Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith will quietly pay their respects to the victims of the Ibrox Disaster today on the 50th anniversary and continue to feel fortunate that their lives were not devastated by it.
Smith and his brother Ian were caught up in the disastrous crush on Stairway 13 at the end of the traditional New Year Old Firm clash on January 2, 1971– but somehow managed to escape.
Ferguson and his family feared they had lost his brother Martin when he failed to return home having watched the match from the Copland Road terracing – only to be reunited after an agonising wait.
It’s a numbing day that is forever etched into their memories.
Smith said: “I wasn’t playing for Dundee United so my brother Ian and I got the local supporters’ bus to the game.
“Being from the East End, Stairway 13 was the one we always used when we went to Ibrox.
“When we were leaving the game, we got caught on the staircase but we were fortunate that we were not in the area where most of the people were killed.
“In these days you were used to the squashing and the hustle and bustle of trying to get away from games.
“It wasn’t unusual to completely stop, but this was different as we were pushed to the side and it was a scramble out over the top of the fencing.
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“The crowd sort of just came to a standstill. I can remember near me the crowd collapsed to the side but still I can’t remember ever feeling in any sort of danger.
“Ian and I were about a third of the way down. I think the majority of the people who died were further down the stairs, around the bottom third.
“So, when we found out later what had happened, we realised how lucky we’d been.
“We must have jumped over the fence somehow – I remember so many others doing the same.
“It was only when we got back to Carmyle we realised the magnitude of the problem because there were so many people waiting for us.
“It’s a vivid memory when it comes to the New Year games and we all remember the sadness of it.”
Ferguson, who had left Rangers 15 months before, rushed to catch the derby action when he had an unexpected day off.
He said: “Our game on the 2nd with Airdrie was called off so I dashed to Ibrox with Andy Roxburgh, who was my fellow centre forward at Falkirk.
“I saw Old Bob the commissionaire who managed to get me a couple of tickets.
“We were thinking about leaving near the end when Jimmy Johnstone scored and then Colin Stein equalised.
“As soon as that happened, we dashed out to get to the car park. Andy lived in Ralston so I dropped him off.
“Then I came back down past the Southern General Hospital towards the Clydeside and I saw all the ambulances going in.
“I thought to myself ‘Christ, there must have been some fighting’.
“Then when I got home my mother and father were so worried because my brother Martin hadn’t come back and he was there in that area of the ground.
“It turned out he had left early and had gone to the Rolls Royce Club and didn’t know anything about it. It was such a terrible day.”
Dundee United, and Smith, were the first visitors to return to Ibrox on January 16.
Smith said: “I can’t remember too much about the game but as you can imagine the atmosphere was so subdued and quiet.
“Looking back, it was just a disastrous day for everyone. We were the lucky ones.”