There’s been quite a bit in the papers recently about three football disasters: Hillsborough where 96 people died in April 1989; Bradford, where a fire killed 56 people in May 1985 and Ibrox Park where 66 people died in January 1971.
The first two tragedies have been in the news because of their anniversary dates but the Ibrox disaster was in the news for a completely different reason – an American company, in an act of unbelievably bad taste tried to market a jigsaw of the disaster scene, whilst the Boston Globe newspaper , fearing trouble if Rangers and Celtic played a ‘friendly’ in their city in the summer, claimed, wrongly, that the Ibrox disaster was caused by unruly fans.
I remember seeing the events at both Hillsborough and Bradford unfold on television but unfortunately, I was directly involved at Ibrox and the recent revival of the tragedy in the news has brought back some disturbing memories.
I was 20 at the time, almost 21 and had gone to the Rangers versus Celtic game with my father-in-law to be, Leonard and his son Paul. Memories of the game itself are hazy. I seem to recall that, as usual and in order to avoid the heaving crowds leaving the stadium at the end of the game, Leonard and Paul left early but I stayed on, only to see Celtic score in the 89th minute. Like many Rangers fans, I had gradually moved up the terracing to be near the exit when the game ended but when Celtic scored that late goal, there was a mass exodus – there was no way back for Rangers.
I had just started descending the steep stairway 13 when there was a huge roar and as the roar was from my end of the ground, it could only mean that Rangers had scored. In an instant, the rather crushed but orderly descent down stairway 13 turned into a heaving mass of bodies as those halfway down the stairs decided to turn round and try and get back into the terracing, which, when you think of it, was rather stupid given that the goal had actually been scored!
I remember feeling my feet leave the ground and being carried down the stairway without any control whatsoever. I remember my chest being crushed until I could hardly breathe. I remember thinking that if I didn’t keep upright and my head above the mass of bodies, I would die and so I did my best to stay upright as I was carried downwards.
Then there was an incredible silence. Despite 80-90,000 fans in the ground and hundreds of fans going down the stairway and a disaster unfolding, there was just this incredible silence. Then I heard moans and I felt people underneath me. I couldn’t do anything as I felt my feet dragging over their bodies. Then there were cracking sounds (this must have been the steel barriers snapping) and as I was dragged down the stairs, I knew I was standing on top of people who were dying.
About 30 minutes later, I was wandering around the foot of stairway 13 in a daze. I had lost a shoe and stupidly was trying to find it amongst the hundreds of shoes which were lying on the stairs. Then I saw the bodies. A couple were higher up the stairs but there was one young boy, maybe 14 or 15 years old who had just been left lying with his head crushed by a broken and bent steel barrier. I went over to him and felt for a pulse when a policeman came up to me and I’ll never forget his words. ‘Don’t bother with him, he’s dead’. It wasn’t said in any sort of mean or nasty way, it was just a professional talking in a practical way.
I was offered medical assistance but I was ok and finally decided to go home. I cannot recall if I ever found my shoe but as I got on the train to take me back to Leonard’s house, I was still shaking.
When I arrived at Ossian Road, the whole family was relieved to see me. The TV news had been showing the disaster scene, Leonard knew that stairway 13 was probably my exit route, I was very late and of course, they thought the worst had happened.
I was a very lucky boy.
Now some of you might be wondering why I would post this type of article on my blog. The simple reason is that I started my blog a couple of years ago to let my sons and wider family know what was going on in my life including some things from the past which I have never discussed with them. This was one of those things I never discussed.