 1971 sixty-six Rangers fans lost their lives.

Losing 1-0, in the 90th minute of the match against our old rivals Colin Stein equalised. The myth that this goal caused the disaster was disproved in the official inquiry in the aftermath of the tragedy. There was no truth that fans exiting the stadium on hearing the roar from the fans inside the ground cheering Stein’s goal turned back and collided with others exiting. Bluntly, in stairwell 13 someone stumbled and fans fell upon one another. Some died in the crush.

Personally, no one I knew was one of the victims. I was talking to an old friend I know who supports “them” (a Proddy no less and I give him a lot of stick for being a turncoat, though he is a nice bloke and does quip back at me) and was at the match that day. As he was leaving the ground he could hear the sirens of ambulances and thought it was probably fighting between opposing fans. Only a few hours later when he was settled in a pub in Cumbernauld did he find out what had really happened.

There had been previous disasters and loss of life at Ibrox before and this tragedy made Willie Waddell, the manager of Rangers at the time then club general manager realise the perils of huge terracings with steep exit stairways. Health and safety does get a bad press nowadays but the more you think about it every time you entered a football ground back then you were playing chance with your life. I can well recall being squashed on leaving Hampden and Parkhead, to name just two death traps of the time. The renovated Ibrox has always been a comfortable venue since I can remember; only the enclosure –now fully seated- was standing room only. The Ibrox of today has achieved a five star status from UEFA, largely, in fact completely thanks to Willie Waddell.

A monument on Edmiston Drive contains plaques of the names of all who died. Heartbreaking it is to read of young people who lost their lives attending a football match; the youngest was only eight years old. Atop the monument stands a statue of John Grieg, the legendary captain of Glasgow Rangers and who was skipper on that fateful day in 1971. I am certain that fans will be united in respecting the silence on what will be a very emotional day for those who lost loved ones.

Thank you for reading.

9 thoughts on “Untitled”

  1. I recall being in a crush back in ’79.

    It was the Gerrie Coetzee v ‘Big’ John Tate WBA heavyweight title fight at Loftus, Pretoria, there were 89,000 of us packed into a stadium designed for perhaps half that.

    The problems started not inside the stadium but outside once the fight finished. The roads around Loftus just weren’t wide enough to cope with the avalanche of people leaving the stadium. It made no difference how big you were or which direction you wanted to go, you had no choice but to be carried by the tide of people.

    I can well imagine the chaos and resulting tragedy should somebody have slipped, a truly frightening experience.

    Each and every time I go to any stadium I make sure to plan my entry and exit strategies.

    It is events such as the one you describe (along with far too many others) which have made our current crop of stadia safer, you are quite correct to ‘never forget.’ I haven’t.

  2. I’m not a football fan, but a tragedy is a tragedy and I share the pain of the memories that will always be so very raw in fans and family hearts. Moving into a new year doesn’t bring the much needed comfort people crave either. God bless them.

  3. My thoughts will turn to the match on 2nd January and I pray the fans will give due respect. I have many friends among the Rangers supporters but also know a few from the other side! I have exited Hampden in the 60’s til the 80’s on the occasion of the Scotland England games and remember a few scary moments being crushed in the crowd. But I have also been a victim of crushing and moving crowds from London football stadiums, even Selhurst Park, the home of Crystal Palace.

    I visited Ibrox a few years ago and was given a tour round the stadium. I also took part in a shooting contest between myself and my Rangers friend; shooting into a goal and having the shot timed for speed. I just couldnt get over the fact that my friend had the stronger shot. So I kept trying to beat his best only to pull a hamstring. Pride stopped me crying out and laying down. I hobbled round the tour, becoming slower and slower in gait. The pain was quite severe. To cut a long story short I ended up at the hospital (the Royal Infirmary) and eventually was given painkillers and crutches. And there was me thinking I was a great English footballer!

    May the occasion respect the memory of those who died.

  4. I remember Ibrox and Hillsborough tragedies. My brother (for reasons unknown)always supported Everton. At a time when the Man Utd fans were of a less than desirable nature we were only allowed to go to see Everton play Man City.

    Being kind of petite, although at the time I loved the game and the atmosphere, the exiting was always a concern. Even during the game my brother would stand me either in front of him or one of the supporting pillars, in the event the crowd surged, I’d have some protection. Not that he was built like an iron girder..but still!

    I have felt the same concerns, at any event involving large crowds and exiting down stairwells etc. The other week at the Ashes match, I was cautious enough to choose to depart nearest the handrail side of the stairs. Even though I would never think of a crowd of cricket fanatics in the same way I do, the football ones of the ’70s, the awareness remains.

    I think the awareness instilled in me, is my way of not forgetting..

  5. The sheer horror of such events was brought home to me in 1985 when I was watching the Liverpool – Juventus European Cup final on TV with some Dutch friends. It was later dubbed the Heysel Stadium Disaster. In the bad old days of overpacked grounds and poor crowd control such tragedies might have happened almost anywhere but thankfully didn’t. A fully packed Wembley – which I witnessed once – was a terrifying accident waiting to happen.

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments. Lots of valid points and some of the stories make for sombre reading. Today’s football grounds/rock concerts etc. environments are much safer. Although, accidents can happen anywhere.

  7. JW, good evening.

    This brings back powerful memories of what was truly a different world. No wall to wall breaking news in those days and the full horror of the tragedy only seeped out slowly. I think that I first found out about it from ‘The Sunday Post’ the next day. The black and white photo of the empty stairway with its mangled handrails is one that I can never forget.

    In those days, I was still a Perth Saints supporter first and foremost and I took the train through to Weegieland from Embra about three months later. Subway to Ibrox and into your field of dreams by the Copland Road end to meet the rest of the Muirton faithful (probably about 70 of us at the very most). Ibrox was less than full to a major extent and it was bitterly cold. Huddled groups of Huns were burning tricolours and Sellick scarves to keep warm.

    Unimportantly, we gubbed you 2-0 and went on to finish 3rd in the League above you. Much more importantly, I have a memory of seeing the stairway that afternoon, boarded off but still a stark reminder of what had happened. My thoughts will be with the victims and their families on Sunday.

  8. I honestly don’t think I have ever forgotten it, JW; I remember it every time I am in a crowd, which is not often these days.

    But yes, I will certainly join you in remembering the victims and their families.

    Thank you for writing this.

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