Tributes have been paid in Glasgow and across the world to the 66 people who died in a crush on Stairway 13 at Ibrox Park fifty years ago today. A casual reading of the incident might conclude that it was simply a tragic combination of circumstances – Rangers fans elated by a last-minute equaliser against Celtic creating a deadly crush – but the truth is much starker. Two fans had actually been killed in a crush on the same stairway in 1961, and there had been further incidents on Stairway 13 in 1967 and 1969; but little had been done to improve safety.
Despite the failure to respond adequately after previous incidents , the fatal accident enquiry following the incident concluded that it was simply an accident and exonerated Rangers Football Club of any blame. (Although, three years later, the family of one of the victims successfully sued the club and were awarded £26 000 damages). However, the tragedy was the trigger for the Wheatley Inquiry into crowd safety at sports grounds; which subsequently led to the 1975 Safety at Sports Grounds Act. Critically, this gave Local Authorities the responsibility for issuing and enforcing safety certificates for sports grounds.
Sadly though, by the time that the Act was passed, the authorities had become preoccupied by the dramatic rise in violence at football matches; and the safety of spectators was a secondary concern. Implementation of the safety measures required in the Act proceeded at a glacial pace and had still not been extended to Third Division clubs like Bradford City by the time of the fire there in 1985 in which 56 people died. Then, only four years later, the whole adequacy of safety measures for sports grounds was called into question once again by the Hillsborough Disaster.
It is a sad reflection on the ability of organisations to learn from experience, that it took 18 years and so many more lives lost after Ibrox Park to get to grips with safety at football stadiums.