Friday, 23 January 2015

A Forgotten Tragedy

A Forgotten Tragedy

Each day on my drive to work, I pass the old ramshackle Shawfield Stadium which was once home to Clyde FC and now survives as a dog racing venue. Shawfield stands testament to a time when fans flooded to football and were not too fussed about the poor conditions they endured in many stadiums. In those halcyon days after world War two, Shawfield saw regular crowds of more than 20,000 and upwards of 30,000 when Celtic or Rangers came calling. In those days it was surrounded by the teeming tenements of the east end and my old man would tell me that when he was young Celtic and Rangers fans who didn’t go to away games would often go to see Clyde when their own team was out of town. Clyde had a fair team in those days and won the Cup in 1955 and 1958. You could expect a hard match at Shawfield and being so close to Celtic Park, their little ground was often bursting at the seams when Celtic played there.

On a chilly, misty December day in 1957, just a few weeks after Celtic had demolished Rangers 7-1 in the League Cup Final, the Hoops travelled the short distance to Shawfield for a league match. Almost 27,000 people were shoe horned into the little ground and there wasn’t much space at all on the crowded terrace. It was noted that the crowd swayed and surged as the teams came out and old hands, used to such things, helped younger boys over the 4 feet high retaining wall and onto the Greyhound Track to avoid the crushing. Soon scores of young boys were sitting on the track, leaning against the retaining wall watching the match roar from end to end. After a few minutes action in the frantic atmosphere of a packed Shawfield, Neil Mochan’s weighted pass found Celtic team mate Billy McPhail who sent a thunderous shot into the roof of the net. The majority of the crowd were supporting Celtic and a huge roar greeted the goal. However the surge in the crowd caused by the goal put immense pressure on the retaining was which ran the length of the field. In front of this wall sat scores of young boys enjoying the match and oblivious to the deadly sequence of events unfolding behind them. To the horror of all who watched it, a 50 metre long section of the 4 feet high wall collapsed on top of the children who had ironically been put in front of it to avoid the crush on the terraces. It was immediately clear that a serious accident had occurred and that many of the children buried in the rubble were badly injured. One young Celtic fan who witnessed these events had a near escape and stated…

‘‘I climbed over the wall and sat the other side with 20 or so other lads ( I was 14 at the time).I remember vividly that not long after kick-off there was an almighty crash behind me and when I turned round I saw that a length of the wall had collapsed on top of the lads. I was so lucky, since I had been sitting right at the end of the section where the wall had collapsed. I remember men screaming as they tried in futility to lift the brick wall up with their bare hands. Some boys had been trapped .I scrambled to the side and looked back for my Dad and Papa. I will never ever forget the look on their faces; first a look of terror on their faces then a look of great relief. One of the lads who had been on our bus was injured (he had a broken leg) and was taken to the hospital. The players themselves helped to carry the injured across the pitch and the game was stopped for 20 minutes. Amazingly the game was restarted with Celtic beating Clyde 6-3.’’

The game was stopped and fans tore at the pile of rubble with their bare hands in a bid to free the trapped children. Policemen and even some of the players joined in and helped carry the injured to the pavilion where club Doctors did what they could as they awaited the ambulances which had been summoned to arrive. More than 50 people were injured, many of them seriously. Sadly a young Brighton boy, James Ryan, lost his life. The tragic events at Shawfield should have set alarm bells ringing in Scottish football as many of the grounds around the country were ancient and not fit for purpose. There had been an appalling disaster at Burndon Park, Bolton in 1947 when 85,000 showed up for a cup tie with Stoke City. 33 people died in the crush at Bolton but UK fans were still endured very Spartan conditions.

It took decades and further painful tragedies before Government legislation forced football club’s to provide their customers with safe places to watch their football. We may have lost some of the atmosphere which came with famous standing areas in grounds around the country. The Jungle, Kop or Stretford end may no longer roar our their tribal chants with quite the same regular intensity but  surely that is a price worth paying if it means we watch out football in safety.

For many the Shawfield accident is a forgotten tragedy but as I drive past the old stadium each day I can’t help wondering how they squeezed so many people into that decrepit little ground. The days of fans being treated like cattle may be over but for many who lost friends and family in tragedies at football grounds, the past is always with them.

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