THOUSANDS of people gathered yesterday at the home of Rangers FC to remember the darkest chapter in Scottish footballing history.
• Former Rangers player Derek Johnstone with the posies. One was laid for each of the 66 victims of the disaster. Picture: PA
The service to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster, when 66 supporters lost their lives, was attended by families and friends of those who died along with those who survived.
They were joined by Rangers and Celtic footballers who were playing on the day of tragedy, and Scotland's political and religious leaders.
Together, they vowed to remember those lost on 2 January, 1971, when fans became crushed on Stairway 13 at the stadium following the end of an Old Firm game.
Described by Martin Bain, the chief executive of Rangers, as a "tragedy beyond belief", the disaster claimed victims from all over the country, several children among them, and left hundreds injured.
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Close to 5,000 people gathered for yesterday's memorial service. Rangers players past and present, including the current team, as well as John Greig, the captain on the day of the tragedy, and Alfie Conn, were in attendance. Celtic, meanwhile, were represented by manager Neil Lennon, chairman John Reid and chief executive Peter Lawwell.
Relatives of the 66 who died, and players, placed posies of blue and white heather at the stand as Rangers manager Walter Smith, who himself survived the crush, and Mr Greig read out the names of the dead. During the act of commemoration, some family representatives turned to salute the stands as they laid their flowers.
Mr Reid then laid a green and white wreath on behalf of his club and its fans, before the crowd, gathered in the Govan East Corner of Ibrox, fell silent for two minutes to remember those lost. Piper Sandy McKinnon closed the service by playing Flowers of the Forest.
Addressing the service, Mr Bain said the home of Rangers had been the stage of an "unimaginable horror" that January day.
"January 2, 1971, is a date that will be forever etched deeply into the soul of the Rangers family. Each year we remember with the heaviest of hearts and wish for all the world that the fate of those on Stairway 13 had been so different.
"Forty years may now have passed, but as Willie Waddell said at the time, the scar is deep.It still is, and always will be."
Mr Bain added that in the aftermath of the disaster, the officials and supporters from both of Glasgow's premier clubs rallied together.
"Rivalries do run deep - sometimes too deep - but at the core of it all is a common bond, and that is a love of football," he explained. "A game of football should and does bring joy, happiness, frustration and disappointment in different measure, but it should never bring tragedy and disaster."
To the relatives and friends of those lost, and those who survived Stairway 13, his message was a simple one of remembrance.
"We cannot fully comprehend your grief, your anguish, your torment, or your suffering, but we can come together today to offer you our comfort," he vowed. "There is a heartfelt desire among all of us to remember and never forget."
The memorial service was led by the Rev Stuart MacQuarrie, who stood on the Copland Road terracing in Ibrox that dark day 40 years ago. He said the disaster was a "personal tragedy" for the families left behind.
Lifelong Rangers fan Ian Loch, who escaped the crush aged just 19, gave a reading of 'To Be A Ranger', a famous speech once delivered by the club's former manager, Bill Struth.
"No matter the days of anxiety that come our way, we shall emerge stronger because of the trials to be overcome," he told the crowd. "That has been the philosophy of the Rangers since the days of the gallant pioneers."
The Glasgow Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Salvation Army and Govan Citadel band led the crowd in the hymns The Lord is My Shepherd, Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah and Follow On. A large banner hung from the Bill Struth Stand stated: 'In our hearts forever'.
Watching on were the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Bob Winter, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, the Right Rev John Christie, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and the Most Rev Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow. After the ceremony, the mass of floral tributes were carried from the stadium and laid outside the main stand in remembrance.