THE 50th anniversary of the 1971 Ibrox Disaster was marked with due reverence by Rangers at the beginning of the year despite Scotland still being in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 66 fans who had lost their lives on Stairway 13 after an Old Firm game on January 2, 1971, were honoured and remembered at a socially-distanced ceremony at the John Greig statue at the corner of the Bill Struth Stand and the Copland Road Stand.  

Rangers captain James Tavernier and his Celtic counterpart Callum McGregor both laid wreaths in the centre circle after taking to the field for the second Glasgow derby match of the season and a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off.

The National:

There were no such formalities yesterday to commemorate the 25 souls who perished in the first Ibrox Disaster way back on April 5, 1902; it is a tragedy which has understandably diminished in significance considerably in the past 119 years.

Yet, the collapse of the newly-built West Tribune Stand at a Scotland match against England and the large number of fatalities had major repercussions for Rangers as well the Scottish Football Association at the time.

Indeed, they were both fortunate not to go out of business as a result.

It also led to a government ban on framework supported stands – the timber lattice structure had given way and resulted in hundreds of spectators falling to the ground 50 feet below – throughout the United Kingdom and the introduction of earth and sleeper terraces.

The National:

“The first Ibrox disaster is often forgotten,” said Rangers historian and author David Mason. “But it was an important part of our history. While the concern is always and rightly for the bereaved in these situations, the disaster could well have seen the end of Rangers Football Club and the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

“The SFA was concerned about its liability since the match was played entirely under its auspices. In order to remove the threat of action, they pledged essentially all of the money at their disposal to the Ibrox Disaster Fund that had been set up by the Lord Provost for the dependents of the victims. A contribution of £5,000 was made. It was a huge amount at the time.”

Rangers were heavily in debt because of the construction of the new stadium, which had only opened three years earlier, and were unable to make any meaningful cash contribution to the disaster fund. But they launched themselves into money raising efforts and played no fewer than 15 benefit matches over a four week period.

The Ibrox club would have to spend considerable sums over the subsequent years renovating the ground and their very existence was jeopardised by the strain that placed on them financially.

The National:

“Rangers had to contend with a criminal trial on the culpability of the contractor and then the reconstruction of the ground,” said Mason, who is in the process of chronicling the Ibrox club's history for their 150th anniversary next year and has unearthed some "valuable information" on their origins.

“The design, with the timber terracing was considered competent, but the events had tarnished the public perception on the safety of the structures. In fact, even before the game took place, many fans had concerns about whether the terraces could support large crowds.

“Much of the focus turned to the contractor who had built the fateful structure in inferior wood. He was initially arrested, but later found not culpable. The spotlight also shone upon the stadium designer, Archibald Leitch.

“When asked why he has used timber rather than steel in the design, he revealed that his design had been motivated by the club’s limited leasehold of 10 years.  He informed the court that the club could not put up a permanent structure in steel for such a short lease.

“Indeed, he highlighted that a steel structure would have been easier to maintain than timber which would be subject to decay. 

“It was evident that the structures would have to be replaced, or at least strengthened.  Already in debt for the construction of the stadium, which ended up being around £20,000, the burdens of reconstruction could easily have led to the collapse of the club.” 

The National:

Rangers had become by far and away the dominant team in the country by the time of the first Ibrox disaster; they had just won what was a record-breaking fourth consecutive Scottish title.

However, the financial pressure they came under forced them to place no fewer than 22 players, including luminaries such as John Campbell and John Wilkie, on the transfer list and within three seasons their all-conquering side had been almost completely dismantled.

William Wilton’s charges managed to win the Scottish Cup in 1903 – but after that success in that competition would elude the Govan outfit until 1928 and it would be 1911 before they lifted the league trophy once again.

Off the park, the timber terraces were removed and replaced by thousands of tons of earth. When the work was finally completed in 1909 the stadium construction had cost £45,000, considerably more than the initial £12,000 estimate given in 1899.

The National:

“The efforts of the board at the time in maintaining Rangers solvency through these difficult times, supported by their key players and their magnificent fans, cannot be underestimated,” said Mason. 

“That the club moved on and recovered, is a testament to the professionalism of the board, who steered a narrow but true path through an unprecedented storm.”

The disaster led to a change in how football stadiums were designed and terracing on earth embankments became very much the norm.

But it was a cruel twist of fate that the steep banks which replaced the wooden stand at the Glasgow ground would be where another far worse disaster would take place some 69 years later.The National: