The legendary manager of Liverpool F.C., Bill Shankly, once said that, “some people think that football is a matter of life and death, but it is much more important than that.” If football is or was more important than life and death in Liverpool it certainly is or was just as important in Glasgow.
On the second of January 1971 I went to Ibrox Park Glasgow to watch the Rangers versus Celtic derby with my friend and his cousin. Those were the days of the big crowds and on that particular day there were 80,000 in Ibrox not counting all the wee boys, like myself, who had been lifted over the turnstile. In injury time Colin Stein the Rangers centre forward equalised, after Jimmy Johnstone had scored for Celtic in the 89th minute, and along with my friend and his cousin I made for the exit, the now notorious stairway 13. It doesn’t do here to go into too much detail but suffice to say I was dragged unsuspecting down one of the steel barriers banging my leg off of the support poles at relatively regular intervals. However, in retrospect, I now know that I was lucky to get down a barrier that was to collapse only a few minutes later and out of a stairway that was to leave 66 dead. My leg was badly bruised and I had chipped a bone. Thinking it was broken I made my way to the nearest hospital.
My friend who went to the Southern General hospital with me was to lose his cousin that day and it was on arriving at the hospital that he began to suspect as much as the corpses were being wheeled past the emergency room; an emergency room where the injured looked like they had just been through the wars. The doctors didn’t have much time for me and it was a case of a quick cast and get him off home. “How was I to get home?” was my immediate thought and it was then that an older man, who also had to take his friend to Drumchapel the area where I lived, said that he would take me and in offering to take me he attempted to aleviate my depression by saying, “never mind son, we got a draw.” Of course, I should have been angry but this was a man who had had six ribs broken and who still hadn’t found his brother and anyway I did think, “yes, we got a draw.”
The following day I was hobbling down Fettercairn Avenue where I lived and never had the bragging rights been so clear as on that sunday; there was one of the O’Donnels and his silly joke about the new drink at Ibrox being “orange squash” or was it “orange crush” and there was the scoreline “Celtic 66 Rangers 0” spray painted inside the close where I lived. A lot of people like to quote Shankly jokingly but in retrospect there were people who actually believed that football was, indeed, more important than life or death. However, in Glasgow, especially in those days, it was never only about football. There weren’t only bigots and there were many Celtic supporters who were genuinely upset. Nevertheless, there were a lot of bigots and when I say, “were”, have they gone? Over thirty years ago I left Glasgow and I haven’t been back very often since although I did manage to take in the Champions League Qualifier between Rangers and AEK Athens when I spent a few days there in 1994 and there they were chanting, “fenian bastards, fenian bastards” and pointing in unision towards the block of Athens fans in the enclosure. “They are Greek Orthodox”, I told the gentlemen standing beside me, screaming his head off. Not to be outdone or undone, he retorted, “they are all fucking Marianist bastards.”
The picture above is of stairwary 13 after the disaster.