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A national tragedy: Ibrox disaster, 1902

Nearly 80,000 people squeezed into Ibrox 106 years ago this weekend to watch the 31st Scotland v England international, the first between wholly professional teams.

Nearly 80,000 people squeezed into Ibrox 106 years ago this weekend to watch the 31st Scotland v England international, the first between wholly professional teams.

The ground was state-of-the-art, built at the then substantial cost of £20,000.

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Both Rangers and Celtic wanted to host the match which went to Ibrox by just a single vote.

By the time the sides trooped off after a 1-1 draw, 26 people lay dead and 547 were injured. Grotesquely, the applause of the crowd was punctuated by groans from the injured and dying. Some casualties hung, seriously injured and upside down, from the laticework of torn girders and woodwork, before they could be lowered to the ground.

The authorities thought more havoc and injury might have been wrought if the match had been abandoned. The majority apparently left ignorant of any incident, although the match was interrupted for almost 20 minutes.

Eighteen were reported dead 24 hours later, but it was three weeks before the final victim died.

Wooden joists snapped clean through in what is now the Broomloan stand. They'd been laid on a steel frame-work, supporting wooden decking, but a hole some 20 yards square opened up. Hundreds of spectators plunged up to 40 feet to the ground. Rescuers found: "a scene of indescribable horror and confusion . . . a mass of mangled and bleeding humanity, the victims piled one above the other . . . enough to unman the strongest." The resources of the city's hospitals were over-stretched. Doctors in the crowd leant immediate help, but at Govan police station, cells were called into service as a casualty clearing station.

The scale of disfiguring injuries can best be judged from a Herald report of how the father of one unfortunate went to the Western Infirmary on Saturday night in the hope of finding his 25-year-old son, William Robertson. He was not among the injured, so the father was shown to the mortuary where he identified a body as being that of William. He was arranging the funeral when his son arrived home at Bainsford, Falkirk.

The accident, on Saturday April 5 1902, was reported in these columns on the Monday. The previous day there had been hardly any debris at the scene, according to Glasgow Herald reporters. Virtually all the timber and sheets of corrugated iron had been used as makeshift stretchers.

More than two weeks after the incident, we put the injured at 547.

The match was declared void and was replayed in Birmingham. All proceeds went to the disaster fund.

The contractor was later prosecuted, but was acquitted. However the accident ended the practice of supporting wooden terracing on steel frames. Earth embankments or concrete terracings were introduced. There were no further significant safety developments in Scotland until the second Ibrox Disaster, in 1971, when 66 died.

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