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Dec 26 2010 Maggie Barry, Sunday Mail


A SURVIVOR of the Ibrox Disaster yesterday relived the horrific moment his father was swept to his death in the fatal crush on Stairway 13.


As the 40th anniversary approaches next Sunday, Matt Reid can remember nothing of the Old Firm game he watched - but cannot forget a single second of what happened afterwards.


He needs a hip operation but doctors will not do it because they cannot get the steel pin out of a shattered thigh, injured in the tragedy when 66 Rangers fans died.


The pain, he has been told, would be too much to bear. But it is not physical injury that reduces this powerfully built man to tears - it is the still-raw grief of January 2, 1971, the mayhem and the tragedy, the sounds and then the silence.


Matt, 59, said: "You never forget something like that. We were pressed so close together that we couldn't move.


"I was standing face-to-face with this big guy who must have been on the step below me. The crush was so great that I watched helplessly as the life ebbed out of him.


"His face just got bluer and bluer and there was nothing I could do. Nobody could move. You couldn't even move your arms.


"I remember thinking to myself , 'Do I look like that? Am I going to die?' "When anyone asks me what it was like, I just tell them it was like falling asleep. Why make anyone else suffer?" Matt was at the game with his dad, also Matt, and friend Ackie Cunningham.


It was a medical quirk of fate that saved Matt when so many others perished.


He was born with paralysed feet and had both legs amputated below the knee by the age of nine and walked with sticks. To compensate, he developed terrific upper body strength and a powerful chest.


It saved his life when Rangers fans were crushed leaving the stadium, as Colin Stein scored a last-minute equaliser for their team.


Matt, his dad and Ackie made their way to Stairway 13, the one they normally used, to leave the ground.


Because it was an Old Firm match and a holiday, the stadium was full to capacity.


Matt said: "There were just too many people trying to get out of the one small exit. It was like trying to pour a pint into a half-pint mug.


"My father was walking behind me with his hand on my shoulder because he was always very protective of me.


"The closer we got to the stairway, the crushing became more severe. Then we were swept off our feet and carried along and around the corner to the top of the stair next to the side fence.


"A sudden surge took us down part of the stair. It was like being catapulted out of a door. I grabbed on to a handrail and held on for dear life.


"I couldn't move anyway because I had lost my sticks but I knew I was strong and I said to myself, 'I am going to hold on to this rail until it's over,' because at that point everyone still thought the crowd would thin out. That's when the man next to me died.


"Then I heard this awful grinding noise like metal scaffolding going down and that was the handrails giving way. There was another surge and dad was swept away.


"As he went he cried, 'Christ ,my boy'. His last thought was for me. I never saw him again but I have heard him call out many times over the years.


"I began to lose my grip and knew I was going down. Ackie was scrabbling next to me to get over the fence.


"As I went down, I put my hand under his backside and gave him a push. Then I went face down on the stairs with people walking and running over me.


"I'd had a Bovril and a pint before the match and at some point I was sick.


"Then this guy stopped with his brogues on the back of my head for what seemed like ages and I remember thinking, 'This must be a really big guy'.


"I started to pass out and felt really peaceful. I remember thinking, 'This must be it'."


When Matt came to, he was lying on his back but he had been turned right round and was facing up the stairs. There were three people lying on top of him, not moving . The screaming had stopped and instead there was silence punctuated with sirens and the noise of oxygen being given.


He said: "It was eerie. At first I thought it was a dream. There was no light, just this weight crushing down on me like there was a bag of coal sitting on my chest.


"I was saved by a wee chink of light but I could hear someone saying, 'This one's dead and this one's dead,' and I wondered, 'Do they think we are all dead?' "I tried to put my arm through the chink to let someone know I was alive but I began to pass out and I realised I was cutting off my own oxygen supply. I couldn't shout because my face was pressed against other people's bodies.


"I was in a lot of pain but, in a way, I didn't mind because it meant I was still alive."


Rescuers finally reached Matt after pulling two dead people off him - and it was an emotional moment for the big policeman who got him out.


Matt said: "He thought I was dead too and when he realised I was still alive, he just started crying."


Matt was taken to the Southern General Hospital where he was treated for a broken femur. His worst moment came when a policeman came to his bed and told him his father had died, wiping out his hopes.


But his brothers, who found him after a frantic search across the city, told him that as they walked up to his bed they saw their dad sitting at the foot of it.


At 49, his dad was the tragedy's oldest victim. It was 39 years before Matt and Ackie discussed what happened that day.


Even today Matt is still wracked with guilt over his dad's death. He said: "He wasn't a football man. It was the dogs he loved but I had managed to get an extra ticket for the game and bought it for him for a treat.


"Over the years, I have blamed myself for getting the ticket. I know that people will say it was out of my hands but if I hadn't bought that ticket he would still be here.


"I was in hospital in traction for three months afterwards and so I missed his funeral. I didn't even get to say goodbye.


"Over the years, people have said to me, 'I was there on that day,' or, 'My cousin was there,' as if it were some kind of medal. I was there but I wish I hadn't been."


The disaster game was my first ever OF game and thankfully i was only allowed to go because i could use my uncles season ticket for the main stand. I remember the stairway pressure only too well in other games although obviously not to the extent of the disaster day. It really was an accident waiting to happen. I remember my father always telling me to cross my arms to protect my chest and make sure I stayed on my feet. Probably useless advice when it did go wrong. I remember the shouts when the pressure was getting really bad trying to stop more people coming on to the stairs. This was not a one game occurrence but played a part in all games. How no one realised what could happen if things did go wrong long before they did i will never know. To say people see it as if it is a medal to be at the game i feel a bit unfair as the shock when we got home to see on the news the bodies lying on the pitch was also a huge emotional blow. To know just an hour or two earlier you were standing, or sitting in my case, looking at the pitch where the bodies then lay put me and i would imagine all supporters in an emotional state of shock. Yes we attach ourselves to that game but not as if we won a medal but because we felt for the supporters with whom we had just a short time earlier supported our team together, and who were then lying lifeless on the pitch.

God bless them.

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