Belfast Telegraph

Malcolm Brodie: In his own words

Memories of the Ibrox and Princess Victoria disasters, Bobby Moore’s woes and a showstopping night with Sinatra

Huge loss of life in ferry sinking was one of the saddest stories he covered.

Princess Victoria tragedy: January 31, 1953

Malcolm was one of the first to report on the sinking of the Princess Victoria which went down 60 years ago today with the loss of 133 lives. He recalled the disaster vividly.

The day was one of the worst I've ever seen in the UK. The wind was howling throughout Northern Ireland.

I was in the Belfast Telegraph office at about noon and we already knew the ship was having difficulty in crossing the North channel — but that was the story for the entire fleet at sea that day because of the weather.

We had heard there was a woman whose husband was a seafaring captain had been listening to an exchange on a short-wave radio.

I went up to the house and she had the radio in a cubbyhole. I sat down and soon grasped the entire story.

As the drama unfolded, I began to realise it was something special and of a greater magnitude than at first thought.

The reception on the radio was first class but it all ended when the skipper of a coaster ship said there was nothing that could live in those seas and they were pulling out.

I went down to Donaghadee that night and it was a very poignant scene.

The lifeboat did a round-up of all the people aboard — and when you realised the number involved it became clear that this was one of the greatest sea tragedies in Irish history.

One neighbour of mine asked me if their relative's name was on the list of survivors — and unfortunately I had to tell them it wasn't.

Later, we interviewed a seaman on the ship and asked him why none of the women and children were saved. He said that when they went down to the lifeboats they would have been standing up as they boarded and would simply have tumbled into the sea.

We were stunned at just how many lives had been lost in such a small area of sea, although it has always been known as one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world.

The Belfast Telegraph told the terrible story on its front page that night and the next day we turned out a special edition.

The repatriation arrangement was made at Donaghadee. The whole place was in a state of shock and utter sadness at the scale of the loss of life.

Of course, it was a reminder of the Titanic — not as large a disaster, but still as tragic.

The story was an exercise in how the Belfast Telegraph tells big stories affecting Northern Ireland.

As journalists, we were looking at the horror and the sadness that was developing among the relatives of those who had drowned. It was a heartbreaking story for the paper — and recalling it now brings it all back to me.

Day a match turned to front page horror

The Ibrox Disaster, in which 66 people would eventually die following a crowd crush at an Old Firm game, left an indelible mark on Malcolm. He filed this report on the day it happened.

Forty people were confirmed to have been killed and almost 100 injured when steel railings at entrance 13 at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, collapsed today at the end of the match with Celtic. The figures, however, were unconfirmed by Glasgow police.

Ambulance men and spectators bent over children in desperate attempts to give them the kiss of life but in some cases there appeared to be no response.

Hundreds from the 80,000 crowd had spilled from the ground towards Cairnlea Road — most of them Rangers fans. Then the steel barriers collapsed and the fans fell on top of each other. The scene of panic was indescribable.

Behind them hundreds more were pressing on, unaware of the tragedy that had happened.

The shuttle services of ambulances ran round the Ibrox Park pitch. Stretcher cases were laid out on the track and fans began helping the injured to the dressing rooms which had been converted into casualty stations.

The floodlights remained on. So, too, did all the lights in the stands and the only sound which could be heard was the wail of sirens.

Police and ambulance men had a difficult job getting the injured back up the slopes and down the terracing to the pitch. At one period almost 30 bodies lay along the touchline goal. It was impossible to say whether they were still alive or not.

Ambulance men, working in their shirt sleeves, raced across the pitch. Police stood over the bodies. It was a macabre scene.

Everyone tried to help.

Another fleet of ambulances had battled their way through the crowds from the Central Park. With them were doctors and nurses to help the over-burdened St Andrew's ambulance staff.

As the white-coated doctors arrived they examined the bodies lying in a line along the touchline. They worked by the light of the floodlights in the icy cold. Fog, too, was descending on the stadium.

Nurses, their uniforms blood-stained, attempted to give resuscitation to many but it was often hopeless. Another soccer tragedy had struck.

As the bodies lay on the pitch it was obvious they had been trampled on. Faces were black and blue, clothes had been ripped in the crush. Ambulances conveyed them to the mortuary.

Rangers' manager Willie Waddell, who with Celtic boss Jock Stein watched horrified, described it as tragic. Commented Stein: “Football becomes insignificant when you see something like this happening.”

By 5pm the pitch had been cleared of all the dead and injured.

Troubled times for a football legend

Malcolm's World Cup report from the day a hero of the 1966 final was detained by the authorities in Colombia.

Mexico City, Friday. England captain Bobby Moore, released after the Bogota bracelet episode, today rejoined his team-mates at Guadalajara, where they are training for Tuesday's opening World Cup tie against Romania — and despite rumours to the contrary he will definitely be in the side.

Although the tension and anxiety of the last few days has taken a decided toll, Moore looked relaxed when he flew in here early today on an Argentinian airliner.

On board he had been greeted with cries of “Bravo, Bobby” from a group of Argentinian soccer followers. Moore (right) was met by the Earl of Harewood, president of the Football Association and chairman Dr Andrew Stephen.

Hundreds of newspapermen and television crews waited to interview him in the international airport lounge, but he was quickly rushed to a downtown hotel for an overnight stay.

“I have been training regularly at the Milanarois club in Bogota — watched by guards — but am anxious to get back to the boys and preparation for our first match,” said Moore.

“I've been on 24-hour call every day but, frankly, everybody has been pretty decent about it. Things could have been much more difficult in the circumstances.”

Moore intends cooperating with the Colombian authorities to ensure that his name is cleared, for he feels that a stigma still exists. So, too, does FA secretary Dennis Follows, who accompanied him from Bogota.

“It was a most unsatisfactory outcome because our first priority was to try and get Bobby vindicated,” he said.

Asked whether he thought a South American country was behind Moore's detention, Mr Follows said: “I don't think there was any kind of sinister activity on the part of any state. I think someone lost a bracelet and thought it was a good idea to get Bobby Moore to pay for it.”

Moore, for the first time in a week sat back and enjoyed a western film on the aircraft. Now he returns to the hard grind of defending the Jules Rimet trophy and no matter how one looks at it, there are indications of a psychological backlash.

Meanwhile, FIFA representatives will today discuss a request from Mexico to include another player in their list of 22 as a replacement for midfield star Onfre, who fractured a leg in training.

Ron Greenwood, manager of Moore's club, West Ham, said at Leon he believed Moore's performance in the World Cup would not be affected by the events in Columbia. He said: “The whole secret of Bobby is his dedication to football. He is a dedicated professional and I believe he will put this thing right out of his mind.”

When the voice of Ol’ Blue Eyes held him spellbound

The Chairman of the Board was 65 and still doing it his way at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Enthralled, Malcolm filed this story for the Telegraph.

It may be the sophisticated Eighties. The era of pop but nothing changes when Ol’ Blue Eyes is in “dear old London Town”.

Francis Albert Sinatra still possesses the charisma which unquestionably makes him the king of showbusiness or the Chairman of the Board.

The Royal Festival Hall, on the Thames Embankment, was filled with expectancy.

With a brusque walk, silver-haired Francis Albert arrived on stage, taking the thousands by surprise, the house lights still full on. Indeed, it was like a chairman entering the company's annual dinner instead of a world star about to give concert. From that moment he was in total command, confident, almost arrogant and in rapport with his fans.

Instantly I knew he had done it again as he had when watching him at The Sands, Las Vegas, and at the Cobo Hall, Detroit. The years had rolled on but Sinatra still “slayed them in the aisles” with his distinctive voice and his personality.

This was a superior Sinatra show, although many would agree with The Times critic when he said that the consistency of tone throughout the register is no longer as marked as in his earlier years, but the light vibrato remains.

I've Got You Under My Skin, The Best Of You Is Yet To Come, I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, In The Wee Small Hours, When Your Lover Has Gone were beautifully performed with vitality, flexibility and positiveness.

I had been engrossed. Shut your eyes and the Festival Hall had become the Rustic Cabin, Englewood, New Jersey, where Frank was discovered, the Glen Island casino. The swing era plus again.

Then it was back to stern reality in the cool of the London night air — and we wondered how would Francis Albert, that phenomenon, like the newly groomed Big Ben, go on forever.

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