The coverage leading up to the fortieth anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster was almost universally excellent. BBC’s repeat of the 2001 documentary brought home again the agonising fate of so many young men and the interview with one mother, the brave and deeply decent Mrs. Gisela Easton reflecting on the loss of her son Peter, would have brought a tear to even the most cynical and emotionally-stunted viewer. The Five Live documentary by Roddy Forsyth was also pitch-perfect and the list read out of all those who died particularly affecting – so often through time we reflect only on the numbers and the people, the individuals, fade into the background. In the time it takes to read out each name we begin to again grasp the real human cost. In print, the Sunday Herald’s coverage on the day of the game was especially detailed and rewarding, reminding us of the role of the great Willie Waddell in the aftermath of the disaster.
Events on the day went about as well as could be expected (coughing apart) and today’s memorial service reinforced again that the Club, for all the criticism it occasionally and often correctly receives, can still be relied upon to conduct matters in accordance with the long-held ideals and standards of The Rangers. Martin Bain’s speech was very well-received amid an event of great poignancy and heartfelt emotion.
Ibrox Stadium was largely rebuilt post-1971 as a tribute to those who lost their lives, in order that nobody would ever again have to suffer the loss so considerably felt amongst the Rangers community. The tales of players and officials attending, helping to organise and supporting the funerals of those who perished are well-known, and the toll events took on many, Waddell chief amongst them, needs hardly to be restated. But Waddell more than most was and is responsible for the fact that Ibrox Stadium was rebuilt and would stand as a testament to those who never came home.
In recent times, the growth in amateur interest in the history of The Rangers has led to some fascinating discoveries and a greater general awareness of many aspects of the past often neglected and/or forgotten. One of the stops on the excellent tours of interest is to the grave of the great William Struth, a place which fell into disrepair and whose condition lead to one of the more unfortunate incidents in recent AGM history when then Chairman John McLelland seemed to need a reminder as to who this man Struth was. But the key point here is that the Club did, eventually, seek to reclaim the stone and to make more presentable the immediate surroundings of the grave of the man who was its finest manager and responsible for the continuation and promotion of so many of its famous standards.
The official monument to the 1971 disaster at Ibrox, so often referred to as ‘The John Grieg statue’, serves more as a place for congregation (“I’ll get you at the Grieg statue”) than was perhaps intended, although the names of those who died are given below. It seems unlikely now that a different permanent memorial will be constructed but we still have the stadium as a constant reminder. And it is here that some mild criticism should be made.
For it is now beyond any reasonable defence to deny that Ibrox Stadium is in dire need of a makeover. The stadium which acts as a live memorial is now in danger of decay. Recent problems with plumbing were not confined to Ibrox, or to sport, and it is perhaps mischievous at best to claim that greater care and attention to the stadium might have helped prevent such widespread and considerable damage, but one need not dwell on that in order to make a case: one’s own eyes can do the work.
It’s not as obvious as the big screens, broken but now covered by worthy banners, or the weeds growing throughout the stadium, with even the hint of tree. The devil as ever is in the detail: the plasterwork needing fixed throughout; the toilets in a constant state of disrepair; the concourse televisions so slow to be replaced; the general and continued lack of maintenance in certain areas between games such that fans groups have over the years offered to turn up with jets. The Club in general is in the grip of a financial death-hold and the stadium suffers accordingly.
Now, it is quite possible that none of this matters much to your average punter. It’s not my seat that is broken and hasn’t been fixed. It’s not my chosen exit that is crumbling. It’s not my area of the (insert) stand that looks as if it hasn’t seen a lick of paint since the 1980s. It’s not my staircase that is cracking. It’s not the lights near me that stopped working, and when I do go to the lavatory it’s not me that needs the wellingtons and I don’t need an unbroken mirror or anything with which to wash my hands, thank you.
Ibrox is safe. And always will be. Nobody is yet making wild accusations to the contrary. To allow it to be otherwise would be the single greatest dereliction of duty allowed by any custodian and board. Finances may dictate that refurbishment and major redevelopment are a dream for pipe-smokers like Donald Findlay. But there is something very sad, and very wrong, in watching as the stadium – once state-of-the-art and very recently worthy of its UEFA five-star rating – slips away into a slow state of untended neglect.
We deserve better. If need be, we can all do better and offer assistance. But we have to preserve the stadium as a priority and never forget the importance that Ibrox has always held and which was reinforced by Willie Waddell and co after the saddest day in the history of the Club.