Ibrox disaster: We were saved from tragic crush by offer of free drink
On the afternoon of January 2, 1971, a Glasgow bar manager unwittingly offered two young musicians the chance to see out the rest of their lives.
Folk singer Fraser Bruce has released a new song recalling his lucky escape from the horror of the Ibrox disaster, 50 years on from the event in which 66 football supporters tragically lost their lives in a crush at the end of the game he was supposed to attend.
The poignant ditty details how Fraser, then aged 23, and his late friend Allan Morris, tempted by the offer of free alcohol, gave up their match tickets and chose to stay put to continue their folk session at the city’s Scotia Bar.
Allan’s Celtic-supporting father-in-law had gotten hold of a pair of briefs for the Ne’er Old Firm derby and gifted them to the two young men. The only catch was they were for the Rangers end of the ground, entering and exiting via the “steep, steep” Stairway 13.
Still, they intended to head to Govan, but not before a few drinks and a quick session on the north bank of the Clyde at the Scotia, as they did most Saturdays.
Leaving it a bit late, the boys asked the bar manager, John Rowan, to call them a taxi to get them to the match in time.
Realising this might have a negative affect on the 'session', John Rowan suggested to Fraser and Allan that if they stayed on, rather than go to the match, then he would keep them going on drinks, at no charge. This offer was too much for two young men to refuse.
Fraser recalls: "Allan wasn't particularly a football fan. I’m football daft, but not Rangers or Celtic. But when he got offered the tickets I said ‘take them, take them’.
"But on the day, we went into the Scotia Bar – that was our life on a Saturday, and we weren’t going to change that.
"We got a bit of a sing-song going and after a couple of pints, we were in and cosy with a crowd round us, and realised we had to get a taxi for the match.
"The manager comes to us and says, ‘oh, yer no’ leaving, are ye? You guys are leading this sing-song ... if I keep you in drink, how do you fancy just staying on?’. For two men in their early 20s, that was like winning on the puggy. Free drink? We’d been given the tickets anyway, so we weren’t out of pocket.”
Getting in to their taxi home from the Scotia, they asked the driver what the score was for the Old Firm match. He didn't know, but had heard that Celtic had won, when, in fact, the home side had drawn the score level to one apiece courtesy of a later-than-late Colin Stein effort at the final whistle.
Fraser says: "It was a really strange journey home because, in the folk pub, nobody had cared about the football match. We came out of the Scotia not knowing what the result was and got into a taxi.
"But when the driver turned on the radio, the first thing we heard was that there were two folk dead at Ibrox Park, so we turned it up. Over the course of our journey the death toll went up to nine and kept rising.”
This was in the days before mobile phones. There were families throughout the country who were getting seriously worried as there was no quick may of finding out if their kin were safe.
By the time Fraser and Allan got home, the numbers had risen dramatically. The final toll was 66, with many more seriously injured.
He says: "The last thing we thought of at that point was stopping to phone home to the wives. We were more worried about getting a lashing because we were p***ed.”
Several years back, Fraser wrote a song, Big Al and Ibrox, which told the full story of that fateful day. The song, which has often scored a big emotional response when performed live, is included on his recent album, Every Song’s A Story.
Fraser says: "That day always stuck in my mind. Allan Morris died quite young, in his 50s, and I was just singing once, ‘shall we have another pint, Big Al,’ and the song developed from that.
"That was about six years ago. I didn’t write it with this anniversary in mind, but it got delayed because we realised we had a good album going. It would’ve been out already, but then Covid happened.
"It just dawned on me recently that the release was going to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. Completely fortuitous, it wasn’t some cheap thing that we had planned out or anything like that.”
Fraser has often reflected on how lucky they were as they would have been exiting down Stairway 13, the site of the disaster. They would also have been leaving early to avoid the rush, as were those involved in the crush.
He adds: "The whole idea, is that you get to a T Junction sometimes in life and depending which way you turn, your life changes. For Allan and me, being offered free drink changed our lives. It always preyed on me how lucky I was.
"Had we gone to the game, we would have wanted to grab a taxi as early as possible, so we really would’ve been amongst the crowd. We wouldn’t have been hanging on until the end.”
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