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17 October 2014

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The Ibrox Disaster 1971

Ibrox in 1967

© SNSpix

Football stadium disasters carry a heavy resonance in British culture that goes far beyond the communities affected. The loss of life seems doubly tragic as the victims were off their guard, enjoying themselves, where tragedy shouldn't have been encroaching. Kenny Dalglish summed it up after Heysel: “You go along to watch a game. You don't go along expecting that sort of ending, do you? Football's not that important. No game of football is worth that. Everything else pales into insignificance.”

And so the name of the stadium, Heysel, Hillsborough, Bradford and Ibrox, becomes inextricably linked with senseless deaths.

The Old Firm ne'erday derby of 1971 was such a game when death would have been the farthest thing from the 66 victims' minds. The game was played in a good atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon when many in the 80,000 crowd would still be recovering from their Hogmanay celebrations but knowing they still had a few days off before going back to the grind of work.

And for the 90 minutes nothing did occur. It was only after Colin Stein had equalised Jimmy Johnstone's 89th minute opener in the last minute that the disaster happened as the crowd made their way out through exit 13, leavings scores of dead, hundreds injured and countless supporters traumatised.

The Glasgow Herald football reporter Andrew Young was called out of the press box to report on something more poignant that day than the thrilling climax to the match.

He described the aftermath of Scotland's worst ever football disaster: “Eventually at the top of the terrace the true horror 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 Copeland Road 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 the 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.

“There was almost complete shocked silence at this stage. Occasionally we would hear the sounds of coins falling from the victims pockets as they were lifted away.”

Rangers fan William Mason was so traumatised by the events he was caught up in as an 18-year-old, he didn't attend a football game for another 17 years.

He said in the Aye Ready website: “It was well after the final whistle when my five mates and I made our way towards the Stairway 13 exit, as was usual at that time there was crushing at the top of the stairs, especially at big games. As I started down I was lifted off my feet by the press of the crowd, again not unusual, but about a quarter of the way down I began slowly falling forward.

“The crush began to be unbearable until about half way down the crowd stopped moving but the pressure continued. I was trapped, being crushed and lying almost horizontally, I managed to somehow free my upper chest and just managed to breath. Around me I could hear shouting and cries but as time went on, these decreased until it was almost silent. I just wanted to sleep, but the man nearest to me slapped my face to try and keep me alert.”

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