‘I recall seeing a tangled staircase and then it all hit home’

Share this article

KENNY McAllan and his 13-year-old daughter Carly will form part of the 50,000-plus crowd at Sunday’s match between Rangers and Celtic.

But it will be an altogether different game to the one he witnessed on January 2, 1971 – the day of the Ibrox Disaster – a day which will haunt Scottish football forever, when 66 football fans lost their lives and 145 were injured.

While this will be Carly’s seventh Old Firm encounter, 40 years ago Kenny was making his first ever visit to watch his heroes, and it is one he will never forget.

He said: “I was up in Glasgow on the Wednesday with my dad picking up stuff for his shop and he took me along to Ibrox to see the stadium.

“We saw one of the groundsmen and he took me into the stadium and I remember being in awe.

“We went along to the ticket office to see if there were any left for the match and we were lucky. I couldn’t sleep the night before.”

That feeling of excitement was no doubt shared by the all-ticket crowd of 80,000 and Kenny was joined by his dad Jack and brother Ian (a Celtic fan). The Hawick Rangers Supporters’ Club also ran a bus, hired for just £27.

Although the game itself failed to live up to expectations, Kenny simply marvelled in the occasion.

“It was misty and cold and there was an eerie atmosphere. I can’t recall much about the game itself, I spent most of the time just looking at the supporters all standing watching the match,” he said.

Five minutes from time, the game erupted when Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone opened the scoring.

Kenny said: “I’ll always remember Jimmy Johnstone jumping up and scoring with a header, him scoring that goal is always focused in my mind. It was just after that goal that my dad said it was time up, that was it.

“Rangers fans started pouring out and we were just outside, walking along past the Copeland Road stand, the Rangers end, when we scored and there were supporters all dancing and jumping about on the streets.”

Sadly, Kenny and his fellow fans were unaware of the catastrophe unfolding inside the stadium.

Although the exact cause remains unknown, it is believed someone stumbled as they made their way down the now notorious Stairway 13, causing the crowd to cave in. As more fans left the terraces the crush intensified, resulting in the collapse of several steel barriers that ran up the centre of the stairway.

Because there were so many, there was no escape, and people literally had the life squeezed out of them.

It wasn’t until the journey home in the car that the desperate news from Ibrox started filtering through. “We were on our way home, round about the London Road/Parkhead area when we heard on the radio that somebody had died and I just thought ‘bloody hell’,” said Kenny. “The longer we drove, the numbers just went up from there.”

At the other end, Hoops diehard Jim Borthwick, who had travelled to the game with pals Mick and Mack Boyd and Jim Graham, was similarly oblivious to the carnage. Just 24-years-old at the time, he revealed how his initial feelings of disappointment at the late leveller turned into complete shock.

“After the game we just got into the car and came home,” he said. “I remember three ambulances went past us, one straight after the other, and then a fire engine and we just thought things had kicked off because of the late goal scored.”

Back in Hawick, families were frantic trying to find out details of those who were at the match.

Kenny said: “My mum was crying. My grandmother was round because they’d never heard anything from us. There were no mobile phones in those days and they just knew that we were in the Rangers end.”

And Jim found himself in a similar position. He added: “My mum was phoning my ex-wife and she was phoning round, but we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know what happened until we got back in the Waverley Bar at night.

“At first we thought it was a wind-up, but then it sank in and there was just a feeling of shock.”

And that same awful feeling resonated around the country as the full scale of that terrible day became apparent.

The ages of those who lost their lives ranged from nine to 43 and they came from all over the country. Among them were five schoolboy friends from Markinch in Fife, who lived in the same street, travelled to the game together and died together.

Jim said: “We were shattered. To lose 66 lives at a football game, it doesn’t matter if they are Rangers, Celtic, black or white, it’s a horrible thing. How those poor people must have suffered. I still pray for them.”

Players and officials from both clubs joined the whole country in a period of mourning for those who died and a raffle by the Hawick RSC raised £179 for the Ibrox Disaster Fund.

It was three weeks after the tragedy that Kenny returned for a Scottish Cup tie against Falkirk. “I remember seeing the tangled staircase and the whole thing really hit home,” he said.

On Sunday, the teams will be led out by John Greig, who captained Rangers during the tragic derby, and Billy McNeill, a Celtic captain of that era. A minute’s silence will be held before kick off and both teams will play wearing black armbands.