50 years later, the Ibrox disaster: Stairway 13 might be gone, but the memories remain.


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In contrast to the pampered luxury of the game today, playing soccer in the 1960s and 1970s was a totally different scenario. Ted Heath had been in his Premiership for just seven months in January 1971. (February 1971) Decimalization was inevitable, but entry into the European Union was still two years away. For jobs, average weekly earnings were £ 28. It cost six shillings (30 pence) for a ticket to an Old Firm game, and the matchday program cost one shilling. 5p) (5p)

The winter weather was rainy that day – misty and frosty with the air really chilling. It would probably have been postponed if it had been any other match than the Major Match. The ground conditions pretty much ruined the match, as it turned out later.

The Ibrox catastrophe 50 years on: the fans who, after the Stairway 13 debacle, did not make it home from the Old Firm game.

It was against this backdrop that we set off with the supporters’ organization’s Wishaw Branch – my school friend Ian and I. Jock Stein’s Celtic were on their way to their sixth consecutive league title, but of hope than anticipation.

Officials are examining Stair 13’s broken and bent railing

With Rangers eleven points behind in fourth, Aberdeen led the league on the day. But in those games, you could never say. Hadn’t 16-year-old Derek Johnstone just won the League Cup for us in October at Hampden?

In those days, part of the matchday experience was being able to purchase cold pies from a huge cardboard box in the stands, sold by a seller. A young entrepreneur was also selling a range of “macaroon bars and mint chewing gum.” I never figured out why this unique combination of products. I wondered, was this normal in other soccer fields?

For the first eighty-eight minutes, the game itself was a complete non-event.

There is clear documentation of the late targets. A header goal for Jimmy Johnstone – a collector’s piece in its own right – followed by Colin Stein maneuvering the ball to equalize over the line from four yards out.

First view of the beautiful visitor center for whisky in Edinburgh with a rooftop bar

Many assume that late targets have been the cause, or at least a contributing factor, for many years, and still even today, to what followed. In truth, the disaster occurred at least seven minutes after the final whistle. It would have been just before 4:45 p.m. now. All games in the UK ended at that time, or so it was customary in those days.

Ian and I waited in the stands until the referee and players had left the field. Then we slowly moved to the back of the bleachers toward exit 13.

Service at St. Andrew’s RC Cathedral in Glasgow

Stairway 13 led out to Cairnlea Drive/Harrison Drive and then on to Copland Road.

It was the stadium’s busiest exit, as it led directly to Copland Road tube station (later renamed Ibrox) and the side streets where most of the fan buses were parked.

The pressure of leaving the stadium was nothing new, even more so when 80,000 spectators were present. The Stairway was divided into seven aisles by tubular steel railings. It had ninety-two steep steps with four regularly spaced landings.

A major factor in the death toll was undoubtedly the large fence that ran along the side of the stairway and was made of what appeared to be old railroad ties. This immovable object restricted egress to the grassy bank next to the stairs. The pressure of the crowd decided that I should go down the middle passage. Between the second and third flights of stairs, the pressure continued to build and then suddenly subsided. I was then able to walk relatively unimpeded to the bottom of the stairs. I have often thought about what happened next, but newspaper photos of the damage to the railing between the second and third flights of stairs clearly show what had occurred. I have heard many accounts from supporters who were involved in the chaos, and I think, like so many others, how lucky I was that day.

As history shows, Stair 13 had a poor safety record. Earlier incidents occurred in September 1961, when two people lost their lives and 44 were injured. In September 1967, eleven people were injured and on January 2, 1969, another thirty trailers were injured. All of these incidents occurred at the end of Old Firm games. So why did this major disaster occur?

First, the crowd at the top of the Stairway was pouring in from all sides un


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