Rangers and Celtic of Glasgow are renowned for their historic enmity; yet the most notorious football riot of the pre-World War One days in Britain saw the two sets of fans united in a pitch invasion at the 1909 Scottish Cup Final.
That riot at Hampden Park was one sparked by frustration, as supporters of both teams became convinced that the events before them had been contrived by the Scottish football authorities: rumours had spread that the Scottish FA were fixing games to ensure replays took place resulting in another set of gate receipts.
The riot occured at the end of the Cup Final replay, which had again ended in a draw. When it became clear there would be no extra time played (despite earlier newspaper reports promising it would be), over 6,000 supporters from both sides invaded the pitch and, basically, tore the place apart.
The academic Wray Vanplew describes the scene at Hampden Park.
A few policemen attempted to stem the flow but they were beaten savagely. Police reinforcements were able to prevent the mob from reaching the dressing rooms, but that was all they could accomplish. Rioters tore out the goalposts, ripped up the nets, and smashed down fencing. Bonfires were made out of the broken barricading and the uprooted goalposts were used as battering rams against the turnstile entrances which were also set on fire. The arrival of the fire brigade signalled further trouble and the firemen were attacked and their hoses slashed.
Not till early evening, two and a half hours after the match ended, were the rioters forced out of the ground and the fires brought under control. Much of the stadium was damaged: five gates and payboxes with twenty two turnstiles had been destroyed, a substantial proportion of fencing had been smashed and burned, and a large part of the playing area had been scarred by fire and broken glass; in all some £1000 worth of damage. Casualties were heavy: fifty eight policemen and sixty others received hospital treatment; only by a miracle was no-one killed.
The result ended up being satisfactory to no-one, as the Guardian’s Knowledge explains:
Both clubs petitioned the SFA to have the tie abandoned and their demands were duly met when officials decided the match would not be replayed. The cup and all medals were withheld, although both clubs were compensated to the amount of £150, while Queen’s Park received £500 for the damage. “I would suggest the withdrawal of all policemen from football matches,” wrote one correspondent in the Glasgow Evening Times, “and substitute a regiment of soldiers with fixed bayonets.”
The correspondent’s quote reminds us that hooliganism has been with us in football since its early days, as have demands for ever tougher policing. But it is also worth remembering that such disturbances were not a creation of or unique to football. Horse racing, too — allegedly the Sport of Kings, of course — was seriously marred by spectator violence in the early part of the twentieth century. Bookmakers who didn’t pay up were often attacked by large crowds and tossed into rivers. Pugilists were hired by race course owners to defend their property, and police in attendence at large events such as Ascot.
The Rangers-Celtic riot, with a showpiece final turned into a mass spontaneous bonfire over anger at the authorities, demonstrates that football violence does not simply stem from fan rivalry or gangs. The rise of violence at spectator sports in Britain before World War One had roots in deeper strains of society leading up to that cataclysmic event: a growing general awareness of injustice (as seen in working class politics or the rise of the suffragettes) was torpedoed into two hours of mass madness at Hampden Park on that day in April, 1909, when the crowd felt the authorities were robbing them.
Sources: Wray Vampler, “Sports Crowd Disorder in Britain 1870-1914: Causes and Controls”, Journal of Sport History, Vol. 7 #1; The Guardian Knowledge, March 21 2007
This was the second in a series of historical looks at significant pitch invasions.