Friday 9 December 2016

Captains of '71 sides lead Ibrox tribute

Ewan Murray

Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00

In among the madness of the Old Firm -- and there are lashings of that -- the odd glimmer of light appears. Endearing moments from the Glasgow duo should arrive this lunchtime albeit, and typically, with a deeply unfortunate backdrop.

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Rangers host Celtic on the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster, an occasion that led to 66 people losing their lives and a further 145 being injured amid horrific crushing at the end of a New Year derby.

John Greig and Billy McNeill, respective captains of Rangers and Celtic from that era, will lead the classes of 2011 on to the pitch. Members of both 1971 teams will follow them on to the field before a minute's silence.

"Obviously it is a significant day in Rangers' history considering what has happened," says club captain David Weir. "And the players have been made well aware of what happened even though, apart from me, nobody was born at the time. Nobody was really aware of it [before coming to the club] but we have been well schooled in what happened, the significance of it and we won't forget that."

The detail of what occurred on January 2, 1971 has not become any more palatable with the passing of time. The widely held and mythical theory is that two goals in the closing moments of the match, firstly for Celtic before Colin Stein snatched an equaliser, contributed to the large-scale tragedy on stairwell 13 at the Rangers end of the ground. Yet that notion was dismissed by a fatal accident inquiry, which found the deaths were caused by people falling on top of others who had collapsed on the stairs.

The supporters had been moving in the same direction in trying to exit the ground rather than returning to hail the Rangers goal. Of those who lost their lives, 60 died through asphyxiation with another six suffering from suffocation. Dressing rooms were used to house the dead and injured.

At the time the Celtic manager, Jock Stein, remained at Ibrox to help with rescue efforts. Stein had passed on only basic information to his players, sitting on their coach, in advising the driver to take them back to Parkhead.

"I remember sitting in the team bus and seeing someone coming out of the front door, carrying one of his shoes and limping and I wondered what had happened," recalls the former Celtic player Tommy Callaghan. "By the time we got to Celtic Park, there was more information coming through. By the time I drove home, the television news had even more and I just couldn't believe what had happened."

The television highlights from the 1971 game have never been broadcast, as a mark of respect to those killed and injured. A third of those who died were aged 16 or under, the youngest only eight. Five schoolmates from the Fife village of Markinch lost their lives.

If any positive outcome could ever arrive from these events four decades ago, it was the recommendation of strict safety guidelines which were implemented across Scotland's main football stadia. Ibrox, for obvious reasons, led the way on that front under the insistence and close scrutiny of the then manager Willie Waddell.

Football is often clumsy or over the top when trauma arrives. Nonetheless the sight of Walter Smith and his assistant Ally McCoist as pallbearers at the funeral of the Celtic legend Tommy Burns in 2008 was a heartening antidote to the bigotry, hatred and conspiracy-fuelled nonsense that surrounds football in Glasgow. This lunchtime Rangers and Celtic will come together once again.

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