Fans unite in respect for victims of Ibrox tragedy
Ibrox was again an emotive place yesterday as the 66 victims of the 1971 New Year disaster were remembered, 40 years to the day of the tragedy that reshaped the future of the club.
Rangers marked the anniversary with a number of tributes prior to the Old Firm derby.
Both sets of players wore black armbands and there was a minute's silence before kick-off ,respected by every fan in the stadium. The teams were led out by John Greig and Billy McNeill, the respective captains of that era.
And fans will also be able to pay their respects at a memorial service at Ibrox today.
The importance of the occasion was underlined by another great for whom every detail of the tragic events of that day remain imprinted in his mind as though it was yesterday.
Sandy Jardine was part of the Rangers team who drew 1-1 with rivals Celtic in that fateful Old Firm derby of January 2, 1971.
Like the rest of the players, he was initially oblivious to the disaster which unfolded at the end of the game as hundreds of fans found themselves engulfed in a terrifying crush on Stairway 13 as they headed for the exits.
Four decades on, Jardine can still vividly recall the bodies lined up behind the goals, the frantic activity of rescue workers and how the death toll continued to rise until it was confirmed that 66 people had perished.
He said: “I can remember everything. The game wasn't a great game. It finished 1-1, Celtic scored in the 89th minute and we centred the ball and went straight up the park and scored.
“We came off the park at 1-1 and, usually when you get a draw, everybody is reasonably happy.
“It was only after we were in the dressing room for about 10 minutes that somebody came running in and asked us to get out the dressing room as quickly as possible. They didn't give us a reason.
“Then we heard there had been an accident and we started to get ready quickly. They started to bring some of the injured people in on stretchers and laid them out.
“I can remember going to the edge of the tunnel and looking over to the far side and seeing all the bodies behind the goal. There was a huge amount of ambulances and activity.
“By then, there were eight people dead. I was travelling back to Edinburgh in the car and eight went to 22 and then went up to 66 people.
“It was a very, very sad day. You just can't comprehend it.
“It was bad enough for us so it must have been unbelievable for the families to see their loved ones going off to a football game and never coming back.
“Ibrox today is probably a fitting tribute because, out of that disaster, the club made a new stadium which was hugely safer than what it was in the past.”
Rangers boss Walter Smith, himself, was a survivor of the Ibrox Disaster, having escaped the devastating crush with his brother.
He said: “Men, women and children lost their lives that day and they will never be forgotten by this club or our fans.
“They will also never be forgotten by the people of Glasgow who came together in the days and weeks following the disaster.
“It didn't matter what football team you supported, or even if you were a football fan, the city united in grief.”
Jardine said: “It's very important. It's very important for the families who lost their loved ones but also very important for the supporters.
“It had a huge effect on myself and I'm sure it had a huge effect on the supporters who attended the match that day.
“It's something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I think the club is doing the right thing remembering those victims.
“It's difficult to think it has been 40 years, you wonder where the time has gone. But I have to be honest and say, at this time of year, my thoughts are always with the families of those who lost their loved ones.
“It will always live with me and I'm sure it will live with all the players who played that day because it had a profound effect on everybody in the club.
“That's why we want to continue to do this tastefully and do it right and I think it's a fitting memory to the unfortunate 66 people who lost their lives.”
Rangers Chief Executive Martin Bain also stressed the importance of the club remembering those who died on that fateful day 40 years ago.
“The Monday memorial service at Ibrox will be attended by the families, with our own first-team directors, management, various dignitaries and, indeed, representatives of Celtic as well. Our supporters are very, very welcome.
“I would expect there will be a large amount of floral tributes and wreaths laid, not just at the monument but at the former site of Stairway 13.
“The club will make sure that all those floral tributes at yesterday’s game will be moved into the stadium and laid onto the pitch for the memorial service itself.
“I hope, and I do firmly believe, it will really recognise something that has been a tragic part of the club's history.”