As the Old Firm commemorates the Ibrox disaster, one Fife village is remembering the five teenagers it lost in the tragedy

PARK View is a modest stretch of semi-detached villas that back on to playing fields in the Fife village of Markinch.

All that distinguishes it from countless similar streets across the country is a memorial at its northern end, dedicated to the local residents who lost their lives in the Ibrox disaster of 2 January, 1971. A stone bearing the names of the victims is mounted on a granite plinth and framed by five rowan trees, one for each boy.

Five boys. All in their early teens, all friends and neighbours. Four of them lived in Park View, the other in George Street, just around the corner. Together, they played for Markinch United, a boys football team.

Hide Ad

Of all the stories that will be remembered on today's 40th anniversary of the Rangers-Celtic match at which 66 supporters died, and more than 100 were injured, few will be more harrowing than that which devastated this tight-knit community on the outskirts of Glenrothes.

Peter Easton, 13, Douglas Morrison, 14, Ronald Paton, 14, Mason Philip, 15, and Bryan Todd, 14: school pals, team-mates, Rangers fans, members of the church youth club. If friendship, family and a sense of community are supposed to enrich life, so too do they compound the grieving process.

"For it to happen to such a small place, where everybody knew everybody, I think that made it all the more devastating," says Ian Paton, Ronald's twin brother.

Some of the friends and relatives still live in and around Park View, asking themselves every year, every month, maybe even every day, the unanswerable questions that occur to the rest of us only on anniversaries.

No-one knows exactly what caused the fatal crush on Stairway 13, not even those who witnessed it, so for the families who have tried and tried again down the years to imagine the horror, there is a blank filled only by the images of warped railings, and corpses laid side by side at the edge of the pitch.

The parents of the Fife lads, who allowed their sons to travel on a supporters bus from Glenrothes, know only that they went off to a football match that morning, and never came back.

Hide Ad

The Markinch boys died as they had lived, obsessed with the game. They played it at school, and when they came home, they played until dark at John Dixon Park, the field adjoining their street. They used to go round the doors collecting rags and empty lemonade bottles to raise money for the purchase of strips. An old team photograph shows them in V-neck jerseys and tackety boots.

Bryan Todd, whose garden shed sometimes doubled as the team dressing-room, used to rub Sloan's Liniment on the inside of its walls so that it smelled like the real thing. Peter Easton was a quiet, clever lad whose bedroom was covered in pictures of Rangers players. Ronald Paton, also a keen golfer, might have gone on to make a career in sport. All were bright, intelligent teenagers with everything to live for.

Hide Ad

Some parents had been reluctant to let them attend the first Old Firm clash of 1971. The boys regularly made the 20-minute walk from Markinch to Glenrothes to catch the Rangers supporters bus, but the derby was a bit different.

Harry Easton agreed only after his wife, Gisela, said that Peter deserved "a treat". She remembers saying goodbye, resisting the temptation to give him the hug that he found embarrassing, and watching from the window as he met his pals at the corner of the street.

Only when it was reported on the television early that evening that there had been an accident at Ibrox did she or the other relatives have any idea that they might never see them again. As successive bulletins reported a growing death toll, parents frantically phoned each other and prayed that their sons would be on the bus returning to Fife.

Shane Fenton, a friend of the boys, who walked with them to Glenrothes, and went to the match on a Celtic supporters bus, will never forget the scene on his return.

"When it emerged that the Rangers bus had come back, and the boys weren't on it, that was when the panic set in. It was a foggy, damp, miserable night, and people were out looking, hoping that they would come back on a service bus or a train. We saw everything that came into Markinch that night, right up till the last train, hoping that they would come off it… but they never did."

In church the following morning, the congregation was informed that boys from Markinch had "been involved" in the tragedy. Park View was moving with reporters and photographers. Official confirmation came when some of the parents were asked to identify the bodies. Mason Philip's father, a railway man with a weak heart, had another attack on hearing the news.

Hide Ad

With a population of just 2,344, scarcely a soul in Markinch hadn't been numbed by the tragedy. All lined the streets on 7 January, when the funerals took place. A service was held for Mason Philip and Ronald Paton at Kirkcaldy Crematorium, and another for Peter Easton, Douglas Morrison and Bryan Todd at Markinch Parish Church. There is haunting television footage of the cortege winding its way along the high street and up to the cemetery, where some of the boys lie to this day.

As the days after the disaster turned into months, and the months into years, the families coped with it in different ways.

Hide Ad

Peter Easton's mother still lives on Park View. Douglas Morrison's father is in a flat nearby. The Patons, by contrast, moved to Dundee in 1972. "Just to get away," says Ian. "It was too much for my mum. When we went through to Ibrox for the 30th anniversary, it was the first time she had really spoken about it. It was sort of taboo.

"Obviously it devastated everybody, but my mum has never, ever recovered. She worries about everything all the time. She still worries about me if I go out, and I'm in my 50s now."

For some, football was tainted, even though it was the love of the boys' life. The local five-a-side league in which they entered a team never held another game.

Fenton stopped going to watch Celtic because he feared the large crowds. When he attends tomorrow's memorial service in Glasgow, it will be the first time he has visited Ibrox since the day of the disaster. His invitation acknowledges the work he has done for a memorial committee set up by two Rangers supporters, Arthur Rodgie and Jim Archer, from Perth and Glenrothes respectively. They were so moved by an article Fenton had written in the Glenrothes Gazette a few years back that they decided to visit Markinch, only to find that a modest memorial stone was hidden at the end of Park View by overgrown bushes.

Via the internet, they raised nearly 6,000 from Rangers supporters worldwide, some of which was used to clean up the area and buy a new plinth. About 150 people, including the former Rangers players, Willie Johnston and Dave Smith, attended the memorial's re-dedication in August. At 11.30 this morning, they will gather once more to observe a minute's silence and lay floral tributes. Just over an hour later, the two teams whose match ended in tragedy 40 years ago will meet again at Ibrox.

The fans' money also funded the purchase of a bench with the boys' names on it. Sitting high in the churchyard, it looks up the high street, where they made their last journey. And there was enough left to donate memorial trophies to Auchmuty High School, where four of the boys were pupils. Sandy Jardine, who played for Rangers on that fateful day, presented them on the club's behalf.

Hide Ad

Apparently, some on the Markinch community council had not been in favour of all this, reasoning that it was better to invest time and money in the living, which is to miss the point. At their worst, anniversaries and memorials can be contrived, media-driven affairs that do little for those most affected. But if they educate others in the process, is that such a bad thing? Markinch is a bigger place now, with a new generation of children and incomers, but the word is that increased awareness of the town's history these last few months has brought many of them together.

Football, too, has the capacity to unite. Jock Stein, the Celtic manager in 1971, said that the tragedy made Glasgow's religious bigotry seem "sordid and little". Shane Fenton walked to Glenrothes with Rangers fans that day, and thought nothing of it, just as he doesn't now, helping the memorial committee.

Hide Ad

In the past 12 months, Rangers fans living abroad have donated money in memory of people they had never met. Only the other week, Arthur Rodgie was in Dundee, giving a Christmas present to Ronald Paton's mother, Margaret, now in her 80s.

Impossible though it must be for their families to believe, the boys did not die in vain. Ian Gourlay, a school friend of theirs, who put together a pamphlet for distribution when the new stone was unveiled, says that the reconstruction of Ibrox after the disaster spared others the same fate. "I would like to think that the modern, all-seated Ibrox we have now came about as a legacy of what happened 40 years ago."

And, perhaps more subtly, an understanding of loss, its effect on relatives, friends and, in the case of Markinch, an entire community, lends others a degree of perspective. Ian Paton, who will visit Ibrox tomorrow with his wife and cousin, says it annoys him when he hears of family feuds, an embittered relative for instance, holding a lifelong grudge. "You get them turning round and saying, 'I've never spoken to him for years and years', and I say, 'you know what, I wish I'd had the chance'."