Ibrox 66

New Year Bells had been ringing,
All of Scotland was singing,
The old year had died,
And the new had been born.
As the news of disaster
From Ibrox came spreading,
The news that would cause
A whole nation to mourn
- Matt McGinn

It was the year of Ulster 71. But few remember that today. 1971 is better remembered for the disastrous, draconian and discriminate internment policy that poured petrol on to the flames of an already violent Northern Irish political conflict. Also that year, on the second day of it, lest we forget, 66 Glasgow Rangers fans, 33 of them teenagers, died in a crush tragedy at Ibrox Park. The Gers were playing their old Firm rivals Celtic in the New Years clash, invariably a big event in the Scottish soccer calendar which was always avidly monitored from this side of the Irish Sea.

Two years after the event I stood in a crowd of 134, 000 at Hampden Park for a Celtic Rangers cup final. Little in terms of ground construction had changed. We had to rely on the strength of the crash barriers to keep us safe. With each sway of the crowd I felt my heart pulsate; Colm White’s son asking me to grip his father as the crowd heaved and hoed. Colm was a heavy man but I held onto him all the same. Celtic scored two that day but I felt it would have been safer had they scored none.

There was a big festival held for part of the year of the disaster in Belfast’s Botanic gardens. It was staged to promote Ulster 71. The latter was less concerned with bringing people together and was more a celebration of unionism’s political project. It didn’t stop nationalist youth attending the event. Among other attractions there were modern discos – which meant the opposite sex – and an opportunity for aggro as it was then termed. It was the scene of many sectarian clashes between nationalist and unionist groupings. Most of them were minor, amounting to little more than shouting matches. Whatever fighting there was has less prominence in my mind today than memories of our crowd shouting ’66 Orange squash’ at the other side.

I can’t recall joining in the chants. If I refrained it was not because I was any different from those who did. I shouted a fair amount of vile things, and worse, at loyalists in my day. It was just that I had a close friend who lived a street away who was a Rangers fan and even at that impressionable age I was caught in the middle of divided loyalties. But for him I would not have given things like that a second thought and would have ploughed straight in with the rest of them. And at the end of it all maybe I did shout but memory has shaded things my way.

We were young and shallow and were the product of our times. Today it seems abominable that our sectarianism blinded us to the literally crushing agony and grief experienced by so many people including children guilty of nothing other than going to watch their team play soccer.

Celtic manager Jock Stein said that the tragedy made Glasgow's religious bigotry seem "sordid and little". But things in Belfast were sordid and big. It was a terrible tragedy that should have been met by nationalist Belfast as Aberfan had been a few years earlier. But it wasn’t, at least not in the circles I was familiar with. If the older generation sympathised I have no memory of it. In my cultural circles Rangers supporters were children of a lesser god. Protestant gods didn’t count.

Since then we have had Bradford, Hysel and Hillsborough, all of which have dampened any enthusiasm to shout about soccer stadium disasters. Yesterday, it was both heartening and poignant to witness both sets of supporters at the Ibrox Old Firm clash observe one minutes silence for the victims of that terrible day in 1971.

The loss of a child can accordion 40 years into one time frame. 13 year old Peter Easton’s mother who gave into her son’s pleading to go to the game blames herself for his death. It is mournful that she should have to end her days with that haunting thought. The last thing she gave her son in his short life was a treat. After that it was completely out of her control and the only thing on her hands today is a mother’s love.

Whatever way a games goes, regardless of the passions it might engender, there is no loss suffered like the loss of a fan who fails to return home.


  1. Anthony if there is anyone from the Belfast area and of our generation who didnt harbour or express secterian opinions they surely would be in a minority,from 68 onwards events took on the speed of an out of control train ,sucking a lot of us into its wake,fortunately some of us have emerged wiser and more tolerant,though its been a long hard road, so I think this post was lovely to remember kids who died for nothing other than the love of the beautiful game,no matter what foot they kicked with, last night my wife had to chuck a paving slab through the window of her friends sons house, he had,nt been seen since last Wed, and they found the mans body upstairs,your post reminded me of the grief a mother endures when she has to bury a child mo cara. poignant.

  2. Thanks for posting Antony,

    I love football and to me, it is the greatest, most universal, working class pastime. While I was not born in '66, I vividly remember watching the horrors of Heysel and Hillborough unfold on television.

    Sadly, all over the world, extremist groups, more often than not with a far-right agenda have exploited people's loyaly to their football clubs for very unsavorty ends.

    Given my background, I had to smile when I heard the result of the old firm derby the other day.

    At the same time, to this day I am saddened by the amount of sectarian singing and chanting I hear from Celtic fans in my local area, far from Glasgow or even the six counties.

    I think Celtic and Rangers can and should do an awful lot more to try to promote understanding across the religious divide. They've done very well in the past through exploiting sectarian predijuces.


  3. AM-

    Unionist lite called this a poignant post on twitter-

    he also says you are a belfast
    nationalist- never thought of it before but do you mind people saying you are nationalist or a catholic

    Im a republican but i dont mind if some one called me a catholic republican-

    A lot of what Marty said was/ is the truth- still a few about who just hate anothers religion-or just using religion like foot ball has the excuse.

  4. Soccer was always a working class sport. [ Roy keane among many others might suggest it has been hijacked and quitened down] Rugby and equestrian sports were insulated being middle/upper class.Celtic and Rangers like other intense derbys recieve their intensity from political and historic rivalries. Just like Barca and Real Madrid. It gives it the edge on other fixtures for intensity.
    Personally i hope that fixture never enters the prawn sanwich mediocre atmasphere of what Alex Ferguson himself described as the Old Trafford graveyard. 40 or 50 quid into a silent movie, no thanks.
    I've been to Old Trafford, Hihbury, Elland Road, Stamford Bridge among others, Celtic v Rangers is beyond compare, long may it continue.
    I also read about the mothers angst yesterday and was saddened. I'm delighted the minutes silence was honoured. But once that minutes over..get stuck right into them!!!

  5. Could i just add that whilst crowd trouble and violence have flared in Scotland and England over the years, and other disasters have had accusations and counter accusations of blame,the Ibrox disaster had none of that attached to it. I also noticed from photos the 13 stairwell was open air, all the more striking when looking at the bent and broken barriers.

  6. Wise words indeed Marty, not many of us who have not been caught up in vile secterianism, given the situation we were born in to. Especially not easy for those of us who have been personally effected by the loyalist bullet to not let it totally overcome us. Been Celtic supporter for as long as I remember but lately find the football totally underwhelming and Sundays game was the first I'd seen this season.
    As for Michael Henry and his Catholic Republican, well that says it all...

  7. Anthony,
    McGinn has long been a hero of mine a great Glaswegian socialist. Rarely acknowledged, even in his native city. That song (to the tune of James Connolly) is all the more poignant as he was himself from an Irish Celtic supporting background

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  10. mise eire,

    "...at least Rovers beat Fram Rykavik 3-0 in the Champions League{albeit 28 years ago}...the northsiders of dublin{Bohs}had to suffer a 4-1 defeat against WELSH side TNS last year.."

    Shocking defeat, TNS's averge home gate is about 1,000 compared to Bohs 2,500. A real low point for the League of Ireland.


  11. mise eire
    been to upton park, notts county, nots forest along with windsow park, oriel park and tolka park in Ireland, the irish like their parks they can stroll around the place!!
    is there a Linfield Dundalk fixture coming up?

  12. There's simply nothing like attending an Old Firm game. I try to explain to people over here in the US what its like but its like describing a color that they've never seen, words can't do it justice. The political and historic hatred between the two sides is incomparable to anything over here. Rivalry is what makes sport so great, and Celtic Rangers is the world's best rivalry.

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  14. mise eire,

    I have been talking to moderate unionist footie fans about an all-ireland league for years. The thing is most see benefits, but they are so in love with the Norn Iron international team they can't stand the idea of re-unifying the two assocaitions.

    The original split had more to do with the IFA being completely northern based and centric than politics. Weirdly many players played for both international teams up until the 1950's.

    Also the bloody blazers (as Eamonn Dunphy might say) in both associations would hate to lose any of their power and privileges.


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  16. mise eire,

    A fine dream, congrats on the league B.T.W. I went to the cup final, but was up for Sligo (even had money on them).

    Best 0-0 draw I ever saw.

    I hope the Hoops put up a better show than Bohs in the Champions League next season.

    I follow Bray Wanderers myself.


  17. Anthony,

    Amazingly, I had never heard of this disaster at Ibrox. It certainly seems to have been just as horrific as Hillsborough. I know some people complain about the lack of atmosphere in modern all-seater stadiums, but at least these terrible human crushes are a thing of the past.

  18. Garycrow/Mise Eire, 
    I'm Cliftonville myself, to be honest support them more now than I do Celtic, think they're more deserving of it than the big business team the hoops have become. Celtic just aren't the same as when I was growing up. Obviously given my current location don't get to see many games except if the reds are in the Setanta, is that competition still going?
    Always interested in the IFA/FAI split and you're right it had more to do with the IFA being Belfast based and the free state teams having little say, rather than on purely religious or political grounds. Alot of heads from the south i've spoken to seem to think the IFA was the one that split! I honestly think a 32 county league would be a winner and a slight possibility, would also help the cause for a national side. Can't see that happening though, too many in the IFA who wouldn't want to loose the cushy numbers they've been in for years.

  19. martydownunder
    id be a gleanavon man if pushed. re cliftonville+celtic...FRANK MCAVENNY...
    Cliftonville supporters, some bhoys. i remember,'premark got a whole lot in store for christmas, a whole lot in store for you..
    Bradford got a hole .....
    megga crazy lads, some craic, i was at parkhead when the team bus pulled up and all the irish lads shouted cliftonville cliftonville cliftonville and mc Avenny saluted them from the team bus.

  20. martydown under,

    From Wiki,

    The 2011 Setanta Sports Cup will kick off on February 14 and conclude on May 14 and will be played over four rounds, each round over two legs, except the final. Six Airtricity League of Ireland and six Carling Premiership teams will take part. Clubs who finish in the top four positions in the Airtricity League and Carling Premiership will be invited to participate, along with the winners of both the FAI and Irish Cup competitions. The first round will commence in early February, with eight clubs taking part in that stage of the tournament. The two league champions, FAI Ford Cup winners and JJB Sports Cup winners will receive byes into the quarter-final stage. The final will be played in Northern Ireland should a team from there qualify. Milo Corcoran, Chairman of the Setanta Sports Cup Organising Committee said he believed the knockout format "will add even greater excitement to the tournament".[6]

    So Yes it is still going, you can work out yourself whether the reds will be in it. I don't follow the Irish League myself,


  21. Watching the news tonight I find myself agreeing with Gregory Campbell something I never thought I would do,anyway Campbell calls for the resignation of the chief executive of NI Water and the minister responsible for that dept i.e Connor Murphy, the fall guy will be the chief executive but Murphy wont do the honorable thing.

  22. Cheers Rory was unsure given Setantas financial troubles that it was going ahead. And yes the reds will be in it. If you look what's happened Derry and Glentoran (and how many more are on the brink?), I think clubs all over the country should be looking at ways to save the game and if anyone had the balls they should be pressing to at least expand this cross border competition

  23. This is my second rant this evening
    against Marty-

    Marty you oppose Sinn fein in
    goverment at stormont, as is your right but now you support a dup
    man who gets paid for doing the

    If the pope went against Sinn Fein
    would you turn into a pontiff man-

  24. No Mickeyboy I dont support a DUP man,I just happen to agree with his praticular view in relation to this issue over who is culpable in the ni water fiasco,as for the pope going against psf,it wasnt that long ago that republicans were being condemed from the pulpits and we were even refused entry into the churches to bury our dead while the remains of volunteers had the national flag draped over their coffins, my wife in the height of the loyalist muder campain was named from the pulpit,and now we witness the same wasters sitting on all the boards with their new found friends in psf. no Mickeyboy if the psf and the priests were beating the f##k out of each other I,d sit back and laugh I dont think I,d. be alone.

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  26. Antoin,

    To the best of my knowledge yes. But as was mentioned in previous comments the split did not occur as a result of partition.

    It had more to do with the fact that the IFA was Belfast based and southern based football clubs felt they were not getting a fair deal.


  27. martydown under,

    Just published on the FAI website

    The Setanta Sports Cup for 2011 will kick-off on Monday February 14 with one match in Belfast and a second in Dublin.

    Windsor Park will host a contest between Linfield and Dundalk while Sporting Fingal will play Lisburn Distillery at Dalymount Park.

    Bohemians are the reigning Setanta Sports Cup champions and they will open their defence of the title with a match against Portadown at Dalymount Park a week later when St. Patrick's Athletic will travel to Cliftonville.

    Mr. Milo Corcoran, Setanta Sports Cup Chairman commented: "I'm looking forward to the competition starting again.

    "With the changes to the format and the extension of the tournament to six clubs from each jurisdiction, it promises to produce some very exciting games.

    "There'll be a lot of interest in the visit of Dundalk to Linfield on opening night. It's a tie that should whet the appetite of all football fans from north and south of the island."

    The opening fixtures in the competition are:

    Monday, February 14 - First Leg
    Linfield v Dundalk; Sporting Fingal v Lisburn Distillery

    Monday, February 21 - First Leg
    Bohemians v Portadown; Cliftonville v St. Patrick's Athletic

    Monday, February 28 - Second Leg
    Dundalk v Linfield; Lisburn Distillery v Sporting Fingal

    Tuesday, March 1 - Second Leg
    Portadown v Bohemians; St. Patrick's Athletic v Cliftonville

    All matches kick-off at 7.45 pm. Kick-off time may change in the event of a fixture being televised live.


  28. Dundalk v Linfield Feb 14th...i do say, how romantic. be sure and bring a rose.

  29. Hopefully it'll not be a valentines day massacre other the scoreline against the blues. Those two clubs have had friendly links for years now, came about after the dust up back in the 70s.

  30. Marty,

    ‘if there is anyone from the Belfast area and of our generation
    who didn’t harbour or express sectarian opinions they surely would be in
    a minority.’

    I think there is much to be said for that.

    Terrible for your wife to have to make that discovery. Her friend must be devastated.


    ‘I love football and to me, it is the greatest, most universal, working
    class pastime.’

    I think it is the same for many people. I love it when the World Cup and European Championships come round.

    In Belfast there was enormous sectarianism with Celtic supporters. I guess it was the same with Rangers fans but at least we didn’t have to live beside them or listen to them in pubs!


    Don’t think he referred to me as a Belfast nationalist but said it was a piece on what Belfast nationalism thought – something like that.

    ‘but do you mind people saying you are nationalist or a catholic?’

    Never much thought about it Michael.

    Ryan ,

    ‘There's simply nothing like attending an Old Firm game.’

    I thought the atmosphere was second to none. There is a passion there which gives vent to something you describe so well as being indescribable!

  31. Alfie,

    There was no atmosphere on the Kop when I was there which was disappointing but it was definitely on display at Celtic’s ground. That is the most electric atmosphere I have ever experienced at a game.