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16 October 2014

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Football

The Ibrox Disaster 1971

Stairway 13

© BBC

The list of the dead included one woman, 18-year-old Margaret Ferguson from Falkirk, who only days earlier had made a doll for Colin Stein's young daughter and taken it out to his house. Her father David was worried about the increasing violence at Old Firm matches and didn't want her to go but after the family had gone out to watch Falkirk, the teenager slipped out of the house to go to Ibrox. Her family must have heard the disaster unfold on the radio, not knowing their daughter had been crushed by it.

Prison Officer James Sibbald also died. The match was played on his son Leslie's fifth birthday. Did the 28-year-old from Edinburgh get grief from his wife for going out on his son's birthday?

Single man Walter Raeburn covered the walls of his lodgings with Rangers pennants and photographs. He too, would never see his team again.

The youngest person to die was eight-year-old Nigel Pickup, who was visiting his Scottish relatives from Canada, when his stepfather David McPherson took him to the game.

The mini bus driver for the Glenrothes Rangers Supporters Club eventually grew tired of waiting for five teenagers from Markinch at the end of the game and left without them. None of the boys made it back and the tiny Fife village closed down for the day when they were buried with 1,000 out on the main street to watch the cortege pass.

The immediate reaction was to blame supporters for rushing into the ground to celebrate Colin Stein's goal, which kept Rangers in touching distance of the league title. However as early as the Monday following the Ibrox disaster accounts from eyewitnesses from flats on Copeland Rd described teenagers disappearing under the crowd surging down towards the exit.

Perhaps the increase in hooliganism made supporters an easy scapegoat for the accident, which was not the first to happen at this stairway. In September 1961 two were killed, then on September 1967 eight were injured and again on 2nd of January 1969 twenty-four were injured.

The enquiry that followed the disaster proved inconclusive, although it was suggested that a supporter tripping on his way out could have triggered the horrific chain of events.

Unlike most public venues, Scottish football stadiums did not need to be licensed with safety certificates, even though as many as 100,000 supporters had to be catered for. The inquiry and the Wheatley Report of 1972 led to the Safety of Sports Ground Act of 1975 which introduced safety certificates for the first time

Incredibly football went on. After a week and a half of attending funeral and memorial services the Rangers players started training again. The away game at Cowdenbeath was cancelled before the same starting 11 who played Celtic ran onto the Ibrox turf to play Dundee United. One paper suggested that it would be good for the players as it would stop them brooding about the tragedy. John Greig recalled in programme notes to mark the twentieth anniversary: “One thing I'll never forget was the next time we played at Ibrox against Dundee United on the 16th of January was the atmosphere inside the park. It was the strangest game I ever played in.”

Written by: Gordon Cairns

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