TODAY marks the fiftieth anniversary of the darkest day in Scottish football history – the Ibrox Disaster when 66 fans died after a 1-1 draw between Rangers and Celtic.
The sickening death toll mounted at an alarming rate on January 2 1971 as supporters were crushed on Stairway 13 of the stadium in the immediate aftermath of the Old Firm confrontation.
Jimmy Johnstone scored for the Parkhead side in the fading moments only for Willie Waddell’s team to go straight up the park and equalise through Colin Stein with virtually the last kick of the ball.
Sixty-six people went to a game that afternoon and never came home. Hundreds of others were injured.
Derek Johnstone was in the home side that fateful day and recalled walking into the dressing room at the end of a typical derby and being told by an emergency worker: “You better get out, son”. The striker had not realised the extent of the horror that was unfolding on the terraces.
Johnstone, speaking to STV, recalled: “I looked at the corner flag, where stairway 13 was, and I could see all the bodies laid out. I’ve never felt so bad in the whole of my life.
“My mind was everywhere. I was thinking about these poor people who died going to a football game.”
Celtic legend Davie Hay was in the opposition that day and he recollected: “You’ve sent someone to a game, they don’t come back and they’re lying dead in a dressing room.
“You had people going to a game and the families are waiting for them coming back and they don’t return.”
Writer and broadcaster Archie Macpherson, who rushed to the scene of the accident, says he will never forget seeing all of the bodies, adding that he found it particularly shocking because of the setting.
He remembered: “It was a grim wintry day, very grey, a chilly mist was around the place.
“I suddenly saw Jock Stein coming out and Stein was asked a question about the game by a reporter and he went through him. And I remember him saying ‘people are dead in there’.
“Stein had actually helped with the bodies, lifting and laying them, and he was profoundly affected by that.
“Here are guys that turned up because of their love for football, their love of one particular club – dead.”
Rangers manager Willie Waddell phoned all of his players and told them: “There will be funerals to go to and we have hospital visits to go to’.
One particular funeral service remains with Johnstone to this day. It was held in the village of Markinch, near Glenrothes in Fife. Five of the victims came from the village.
The former Ibrox skipper added: “I went to a funeral in Markinch, where the five boys, all from the same school, in the same football team, came from.
“Markinch, a wee village, has got maybe 2500 or 3000 people there – it seemed like everybody was out in the street, every single person was out.”
Among those who survived the crush was Robert Campbell, who went to the game with his best friend.
He said the memories of that day are still extremely vivid and that he was lucky to survive.
He recalled: “We started to go up the terracing towards Stairway 13 and when we got to the top there were too many people rushing about. The railings must have burst and we must have all fallen forward.
“That was when I could feel my leg getting broken and the next thing I knew a policeman was holding me up and saying ‘this one is still alive’. And that was it.”
Rangers have said a minute’s silence and the laying of a floral wreath at the John Greig statue will take place ahead of this afternoon’s Premiership match against Celtic, exactly 50 years on from the tragedy.
In a statement, the club said: “At it’s time, the 1971 Ibrox Disaster was the worst disaster in British sport and the effects of the disaster profoundly impacted not only Rangers, but Glasgow, Scotland and society as a whole.
“The memory of the supporters who passed away in 1971, plus the supporters who passed away in earlier Ibrox tragedies, have a special place in the Club’s history and on the 50th anniversary of the 1971 disaster, we will come together to remember their lives and legacy.”