A day of disaster which still reverberates four decades on

editorial image

SCOTTISH football came together last week to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster, writes Fiona Scott.

And among those laying floral tributes to the 66 supporters who lost their lives on stairwell 13 was Selkirk FC chairman Jim Moody and Freda Boag, wife of Selkirk RFC shop manager Gus.

Ibrox Disaster: The floral tribute laid by Jim in memory of his uncle Walter Raeburn.

Ibrox Disaster: The floral tribute laid by Jim in memory of his uncle Walter Raeburn.

It was a day that would haunt the national football fraternity forever. The youngest victim was just eight years old and a further 145 fans were injured.

The disaster took place on January 2, 1971, and Jim, who watched the news unfold slowly on his television at home, will never forget the sense of shock as his family learned of the death of his uncle Walter Raeburn, 36, who was among the Rangers fans who died in the crush.

He told TheSouthern: “I was only 21 then and had been playing rugby that day. I watched events unfold on the news when I got home along with my dad, but it wasn’t until about two hours later that the police came to the door – there were no mobile phones in those days.”

Walter was the brother of Jim’s late stepmother, Elizabeth Thomson, and was born and raised at Tinnis Farm in the Yarrow Valley along with his four sisters. Born with learning difficulties, Walter spent most of his adult life in hospital, but travelled to Ibrox on a regular basis to watch his beloved Rangers play.

“My stepmum was devastated, as you can imagine. Walter lived for Rangers and ultimately he died for them too,” said Jim.

Afterwards a myth grew that the tragedy had been caused by home fans leaving in despair after Jimmy Johnstone scored a late goal to put Celtic in front, only to turn back on hearing that Colin Stein had equalised for Rangers. But a fatal accident inquiry, held the following month, discounted this, finding that those who died had been moving in the same direction.

Jim was accompanied at the memorial ceremony by his daughter, Tracey Biggs, and grandson Mikey, and all three joined families and friends of those who died and those who survived, Rangers and Celtic players who were playing on the day of the tragedy, Scotland’s political and religious leaders, as well as supporters and current players and staff, all wishing to pay their respects.

“The whole event was really well organised,” said Jim. “In fact, it was so well organised I thought I was back at Yarrow Park.

“The service itself and the laying of the tributes was very moving.”

Forty years after the tragedy, Freda Boag still can’t bring herself to think about the events of that fateful day on which she hunted the hospitals in Glasgow, only to discover that her 16-year-old cousin John Jeffrey, from Glasgow, had also died in the crush.

“It was truly horrendous,” she told us. “The service was very emotional, but a fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives.”

Stringent safety recommendations for football grounds followed the 1971 disaster – and Ibrox Stadium itself was changed out of all recognition.