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.