On this day in 1971, 66 football (soccer) fans are killed in a stampede at a stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, as they attempt to leave a game after a late goal by the home team. Initial reports suggested that the disaster was caused by fans returning to their seats after hearing of the last goal, but in fact it was simply the crush of spectators all leaving at the same time on the same stairway that led to tragedy. This was not the first time that disaster had struck the stadium.
Ibrox Stadium was built on the south side of Glasgow in 1900 and suffered its first serious incident only two years later. Just minutes into a match between England and Scotland on April 5, 1902, the weight of the fans on the stadium’s wooden west terrace caused a partial collapse of the structure. Dozens of spectators fell 45 feet to the ground. To make matters worse, the collapse caused a general panic and hundreds of people were injured in the subsequent rush to the exits.
In September 1961, a crush of fans on stairway 13 killed two people and injured scores of others. This same stairway was the site of eight serious injuries at a match in September 1967 and 24 more injuries in January 1969. Still, no design or safety changes had been made to the stairway by the time the Rangers played a home match against Celtic on January 2, 1971, in front of 80,000 fans.
The game was a scoreless tie until Celtic took the lead with minutes left. However, Ranger Colin Stein scored the equalizer with just seconds remaining and the excited home crowd exited quickly on the cold, misty afternoon. At the top of stairway 13, a few metal railings bent and collapsed with the weight of the crowd, and people began to fall forward down the stairs. Sixty-six people–65 men and one woman, 18-year-old Margaret Ferguson–were suffocated and crushed to death in the resulting chaos. Another 145 were seriously injured.
This was the worst soccer disaster in Scottish history and the worst ever in the United Kingdom until 96 people died in Hillsborough in 1989.