Tom English looks back at the 1980 Scottish Cup final riot between Rangers and Celtic fans and asks: Who was to blame?

Thirty years ago this week Old Firm fans clashed on the pitch at Hampden in Scottish football's worst riot for 70 years. Remarkably, there were only a dozen police officers inside the ground when trouble kicked off. How did it happen and who was to blame?

• Mounted police launch a charge on rioting Old Firm fans after the 1980 Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. All pictures: Donald MacLeod/Scotsman

IF CHIEF Inspector Iain McKie could have heard the commentary on that May day at Hampden 30 years ago he might well have left his position on the pitch, left the rampaging Old Firm supporters, left the cans and the bottles and the bricks, left the worst outbreak of hooliganism in Scotland in 70 years, and marched straight up to where Archie Macpherson was sitting, microphone in hand, and throttled him live on air.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Archie was in his tower, talking to the nation. He was looking down at the scenes that would soon be replayed all across the world and was talking about Apocalypse Now, talking about Passchendaele and how the mindless thuggery in the minutes that followed the 1980 Scottish Cup was the footballing equivalent of war. "They're spilling right on to the pitch," Archie was saying. "And where are the police? For heaven's sake, where are the police!"

McKie thinks back now and says, in fairness to Archie, he called it right. Where, indeed, were the police? He can tell you where he was. Oh yes, even 30 years on, he has no problem recalling his precise location. He was standing in the thinnest blue line in the middle of Hampden. He took a look to his right and there were less than a handful of officers with him, he took a look to the left and it was the same story. He counted a dozen, tops. "If I said there were any more than that, I'd be lying."

Coming towards him to the front were the Celtic hordes and to the rear, the Rangers masses. He drew his baton and picked a target. "There was only one way to get out of that nightmare and that was to arrest somebody." In that regard, he was spoiled for choice.

While McKie was fighting the tide at Hampden, his wife was fixing a tile on the roof of the family home. Their young son dashed from the house and told his mother that dad was in a fight on the telly, but Mrs McKie didn't budge from her ladder. It was the Old Firm he was policing. Always trouble between those two. Nothing new there.

Only there was. This was a national disgrace at play. Officers on horse-back and mountains of missiles piled high on the pitch. Casualties in the penalty area and drunks running rampant on the sacred turf. As the night went on, the BBC studios at Queen Margaret Drive received a steady flow of calls from European and southern hemisphere networks looking for their pictures of the riot. Within hours, Scotland's humiliation went global.

The scandal was discussed in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in the Church of Scotland and the Catholic church. The blame game began. The police were at fault, said Celtic. No, said the force, it was the Celtic fans that started it. Yes, said Rangers, this was all because of their bitter rivals.

• Fans spill on to the pitch after Celtic's 1-0 victory

"Appalling," announced Desmond White, the Celtic chairman, in reply. White was "shocked to the core" at the reaction from Ibrox and went on the attack. Bad policing and sectarianism were the root causes of what had happened, he said.

"Although I only checked on the details later, I can tell you that Celtic's Cup final side featured six Catholic players and five Protestants, who include our captain, Danny McGrain."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The inference was plain. No bigotry could be found inside the doors of Parkhead. Could the other lot say the same?

In the brilliant STV series, The Football Years, there was a section on the 1980 final. Stuart Cosgrove was interviewed. He spoke about the emergence of Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen that season – they'd only just won the league championship – and the effect it had on the Old Firm. After 14 years of dominance, Rangers and Celtic were looking like tired old relics now, said Cosgrove. "But you had the fear that the monster wasn't quite dead."

Alan Sneddon, Celtic defender: "Aye, Aberdeen won the league that season. Beat us by a few points. Rangers were well off the pace."

Frank McGarvey, Celtic striker: "But Rangers were favourites in the Cup final. We had injuries, remember? Tom McAdam, Roddy MacDonald, Jim Casey."

Peter McCloy, Rangers goalkeeper: "It was a hot day. It was a dust-bowl out there."

John McDonald, Rangers striker: "The game? Can't remember much about it to be honest. Went to extra-time. Danny McGrain took a shot from a mile out and sclaffed it."

Frank McGarvey: "Danny always sclaffed it. It was a typical Danny shot."

Peter McCloy: "It was gonna hit the corner flag if he was lucky. Then it takes a deflection off George McCluskey and it's in. George is offside, I think. But what can you do about it? Late winner. That's it. Over."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dougie Donnelly: "It was the first time I'd fronted the BBC's Cup final coverage. There was me, Bertie Auld and Jock Wallace. I can't remember who was doing it for STV, but they had it live as well and although we always had higher viewing figures than they had, there was always competition between us to see who could interview the winning captain first. As soon as the final whistle went I sprinted down to the pitch looking for Danny."

Iain McKie: "I'd watched it from the tunnel. Can't remember who I was with, but there wasn't many of us. They say there was 400-500 officers on duty that day. Well, I can tell you that the vast majority of them were outside the stadium by the time the match was over. There was nothing unusual about that. It was standard procedure. Most of the trouble at Old Firm matches took place outside the ground; fighting, urinating in gardens, all sorts.

"The local residents at Hampden were fed-up with the disorder after these games, so that's where most of the force was. It seemed sensible at the time. After all, the fences were up inside the ground. With the fences in place there didn't seem any chance that the supporters would try and get on to the pitch, so the vast, vast majority of our presence was in the streets around Hampden and on the route back into the city."

Alan Sneddon: "We went to our supporters to celebrate the victory. What did everyone expect us to do? Rangers would have done the same."

Some Celtic fans, in their delirium, scaled the perimeter fencing and joined the players on the pitch. At the same time, down the other end, a young supporter, clad in green, ran to the Rangers goal, produced a ball and fired a shot into their net. It was a slight too far. Over the fencing came a posse of Rangers supporters. Archie Macpherson shifted in his seat and a memorable piece of commentary was about to unfold.

Dougie Donnelly: "I'd got hold of Danny, but as I was interviewing him live I could see out of the corner of my eye the two sets of fans running at each other."

Iain McKie: "It was then when we realised that our manpower was drastically short. Once the boys started scaling the fences it just became a general battle. Bricks and bottles flying. I don't know where they got the bricks, but some went over my head and I was thinking to myself, 'What am I doing here? And where the hell is the cavalry?'"

Donald MacLeod: "I was the photographer for The Scotsman. I was 24 years old and I'd never seen anything like this. But who had? I was stood near the dugouts when it all kicked-off and it was like an invasion of angry Bay City Rollers fans. They all seemed to have long hair and their scarves tied around their wrists.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"People were getting stuck in. Lots of punches, but mostly kicks. And there were cans flying everywhere. Not so many bottles, but loads of cans. The swoosh of a beer can going over your head and this trail of what you could only hope was lager coming out of it. Every time I think about that match, I hear noise. It starts off as a low roar – and then you hear the horses. I can still hear the hooves going across the pitch."

Archie Macpherson, in commentary: "This is like a scene now out of Apocalypse Now… We've got the equivalent of Passchendaele and that says nothing for Scottish football. At the end of the day, let's not kid ourselves. These supporters hate each other."

Iain McKie: "I was in the middle of it, wrestling a guy with a scarf."

Donald MacLeod: "When you've got cameras in your hand, you don't tend to see it as real. You're looking at it through a viewfinder and it's just something to be photographed. You become aware of not wanting to drop something. If you drop it, it's gone. It's at the Barras the next morning. I had the equivalent nowadays of 15-20,000 worth of cameras. In my mind's eye, I see a picture of a young fan trying to dodge a policeman with horses behind them. I think of Eric Craig as well. He was the Record's photographer and got very badly hurt. I think somebody hit him over the head with a bottle. The medical people took him into one of the goals to treat him."

• Mounted police, including 22-year-old Elaine Mudie on a white horse called Ballantrae, steel themselves to face the rampaging hordes

A dozen mounted police took to the field, among them a 22-year-old WPC called Elaine Mudie who was riding a white horse called Ballantrae. Nearly everybody remembers the white horse. Nearly everybody commented on the iconic image in the aftermath.

Lord Kilmany, in the House of Lords: "My Lords, while many people admired very much the courage of the mounted policewoman, riding a white horse, who joined in the police charge at Hampden Park in very disagreeable circumstances, may I ask if this is not really the most suitable way to deploy female labour, however courageous?"

Lord Paget, in reply: "My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, speaking from long and personal experience, once you put 'em on a horse, the female sex are far more deadly than the male?"

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dougie Donnelly: "You know, I don't remember seeing many grown men. It was young lads, teenagers. The horses appeared and I thought, 'My God, somebody is going to get trampled underfoot here. Somebody's going to get killed'."

Frank McGarvey: "I didn't see it. We were just ushered into the changing room and we stayed there until it was over. Was I shocked to see the pictures later on the telly? Not really. Glasgow was a powderkeg waiting to explode back then. Different now, thank God. I lived in Glasgow all my life. Nothing in Glasgow takes me by surprise. The amount of hatred between these fans? It was always ready to ignite."

Iain McKie: "There was a lot of criticism of the chief constable (Patrick Hamill] and since I was in charge of the press office at Strathclyde, I had to deal with it. I stayed up for two days answering press queries while the chief constable, in my opinion, went to ground. He said to me at Hampden, 'I think we'll need to say something about this, Iain'. Those were his parting words to me."

Plenty was said. A verbal war broke out between Celtic and Rangers as both flailed pathetically for the moral high ground. The police got it in the neck along with the SFA. A giant magnifying glass was trained on Glasgow football and it produced as ugly a sight as any in the game dating back to a previous Old Firm riot in 1909.

The upshot was the implementation of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and the banning of alcohol from all grounds in the country.

"You look at it now and it's surreal, isn't it?" says McKie, who spent 30 years in the force before his retirement.

"It's insane that something like that could have happened in Glasgow. I remember in the few days afterwards, I was desperately trying to get some senior people to say something and couldn't. So I said something myself. I said, 'This will never happen again!' I went out on a bit of a limb, because you could never say never when it came to the Old Firm in those days. But it's not like that any more. And thank goodness for that."