Unknown to them something devastating had happened at Ibrox just after that goal. A short time after, my Mother, Auntie Annie and my young self were standing at the entrance to our close in Govan listening to ambulances and police cars careering up and down Govan Road to the nearby Southern General hospital. The television had informed us that a handful of people had died at Ibrox and people had initially thought the worst, that an outbreak of violence had occurred, and the two women were by now in quite a state of concern for their men.


The two men returned from the pub shortly after and were perplexed at the state of the women. They thought they were exaggerating until they heard from the television that the number of deaths had risen and by now it was becoming clearer that a terrible accident had happened on a huge scale at the Rangers end of Ibrox Park.

66 people died that day at Ibrox on stairway 13. 66 fathers, sons, husbands, brothers and fellow football fans who went to a football match and were never to return, many of them just young teenage boys. The fog hung over Ibrox like a shroud as the overworked ambulance and policemen attended to the injured and dying. Jock Stein, upon hearing the news, sent the Celtic players away on the team bus leaving them oblivious to the disaster. Stein, Sean Fallon and Neilly Mochan then stayed on to assist the emergency services in whatever they could.

It was the only decent thing to do.

rangers_71_jan_2Back in my house in Govan we had a visit to the door from Mrs Morrison, our upstairs neighbour. She was an elderly widow and was in a terrible state as her son and grandsons, Rangers fans from Fife, were all at the match. She did not have a telephone and as we were the only family in our close who did, she asked to use our phone to find out if her family were safe.

In later years my Dad recalled that conversation and wondered how they would have consoled the poor woman if her family had actually been victims in the disaster. Thankfully, she was able to establish on the phone that they were all safe and sound and she was able to calm herself, aided by a wee ’hauf’ and was then comforted by my parents.

It was the only decent thing to do.

The disaster could easily have happened at the other end. I worked with a man called John. John was Celtic mad and could be seen at Parkhead each home game waiting for the crowd to disperse before he departed, which I always found unusual. He told me that he had gone to Hampden in 1967 to watch Celtic play Racing Club in front of 94,000. After the game he had been physically carried down about 20 stairs as the crowd surged forward and lost control on the huge Hampden stairway with father‘s screaming for people to watch out for their young. Thankfully there were courageous men further down who stopped and took the strain of the surge until everyone was settled and all was well. This had all happened in a few short seconds but that incident affected John badly and stayed with him forever after and never again did he allow himself to be in such a position within a football ground.

No one can say for certain what caused the Ibrox disaster. For years the feeling was that Colin Stein’s goal had caused a surge of fans to turn back when they heard the crowd’s roar for his equaliser which must have been a terrible burden for Stein to carry all those years. In recent times the feeling now is that it was a simple ‘domino effect’ as one person fell upon another down that huge, darkened stairway.

In the weeks afterwards there were funerals and church services, from both denominations, attended by Rangers and Celtic players and officials. A benefit game was arranged for the dependants of the dead and a huge crowd turned out at Hampden to watch Celtic-Rangers select play a Scotland eleven.  The English based superstars of the day, Bobby Charlton, Peter Lorimer, George Best, Charlie Cooke and Peter Bonetti turned out to help with raising funds for this good cause.

It was the only decent thing to do.

hibs_72_janOn January 2nd 2011 Celtic will return to Ibrox on what is the 40th anniversary of the disaster to the very day. Fittingly, John Greig and Billy McNeill will lead the sides out on to the field (although the irony is that Billy did not play in 1971 and Tommy Gemmell was actually the Celtic captain for that game). 7500 Celtic fans will count themselves as fortunate to have obtained tickets for the occasion and they will be hoping to cheer the Celts on to a memorable victory.

They will also be expected to stand in respect for a minute’s silence beforehand in memory of the 66 souls who perished on that fateful, misty day in 1971 and it is important that they remember that they are not only representing Celtic but also representing the memory of the great Jock Stein, the Celtic players and the Celtic fans from that period, who were all greatly affected by the events of that tragic day.

And also because it’s the only decent thing to do.

(Pic 1 shows Gerry Neef saving from Harry Hood. Pic 2 shows Celtic players in unfamiliar yellow standing for a minutes silence before the home game against Hibs on Jan 9 1971)