Back in 1971, before the restructuring of Scottish football, there were only two Old Firm league games a season. On Saturday January 2nd 1971 the two bitter rivals clashed at Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium. It was, of course, a huge, and eagerly anticipated match.
Celtic, from the east end of the city, had been enjoying a period of dominance. They had won the Scottish league every season since 1965-66 a sequence that was to result in a run of nine consecutive championships. They had also become the first ever British side to lift the European Cup when, in 1967, they had beaten the mighty Inter Milan in Lisbon, 2-1.
This record would haunt Rangers until they too won nine on the trot between 1989 and 1997. The rivalry extends a lot further than these mere football statistics and is rooted in the not exclusively, Catholic (Celtic) tradition, and the largely Protestant (Rangers) background.
The days leading up to any Old Firm match, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and even families can find themselves divided as the excitement surrounding the approaching match begins to take hold.
As Celtic arrived at Ibrox on that particular day in January 1971 they were without doubt the favourites to win the match. Their team, managed by the legendary Jock Stein, contained several great players such as European Cup winners Jimmy Johnstone, and Bobby Lennox. The previous season they became the first British side to reach a second European Cup final this time losing to Holland’s Feyenoord.
Meanwhile Rangers, managed by Willie Waddell, boasted the likes of captain John Greig, Sandy Jardine, and striker Colin Stein. Despite talent of this calibre Rangers were suffering from inconsistent form and needed the points to try to prevent Celtic from winning yet another trophy.
The game was played with all the passion, and commitment expected from an Old Firm match and yet had seemingly reached a stalemate with the score set at 0-0 and time running out. Many of the fans at the Rangers end of the 80,000 all ticket crowd sensed that there would be no late dramas and began to head for the exit. The most popular exit for the East terrace was Stairway 13. It was the one nearest to the subway station.
Ibrox had been the scene of a previous catastrophe when in April 1902 the newly developed stadium witnessed the first major football related tragedy in the UK. During the Scotland v England match, part of the new wooden terracing collapsed killing 25 spectators and injuring over 500 others.
The ground gradually evolved during the interim years and by 1971 consisted of a huge bowl shaped stadium large enough to hold the massive crowds that an Old Firm match always attracted. The capacity was at one time just short of 150,000, making it the largest club ground in the UK.
The ill fated staircase had already seen incidents in 1961, 1967, and 1969 but no one could have anticipated the size of the tragedy that would change football in Glasgow forever.
The events on that tragic afternoon, at the end of a game that had been played in a largely good natured atmosphere, would change Ibrox, and the future of football stadium design.
The huge volume of people leaving the ground before the end could only listen when in the 89th minute the Celtic end went wild with delight. International winger Jimmy Johnstone had scored to put the visitors 1-0 up.
With the goal coming so late in the game Celtic, and many Rangers supporters, must have thought that the match had taken its final twist. However almost directly from the kick off Rangers attacked and striker Colin Stein dramatically equalised. There was no time left in which to restart the match and it ended 1-1.