Ibrox disaster: I was 11 and watched horror unfold from press box

For Jane Doe, it was her first and last experience of a football match and an event she’d like to forget, but never will.

A ticket for the game submitted by Donald Sutherland.
A ticket for the game submitted by Donald Sutherland.

Jane, whose real identity has been withheld at the request of her family, was aged just 11 when she joined her journalist father in the press box at Ibrox for the traditional New Year’s Old Firm match on January 2, 1971.

Keen to escape long hours of adult chat and boredom at her grandparents home in Glasgow, Jane had decided to tag along with her dad, who was a motor sport writer for the Express, and wouldn’t normally be covering the football.

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"I will never forget it,” she said. “I was spending New Year through in Glasgow with family.

"My dad was actually a motoring journalist, but was called in to cover the Old Firm game as half the other reports were either on holiday or still recovering from Hogmanay. He didn’t know much about football and let me come along as a treat.”

But the treat took a decidedly sour turn as the match reached its conclusion. Following 90 goalless minutes of football in front of 80,000 supporters, legendary Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone gave the visitors the lead.

Thousands of dejected Rangers fans were already making their way towards the exits when Colin Stein grabbed an equaliser at the final whistle.

Workmen clear the barricades from stairway 13 at Ibrox stadium, scene of the tragedy that killed 66 football fans on January 2 1971. PIC: TSPL.

At Stairway 13, it was alleged that one fan had fallen on their way out, causing a chain reaction and a massive pile-up of people, who began to be crushed by the immense pressure.

One theory, that was later thrown out in the official inquiry into the tragedy, was that Rangers fans had turned back to get into the stadium when they heard the roar go up at Stein’s equalising goal, leading to the crush.

Perched in the press box, young Jane unfortunately had a prime vantage point and witnessed horrific scenes that will forever be burned into her memory.

She said: "We were sitting in a bird’s eye position in the press box and saw the entire tragedy unfold, although obviously didn’t realise the magnitude at the time.

"Just before the end, with the result apparently obvious, people began to drift out the stadium. When the final goal was scored, you could see the flow of people trying to get back in.

"There was a seething mass around the steps, with people pushing to get back in and others still trying to leave, then suddenly the movement stopped.

"It was a dreich night, but the floodlights meant I could see everything. I could see men dragging others onto the pitch by their arms, bouncing down the steps. More and more people ended up on the pitch, with a little crowd around each one lying on the ground.

"Some people just ran around, hands in the air, or over their faces, obviously distraught. Although the tragedy happened on Stairway 13, there was no room to treat anyone there, and it was impossible to reach the street, so people headed back into the stadium. It was so quiet, despite the thousands of people there.”

A total of 66 people died in the Ibrox disaster, with at least 200 more left injured in what was then the worst stadium tragedy that Britain had ever witnessed. Official figures show there was a disproportionate number of young victims that day, including five boys from the Fife town of Markinch, who had all left on the same supporters bus together.

Jane continues: "For some weird reason, those lying were tidied into straight rows. I saw a policeman walk along the rows with a mirror in his hands, which he held over the mouths of the injured to check for signs of life. There were so many dead, it was immediately apparent which they were.

"The ambulances finally appeared on the pitch, but it was too late for so many. They’d suffocated or been crushed right at the beginning.

"The dead and injured were laid immediately below me around the goalpost, so at first my dad tried to shield me, but it was impossible.

"I was glued to the front of the press box – terrible as it was – I couldn’t stop watching. I could see desperate pumping on chests or kisses of life, then it would stop and a jacket placed over the face. Eventually the jacket would be replaced by rows of white sheets.

"Through the mist and rain with the floodlights on, it was surreal. I stayed there for another two hours until my mother eventually managed to make contact with my dad – no mobile phones in those days – but she’d heard about what had happened from a friend who was a police officer and was obviously worried sick.

"Dad went back to his office to start work on the report, while the officer drove me back through the hordes of crying people outside the stadium. I’d never have got back without him.”

Despite her tender years at the time of the disaster, Jane says the experience of witnessing the tragedy unfold at Ibrox that day will stay with her for the rest of her days.

She adds: "When Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough happened, it was like a replay. There are so many little details that stick in my mind, even after all this time.

“It was a dreadful event, something you never forget – especially as you get older. I was a paramedic for some years and I had other jobs where I saw some things which affected me, but Ibrox has always remained in my mind”.

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