Simple evidence that Police Scotland cannot cope with simple arithmetic
Some days you get up and everything seems normal and you are looking forward to the day. 2nd September 2018 was just like that. I was looking forward to the game; I was also looking forward to a Coias breakfast with some fine CQN’ers. The day started off fine; I had been to Mass on the Saturday night so I had a free morning and nipped up to Coia’s to meet the gang before heading down to Paradise to see the Bhoys taking on the tribute act. It was going to be slightly different because in response to the Glib and Shameless Liar’s decision to cut the allocation for Celtic fans at Snake Mountain to 800, Celtic had reciprocated and given the Orcs just 800 tickets. There would be around 7,000 extra Celtic fans in the ground so the atmosphere would be even better than usual.
Around a dozen or so of us met in Coia’s and had a hearty breakfast and we then headed down to CQN Corner just after 11 to meet more of the gang. It was a party atmosphere all the way down and it was a lovely bright morning so spirits were high. After speaking to a few of the lads myself and Pog left just before 11:30 to walk round to the far side of the stadium to take our seats. I am in the North Curve, so I had to walk right round to Janefield St as London Rd had been closed off to allow the 800 orcs to have a cordoned off area to enter the park.
I got to the corner of the Celtic End and Janefiedl St just about 11:35am – well before Police Scotland initially suggested the incident occurred; here is my recollection and viewpoint on events.
Simple arithmetic suggested that as there were between 6000 and 7000 Celtic extra fans expected in the east stand and that it would be very busy and take a while to get through there. Logic suggested that approximately half of these fans would come from the north and east and half would come from the south and west. This suggested to me that somewhere between 3000 and 3500 extra fans would be coming along the Janefield St tunnel that day because London Rd was closed for access. This number was augmented by those fans who usually walked along London Road from the east to get to the west and south stands. So somewhere well in excess of 5000 extra fans would be accessing this tunnel from both directions in the 30 minutes before kick-off. One would expect that Celtic FC and Police Scotland would come to a similar conclusion; sadly, they didn’t.
As I approached Janefield St from the west at approximately 11:35 I saw that it was very busy. What did strike me was that the mounted Police officers who were usually at the west entrance of the tunnel for home games were not there. This is significant because had they been there they would have easily witnessed the start of the incident from their higher vantage point and could have taken action immediately. The time is also significant because Police Scotland publicly stated that the overcrowding and crush started 10 minutes prior to kick-off; and that they responded immediately. This is absolutely untrue.
I joined the crowd at the entrance to the tunnel at approximately 11:35 and within 30 seconds or so I became alarmed because I was aware that the crowd behind me was increasing very quickly and pressure was being exerted from behind. For the first minute or so, slow but uncomfortable progress was made. Then the real impact became obvious. As fans were coming from the east and meeting those from the west head-on, there was literally nowhere to go. The pressure from in front and behind was increasing and I felt considerable alarm for my own safety and for the safety of those around me. I have been in extremely large crowds at Celtic Park – in excess of 80,000 at times but this crush was a new and frightening experience. Even at the Leeds game at Hampden in 1970 with well over 100,000 there was nowhere near this congestion. As I moved slowly along, there was a woman with a young boy of around 10 or 11 in front of me and she was struggling to keep hold of him. I had him hold on to the woman’s rucksack and I placed my hands on her shoulders to create a “cage” for him to keep him from being crushed. There were many children being lifted onto adults shoulders to escape the crush. People had very quickly become aware that this was a very dangerous situation and I was surprised at how calm the majority of people were and they remained calm even as the evident fear and danger increased.
As I said, I have been in sizeable crowds at Celtic Park over the past 50 years and many of them far bigger than Sunday’s crowd. However, I can categorically state that I never experienced the fear and alarm that I did on that Sunday. My main fear was that if anyone tripped or fell that they would be trampled to death – there would have been no chance of getting up. The knock-on effect of that would have been disastrous and unthinkable. Death for some would have been inevitable.
I was in the crush for around 10 to 15 minutes (though it felt far longer) and when I got ¾ of the way along the tunnel the crowd dissipated and the crush cleared. I managed to get into my place in Section 111 just before kick-off. I was shaken by the experience and very angry. One of the guys I meet at the game with had seen the problems as he was walking towards Janefield St and diverted along the Gallowgate. Another was caught up in the crush and hurt and scraped his hands and arms as he scaled the wall at the cemetery to escape the crush; he was visibly shaken and astonished that he had managed to get out in one piece. The Police and stewards were absolutely unprepared for this and their planning, along with Celtic’s was abysmal and they all need to be held to account for this gross negligence. The match commander is a very fortunate man not to be facing significant charges over dereliction of duty over this incident and it must be highlighted bad (and prolonged) the incident was; and how the Police response was delayed for up to 15 minutes and wholly unsatisfactory in preventing the situation becoming worse.
What beggars belief is that this incident was initially fobbed off as something minor that the Police and stewards reacted to swiftly and dealt with effectively. That as we know was a downright lie. Simple arithmetic in the safety and security planning should have alerted the Police and Celtic security teams to the obvious and necessary increase in number funnelling along the Janefield St tunnel in the 30 to 40 minutes before the game; that they were not able to put a safe plan in place is, in my opinion, criminally negligent. There were very few casualties (all of them minor) but that is, again in my opinion, because of the behaviour of those involved in this crush: no panic and good sense prevailing. As a layman I expected around 5000 extra bodies flowing through that tunnel so was prepared to get there early as I expected it to be busy; and I was right. It was busy – far too busy!
To make matters worse, the information released by Police Scotland this week evidences their negligent planning; their poor response; and their blatant lies after the event. Despite their claims that the overcrowding and subsequent crush happened around 11:45, the detail released shows that they were aware of overcrowding at the Janefield St tunnel at 11:30. They failed to respond adequately and on time. Then tried to cover up by stating the crush occurred at 11:44 – a full 14 minutes after being alerted to it.
I was fortunate insofar as I was through it by the time that they stupidly deployed mounted Police in an already overcrowded situation which, according to many, actually made things worse. I was told by a young woman I know that she was knocked over by a Police horse pushing through the crowd. Fortunately she regained her feet and was not injured by the horse or the crowd; she was very shaken.
Celtic have commissioned an independent review; it will be interesting to see how that reports. I have put my experiences to the review but have heard nothing from them thus far. Colour me surprised!
Ultimately thousands of Celtic fans were caught up in this situation and fortunately they were all able to go home that night. Sitting at home on the Sunday evening I reflected on the day and (literally) thanked God that we didn’t experience an event similar to the day that 66 Rangers fans died after leaving home one day to support their team. That was a horrible tragedy; that we didn’t suffer another on the 2nd September was down to luck; nothing to do with planning and risk assessment. If panic had set in, then the whole day could have ended very differently.
It just goes to show that however your day starts, you really don’t know how events will pan out and how in a matter of minutes you can move from a feeling of joyful anticipation to one of fear and dread. We should be able to go and support our team in safety; those responsible for ensuring that we can were grossly negligent on that day. Shame on them!
Guest post by Vfr