It may have taken Rangers 15 years to find their hallowed home, but the name ‘Ibrox’ is as firmly rooted in the club’s history as its famous blue shirt.
Traveling in its early years, the club had left its embryonic home at Fleshers Haugh on Glasgow Green in 1875 for a brief banter with Burnbank on the Great Western Road before moving to Kinning Park in 1876.
This self-contained ground had been vacated by Clydesdale Cricket Club and was where the club reached two Scottish Cup finals, losing controversially in both. By then, they had attracted fervent and vocal support. However, the land was not theirs and they had to leave when a sawmill had expansion plans in their area.
Faced with this challenge, Rangers set up a new Grounds Committee which took on the task of finding a suitable ground for this budding club. Secretary Walter Crichton highlighted certain areas around Ibrox that were of interest.
The committee recognized that there would be strong population growth and that the transportation network was excellent. Ibrox station had opened nearby and the Glasgow and Ibrox tram had also just started operations. Plans were also underway for the Glasgow District Underground. A location west of Copland Road seemed ideal and negotiations were concluded to lease the land to the landowners, the Hinshelwood Trust. Plans were then put in place for the new home which would be called Ibrox Park.
Rangers opened their ground to great fanfare on August 20, 1887 with a game against England’s ‘Invincibles’, Preston North End. An 8-1 loss was not to the liking of the huge crowd, estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000, but all were impressed with the facilities at the new ground. As the crowds grew so did the diversity of visitors and Buffalo Bill Cody, touring the city with his famous Wild West Show, won a tie at the Glasgow Cup in 1891.
However, at the end of the century, the Rangers found themselves homeless again with notice to leave. This time, the Trust threw the club a lifeline just west of their ground. Building a new stadium, which would be designed by Archibald Leitch, would be expensive, especially as the club was looking for a spacious ground capable of accommodating 85,000 supporters. It would include a 6,000-seat grandstand.
Rangers were a visionary club and as well as seeing the growing interest in football, they had their eyes set on using the ground for lucrative international matches and cup finals. However, a share issue would be needed to finance their “gigantic” stadium which would eventually be called New Ibrox Park. The club duly incorporated in 1899, creating Rangers Football Club Limited, with a share capital of £12,000, the estimated cost of the works. In fact, the work was ultimately to cost much more.
A new stand was built on the south side, a reconstructed revetment was added to the north earthwork, and the floor was completed with what has been described as “a palatial pavilion”, erected in the south-east corner. Inside were the locker rooms, a gymnasium, administrative rooms and 1,000 seats.
There was also a cinder cycle/athletics track which would be ideal for the continuation of the already successful Rangers Sports which started at Kinning Park in 1881 and would run until 1962. The track would eventually see many of the world’s greatest athletes , including Alfie Shrubb, Sidney Wooderson, Jack Lovelock, Paavo Nurmi and Eric Liddell whose lives featured in the film “Chariots of Fire”.
The ground was opened on December 30, 1899 with a 3-1 win over Heart of Midlothian. It was indeed impressive and one newspaper columnist remarked that it was “without a doubt, the finest footballing arena there is”. Rangers’ desire to host an international match came true on 5 April 1902 when the club secured the prestigious Scotland v England match. It was an event that was to cast a shadow over the club for many years, when early in the game part of the western earthwork collapsed, killing 25 people and injuring 517.
It seemed like everything the club had worked to accomplish had been decimated when the wooden props cracked and failed, plunging hundreds of bodies to the ground. No one was found guilty of the accident, although the builder was fine tuned for the quality and type of wood used in the construction. The disaster would hasten the widespread adoption of earth bunds and the removal of timber lattice earthwork structures. It is not the first time that a disaster at Ibrox has led to radical changes in stadium design across the UK.
In time, Rangers would recover and improvements at Ibrox would renew the pride of the stadium. The start of the First World War saw the ground used as an army recruiting center and in 1917 it saw the first of many royal visits when it hosted an investiture by King George V , the first held in Scotland for over 300 years. .
In 1928, and with Rangers the preeminent club in the country, a new stand appeared on Edmiston Drive at a cost of £95,000, with 1,018,000 red bricks from Wales used in the construction and two miles of electrical wiring. Again, designed by Leitch, it would provide 19 rows of “tilt-up” seats for 10,500 people. Inside, the finishes were exquisite in oak paneling with the famous marble staircase leading from the main hallway with its twin pillars.
Manager Bill Struth hit back at those who felt the building was too ostentatious and grand for a football stadium by stating quite prophetically that it would be there long after the others had left. Indeed, the preservation of the structure in all its glory is guaranteed with its Grade B architectural classification. against Celtic.
The facilities were universally celebrated, leading one correspondent to comment that “everything a mere man can think of has been brought in by the Ibrox to make their administration and training block the most lavish thing there is”.
These were exciting times for Rangers and Ibrox was proud to once again welcome royalty when King George VI opened the Empire Exhibition in an official ceremony on the grounds. A few months later, on January 2, 1939, a record crowd of 118,567 gathered inside Ibrox for the Ne’erday Old Firm clash. The attendance has never been exceeded for a league game in the UK. However, with the ground regularly seeing crowds hitting six figures, disaster was to befall Rangers again on January 2, 1971 when 66 people lost their lives on the fateful 13 staircase.
The tragedy caused sweeping changes on the ground and stimulated new approaches to crowd safety, guided by the directions of the Wheatley Report (1971). The club decided to transform the pitch into one that would provide safety and comfort for everyone. The extensive terraces were removed to be replaced by new stands on three sides and by the mid-90s the floor was fully seated. At that time it included another level above the main stand, known as the Club Deck, built at a cost of £20 million.
The rebuilding of Ibrox facilitated the incorporation of many suites for corporate hospitality as football entered a new commercial era. Today, nearly 2,000 meals are regularly served to hosts who join the 45,000 subscribers and others who regularly push the total crowd to its capacity of 50,817.
Although primarily a football ground, Ibrox has been used for a host of events over the years, including speeches by Winston Churchill (1949) and evangelical leader Billy Graham (1955) and it has hosted a variety of sports competitions including rugby, boxing, wrestling, tennis and even golf displays. In showbiz it has also provided a stage for some of the best artists, led by Frank Sinatra in 1990 and in June this year it will host Harry Styles for a concert.
The 150-year history of Rangers has been a rich tapestry that has seen both triumph and disaster. However, at its center the ground has evolved into a magnificent stadium fulfilling all the aspirations of those visionaries who first set eyes on the new Ibrox grounds all those years ago. If Rangers are more than a club for their fans, the famous Ibrox stadium is certainly more than a football ground.
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