Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Ibrox Disaster: 40 Years On

Rangers v Celtic 2nd January 1971. 66 lives lost.

From the National Library of Scotland Digital Archive (the Herald's original coverage):

In the press box we had all been commenting on how well behaved the crowd had been and thinking that Rangers' equaliser in the closing seconds had restored the good nature of their fans, ensuring that there would be no subsequent trouble.

Then, across the field at the north-east corner - Section 13 - there were four or five policemen standing on the track looking up into the terracing. Someone said: - 'Fighting must have started there.' But this seemed inexplicable because one had been able to sense the entire good humour of the crowd after the thrilling end to the game.

Then, across the floodlight mist, the distant sounds of shouts and screams could be heard. Two of us rushed down the spiral staircase from the top of the stand. We pushed our way through the cheerful fans on the pavement, through another entrance and ran across the bone-hard frosted pitch on which only minutes before, Colin Stein had brought so much happiness by scoring that equalizing goal.

In the deserted ghostly atmosphere of the playing pitch we had thoughts of fantasy, such as 'So this is what it is like to play at Ibrox.' Thoughts of disaster had still not penetrated.
Even when we reached the track at the far corner there was still no indication of the enormity of what had happened. Two or three people were being carried or helped down the terracing. Then, as dozens of police and ambulancemen converged and ran up the terracing, we felt the first real chill of the situation.

There was a numb silence now, broken only by shouts for stretcher bearers. We started to make our way to the top of the terracing, but several times went back with injured spectators who asked, 'Can you give us a hand?' Willing hands abounded to assist injured boys and men down to the track.

Eventually, at the top of the terracing, the true horror of the situation became apparent. Half a dozen lifeless forms were lying on the ground. Rescuers were tripping over the dead and injured as they struggled back with more victims.

A wedge of emptiness had been created part of the way down the long steep flight of steps leading to the Cairnlea Drive exit. In it were the twisted remains of the heavy steel division barriers. They had been mangled out of shape and pressed to the ground by the weight of bodies.

Lying all over the steps were scores of shoes that had been ripped off in the crush. Beyond, the steps were still dense with groaning people.

We helped another of the injured back down the terracing.

Then Sir Donald Liddle, the Lord Provost, who had watched the game from the directors' box, walked across the pitch. He climbed over the wall into the terracing and moved around, trying to comfort the injured. He knelt beside one man who had had a pillow of beer cans made for his head and had coats and jackets placed over him. But he was dead. The Lord Provost was in tears when he left.

On the exit steps, Sir James Robertson, the chief constable, was directing the activity. Bodies were now lying everywhere. One man was still lying halfway down the steps, a jacket over his face.
There was almost complete shocked silence at this stage. Occasionally one could hear the noise of coins falling from the victims' pockets as they were lifted away.

Back on the field a row of bodies on stretchers was reaching from the corner flag position to the goalposts. Ambulances and police cars, their emergency lights flashing, were speeding round the track. Mr William Waddell, Rangers' manager, and Mr William Thornton, his assistant, together with Mr Jock Stein, Celtic's manager, were directing stretcher bearers to the team dressing rooms which had been set up as casualty stations.

Dozens of policemen, nurses, and ambulancemen were working desperately and mostly in vain to bring life back to the crushed victims.

When two hours later, there were only officials left on the terracing and steps of Section 13, one young nurse was being helped away, crying. She kept repeating: - 'I felt so helpless.'

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