POIGNANT tribute has been paid to 66 football fans who died in the Ibrox disaster 40 years ago – including four Kirkintilloch teenagers.
Rangers FC organised a series of events to mark the milestone, centred around a special memorial service for the families and friends at the stadium on Monday.
Local lads Robert Carrigan (13), Thomas Stirling (15), John Semple (18) and James Rae (19) died in the Old Firm tragedy on January 2, 1971, when steel barriers gave way on staircase 13.
Although those who died were all Rangers supporters, the tragedy resulted in an unprecedented unity, with players and fans of both Rangers and Celtic attending funerals and raising funds for the bereaved families.
The disaster also resulted in the transformation of Ibrox into one of the safest stadiums in Europe.
Elizabeth Stirling, from Kirkintilloch, still vividly remembers being told her only son – Thomas – was among the victims.
She said: “Thomas was with the Rangers supporters’ bus in Kirkintilloch. He went with his uncle James on the bus. My brother was looking for Thomas after it happened. He said he couldn’t go home without knowing where he was. My brother found him. He was with three of his pals.
“It was a terrible shock. He was my only son. He would have been 16 in the March.”
Elizabeth (83) was due to go along to the service on Monday with members of her family.
She said: “It’s good they are remembering the victims. It’s very important to the families. They will never be forgotten. My family has been a great support and I’ve got good friends.”
Elizabeth was also at the recent dedication of a special bench in Kirkintilloch in memory of the four local victims of the disaster. The service was conducted by the Reverend Mark Johnstone from St Mary’s.
Kirkintilloch Rangers Supporters’ Club was represented that day and also paid tribute to the disaster victims at the weekend.
President David Watson and fellow members laid a wreath at the memorial statue at Ibrox on Saturday and the club was also represented at the service on Monday.
Mr Watson said: “The 66 people who died will never be forgotten. It’s part of Kirkintilloch Rangers Supporters’ Club’s history and Rangers Football Club’s history. The people who died were all innocent supporters, guys like myself that go to see the football. Whether it’s Rangers or Celtic supporters, we’re all football supporters at the end of the day. It comes down to mutual respect.”
John Greig, who captained Rangers in the 1971 derby, said: “The terrible events of January 2, 1971, will never be forgotten. It was a horrific day for everyone who lost loved ones at the game and they will always be in our thoughts.”
He and Billy McNeill, Celtic captain of that era, led out the teams at the Old Firm match on Sunday.