Ibrox disaster anniversary: The day five of my friends never came home

Five decades on and the memories of the Ibrox Disaster that claimed five of my friends remain raw, writes Shane Fenton.
Shane Fenton at the memorial stone for his friends who died at the Ibrox disaster in 1971. (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)Shane Fenton at the memorial stone for his friends who died at the Ibrox disaster in 1971. (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)
Shane Fenton at the memorial stone for his friends who died at the Ibrox disaster in 1971. (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

January 2, 1971 started out just as most Saturday mornings did back then by preparing to go and watch a football match.

It was like any other match morning for us Old Firm fans from the south end of Markinch, with the usual banter and side bets.

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Little did I know when we set out that morning that that date would become etched in my mind for the rest of my life.

Peter Lee, Joe Mitchell and myself, all Celtic supporters, walked from Markinch along with Douglas Morrison, Peter Easton, Ron Paton, Mason Philip and Bryan Todd, all Rangers followers. We were all headed for the CISWO Club in Glenrothes where we would board our respective supporters clubs’ buses.

Despite supporting different teams, we were all the best of pals and most of us played for the-then Markinch United football team.

When we boarded the buses, that would be the last time we would see our friends.

The match itself was nothing out of the ordinary and looked to be heading for a no scoring draw when Celtic scored in the last minute.

Being younger we decided to leave at this stage to ironically avoid the crush. We were actually back on the bus some 15 minutes when some of the older supporters told us Rangers had equalised.

At that time we knew nothing of the tragic events that were happening on Stairway 13.

In fact it wasn't until our bus made a stop in Kincardine on the way home that we heard that something had happened at the Rangers end of Ibrox. The older fans who had been at the pub had heard the news on the television.

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We never thought for a minute the Markinch boys were involved.

When I got back home, many locals had already started to panic. My relatives, like those of the other boys who knew we were at the match, starting enquiring and phoning around to make sure we were alright. There was no mobile phones or social media back then

When the news came through that Ron, Dougie, Bryan, Mason and Peter hadn't returned with the Rangers bus, all kinds of thoughts went through our heads. We hoped they had just missed the bus and would arrive home later. We stayed out until late in the evening hoping they would appear off the last trains and buses into Markinch.

It was over the next couple of days when the devastating news that we feared had become a reality. The whole town was in total shock that our five friends had been victims of the terrible disaster.

The next few days, Markinch, particularly Park View, the street where four of the boys lived, was awash with reporters, photographers and television news crews.

When it was time for the funerals, almost the whole town of Markinch, then with a population of 2,344, turned out to mourn the five local schoolboys.

The boys may be gone, but 50 years on they are still remembered by the people of Markinch.

I am concerned, however, that the younger generation know little or nothing about the tragedy.

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Markinch is a bigger town now and a lot of the younger people who live here don't know about the past. It would be good to see it taught as part of their history lessons at the school.

I still live in Park Terrace very close to the memorial stone and garden at the end of Park View. I tend to it regularly, keeping it and the area clean and tidy.

The memorial is well respected by people and over the years has never been damaged and that is important.

I will always strive however to maintain the memory of the boys in the town.

Shane Fenton is a sports reporter at the Glenrothes Gazette

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