Chopped Liver – Stairway To Heaven

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster. This is an event indelibly stamped on my childhood memory. I remember it for a number of reasons – not all fully mature, but I was only 11 at the time.

You have to trust me that for a child growing up in Glasgow, even as a Jewish boy, the intense rivalry of Rangers and Celtic, both footballing and sectarian was gigantuan. Efforts in recent years to dilute the passion have been partially successful, but it is still an intense affair.

In 1971, it was collossal.

And so it was that the traditional New Year’s Old Firm fixture was upon us – 80-odd thousand fans packed into standing terraces cheared on their team. On this occasion, by all accounts, it was a nothing match – in that nothing much happened football-wise – until the 89th minute when Celtic’s winger-magician Jimmy Johnstone scored for Celtic.

Cue mass celebration on the green and white side of the stadium. Cue mass exodus by the home support of red, white and blue.

Incredibly, with only seconds remaining, Rangers’ poacher centre-forward, Colin Stein, went up the other end and scrambled the ball home for an unlikely equaliser.

Initial reports “blamed” Stein for this event that resulted in the exiting Rangers fans trying to return to their places on the terraces to cheer on their boys, only to find their places had been taken up by more exiting fans who had stopped, been pushed back, tripped and trampled on – and back down the terraces like dominoes.

Ibrox Disaster Jan 2nd 1971 - Authorities inspecting the scene

66 people were suffocated to death and a further 200 injured.

Months later, investigators found no reason to link the action on the field to the events on the over-congested stairway.

However, families were shattered and innoncent on-lookers like myself were left with the images of dozens of body-bags being lined up on the pitch.

I was kept away from much of the news images, but I do remember this – we had a Scottish version of Match of the Day, called Sportscene. A half-hour program showing highlights of a top Scottish game and a few minutes of a top English game.

I remember, to my shame of innocence, that they did not show the goals from the Rangers v Celtic of earlier in the day, but instead showed only the English game – which, bizarrely, was Blackpool, who have only just this season returned to the top flight of English football.

As I watched the 40th anniversary program today on TV prior to the Old Firm match, they showed… and I saw, for the first time ever, the two fateful goals from that game – and that sent a shivver down my spine I can tell you.

Sadly, nothing was ever done after Ibrox to prevent future disasters of that type – not after Heysl either, not after Bradford, but only after Hillsbrough – so hundreds of others have persihed at football games whilst we awaited the authorities to make the necessary changes to the way we watched matches – all-seater stadia have been the single most important “innovation” that have made the football fans’ experience a whole lot safer.

Now there… are 3…. steps to… carry a donor card – ooh, wap wap!
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