Celtic avoid crush disaster in Nottingham but warning was tragically ignored

Forty years ago this evening a massive Celtic support had travelled down to Nottingham to play Brian Clough’s Forest in another one of those Battle of Britain affairs. It was also a battle of European Cup Winners with Celtic becoming the first British side to win the Big Cup in 1967 and much more recently at that time, was the double European Cup wins for Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980.

The occasion was the UEFA Cup Third Round first leg and the match finished goalless, although Celtic had the better of things and really should have won the match. They’d live to regret the missed opportunities at Celtic Park in the return.

It was an absolutely freezing night and as we made our way to the City Ground what was apparent was that despite there being no sign of any trouble the Police were in full riot gear and seemed to be spoiling for the anticipate aggro to get underway. Many supporters would have left it as late as possible to accommodate as much time in the local pubs as possible before heading to the game and as the travelling support was so large there was an inevitable late surge.

Supporters also seemed to have been delayed through buses being parked up on the bridge near the ground. As kick-off approached the Nottingham Police decided to open gates so whether you had. ticket or not, no-one bothered as the support were ushered in throw open gates rather than turnstiles.

We covered this match is some detail back in 2020 but thought it’s worth another look today.

Some replies to this tweet worth looking at:

“Forest and the police weren’t prepared for the vast number of Celtic fans. Only a few turnstiles dealing with thousands of supporters. In the panic they opened a gate into one of the pens.”

“Can’t remember this one at all. It’s interesting that, despite some fans obviously being in distress and requiring attention, there’s still eejits stood around trying to rouse the fans. Different times. Sadly, this is not Forest’s only experience of this kind of thing.”

“Me and my mate dogged school for that one – 1st European away tie. Don’t think Nottingham had ever seen an away support that size before – totally unprepared. The crushing was appalling – I recall the Celtic fans chanting ‘we are not animals’. Very lucky there were no fatalities.”

“My first ever European away game. Ended up in the crush and came home with one shoe and bus home had a window caved in. Absolutely freezing.”

“Twelve hours to get home following day absolutely great trip can’t believe it was 37 years ago we were in stand not caught up in crush thankfully.”

“That end was vastly overcrowded. Opened the gates and ticket less fans rushed in. Terrifying with those pens and fences.”

“I was there that night, got caught in a huge crush getting into the game, buses too near the turnstiles if I remember right.”

“Buses parked on the bridge, right outside the ground.”

“When I got home still had full ticket that was Hillsbrough moment no lessons learned!”

“I think there have been more near misses than we like to think about.”

“It was freezing all day.”

“And there were fans climbing the floodlights in just Celtic tops and shorts.”

“The crush trying to get in the turnstiles was terrible.”

“And Brian Clough acting like a prick blaming Celtic fans and placing a banner a david hays feet.”

Hampden 57 was also at this game  and writes about what happened on Celtic Wiki. Here’s a flavour of his longer article on this cold and dangerous night in Nottingham…

We reached the city ground just after 6 o’clock, well before the kick-off time of 7.30. Even at that early stage there were huge numbers of Celtic fans outside–it seemed much more than the 6000 or so that had been estimated would travel. Our tickets were for the end behind the goal and there were massive queues outside the main admission gate. It seemed to take forever for people to get in, and all the while the crowd was getting bigger. It was obvious at this stage that the police were not able to deal with the situation, as crushes were beginning to develop in the queues.

Finally, we got in around 15 minutes or so before the match started, but there were several hundred still outside, maybe more. I remember looking at the pitch and half of it was completely frozen and looked unplayable, with the other half, which had obviously got some sun that day, looking playable. I was surprised they let the match go on, but I suppose by that stage it too late to call it off.

What was the situation by kick-off time?

It was very bad. Many English football grounds at that time had pens, which sub-divided terraces into small, self-contained sections, divided by high fences. The pens had gates, but very few people could pass from one pen to another at any given time. We were in the corner pen, which is the one you went into after passing through the turnstyles. It was by this stage jam packed, but there didn’t seem to be any awareness among stewards or the police, and no attempt to open up the gates across all of the pens to allow the fans to filter through more evenly.

So, the game kicked off–what happened next?

By kick-off time, the corner pen where I was standing was full, as was the adjoining pen. You could hardly see the park, because there were so many people in the end. But more and more people kept pouring into that corner pen. I have never been in such a packed, small, contained area with so many people. After a few minutes of the game, severe crushing had started. We were about half-way down the terrace, but were getting pushed by this mass pressure closer and closer to the front. You didn’t so much walk as get swept along.

The game itself kicked off and Celtic appeared a touch nervous. Forest settled and almost scored when Gary Birtles ran onto a long ball that evaded the Celtic defence. He should have scored but Packie Bonner made a great save. However, right after this, there were some huge surges of people into the pen with the fans at the front getting trapped against the high perimeter fences. It was really terrifying, as you had absolutely no control over it. You couldn’t get out of the way, or move somewhere else. It was hard to breathe, never mind move.

I had been in crush type situations before in Scotland–normally when you were leaving big matches– but nothing I had ever experienced before or after would come close to this. I saw one or two people falling and it seemed certain there would be some serious casualties. Then, all of a sudden, lots of the fans started climbing over the high fence onto the pitch. Before long it seemed that hundreds were doing this. Some where also climbing into the next pen. A few even shinnied up the floodlights. This had the effect of relieving the pressure a bit on those left in the pen. But there was no question of those fans coming back into the pens, so the game was delayed, for about 15 minutes.

What did the stewards and police do?

Very little in a constructive way at first. They seemed to just watch people pour onto the field and were not helpful. They appeared to see it as a crowd control issue, rather than a disaster in the making. I remember Brian Clough coming onto the field with a flag, presumably to please the ‘rioting’ Celtic fans. It was ridiculous, really, as no-one had grasped the gravity of the situation. Eventually, after what seemed an age, the police ferried fans around to different parts of the ground, and the game re-started.

Here are some supporter memories from that night in Nottingham…

READ THIS….Nottingham Forest v Celtic – The Completely Ignored Hillsborough Warning

“I was at the game in Nottingham. It was a very cold but it didn’t have any adverse impact on the Celtic support’s enthusiasm. I can remember some fans actually dancing in some water fountains in the town centre even though the temperatures were so low.

“We went along to the ground in plenty of time for the kick off and it was obvious that at that point many had turned up without a ticket.The police were having difficulty controlling the large numbers assembled. I cannot remember any bad behaviour or trouble of any kind from the Celtic supporters.

“The police eventually opened the exit gates and hundreds walked in with or without tickets. I did have a ticket and sensed that because of what I witnessed outside the ground. ie.The very large crowds, that there was now the potential for crushing within the stadium. I decided to watch the game from the top of the terracing as the crushing was not as severe.

“From this point I could observe where the worst of the problem was. Right down in the corner near one of the corner flags it was apparent that people were being crushed and there was no way that they could escape from the danger that they found themselves in. My recollections of how the crushing was stopped and then the subsequent wrongly described pitch invasion by the fans ,was that a fan or fans within the area worst effected by the overcrowding needed assistance from the first aiders.

“When the first aiders opened the gate on the perimeter fence to help the supporters, many fans took the opportunity to escape from the potentially fatal situation they found themselves in. This resulted in hundreds of fans being on the track and the pitch as well. The fans had to do something to help themselves because no body in authority seemed to understand what was happening it’s a miracle that no one died that night.

“I left the ground long before the game finished and returned to the bus, I was fearful of crushing leaving the ground and also very angry at the incompetence of the Nottingham Police force and the way that they handled this major sporting event. Watching the highlights on television a couple days later I was disgusted to see Brian Clough manhandling some Celtic fans who he had thought were causing trouble.” John McGoldrick

“Five of us travelled down to Nottingham by car, we arrived early morning on the day of the game, got a good breakfast inside us, then went round a few pubs, we ended up in a pub called The Narrow Boat, and the landlord was brilliant with us, let us go behind the bar and took photos of us holding up the tricolour while singing the Celtic songs. We stayed there all day, got on great with the locals, who where mainly Notts County supporters.

“Near the time of the kick off, the landlord even drove us to The City Ground in his car, when we got there, there was thousands of Celtic fans outside the ground trying to get in, one of the big gates got put in or was opened up by the police.

“We managed to get in, but couldn’t get any further than the first pen, and it was heaving, I knew it was going to get worse, and I was one of the fans that climbed up the floodlights, got a great view of the game, but it was freezing, parts of the pitch which were shaded all day were still frozen, but it was never going to get called off, because of the size of the Celtic support, which filled three quarters of the ground.

“Nottingham never knew what hit them, and Clough acted like a clown, when the Celtic support had to go on the pitch to get away from the crush in the corner of the ground.

“Celtic should have won the game down there, and we paid the price at Celtic Park when they put us out, it could have been easily a disaster if the fans hadn’t gone onto the pitch.
The trip was great, we got well looked after, but you put fans into pens and too many turn up, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, and it did at Hillsborough.

“Got to keep the faith, hail hail.” Stephen Kane

“I was working in London at the time. Knowing that tickets would be like gold dust I managed to get 4 tickets from a work colleague whose husband was a Forrest season ticket holder! We travelled up on the train at 10 am (crammed with Celtic fans) and spend the day in the town centre pubs. A huge Celtic support descended on the city and we met lots of locals who could not believe the volume of supporters who were there.

“An older guy we met was reading the local sports paper which mentioned the return leg “at Celtics 67,000 capacity Glasgow ground”  he asked if it was a misprint !! We also witnessed some pockets of violent behaviour mainly from Forrest fans.

“I recall waiting for ages to get in the small number of turnstiles with what seemed to be thousands outside, I was almost there when a huge surge pinned me against the wall immediately to the left of the last turnstile. I knew if I didn’t get out of there quickly I would be in bother and a second later when the pressure eased, I managed to wrestle myself into the turnstile. I remember the operator saying “ Just Go, go, go” wasn’t even interested if I had a ticket and that is what caused the problems inside the ground.

“For about 15 minutes after that the crowd poured in, resulting in terrible crushing and fans spilling onto the pitch. Looking back it was a very dangerous situation, but Thank God no one was seriously hurt as far as I recall.  As for the game, my abiding memory is Murdo MacLeod missing a great chance near the end to give us a first leg lead but alas we were knocked out in Glasgow. HH” Andy Boyle

“Nottingham Forest vs Celtic – I was at the game, my dad took myself and my brother to the City Ground, I was 13 years old and remember the crush, we ended up in the Main Stand where we were okay. Went to return at Parkhead, think Davenport scored.” Paul Kelly

“I was at the game , a bit worse for wear I ended up in the wrong end of the ground , opened my coat to get my smokes out of my inside pocket , a police saw my Hoops grabbed me and said “Celtic is it ? “ then took me round to the Celtic end, opened one of the cages and threw me in. It was packed, but being honest I glad of the body heat as I’ve never been so cold at a game of football.” Alan , Montrose

“I was at the Forest game that night, loads of Celtic fans had tickets for the away end( Trent End. )I along with most of my mates had them, we were taken round to the away end through the turnstiles around the pitch and put into one of the pens. I never got to see the game as I spent it being pushed up and down the terrace, was relieved when the game finished, spent the whole game squashed and struggling to breathe.” Bernard Kernan

“I was at Nottingham. Travelled down with  the Sons of Donegal Club who ran two buses, such was the demand.  We arrived in good time and got good position on the terrace behind the goal but it just seemed to get filled up extremely quickly and we were pushed to the front and I remember a giant cop lifting us over the fence on to the track where we were directed to the main stand area which had lots of room. Sadly it was a game we should have won but Forest showed in the return game how good a team they were. Hail Hail.” Jim O’Rourke

“My mate and I managed to get tickets and travelled from Fife by car to Glasgow then got on one of the many buses running to Nottingham from Glasgow. If I remember correctly the buses were held on the motorway before getting near the ground. It was chaos getting into the game, long queues and not much room. Once we were in it was even worse I’ve never been in such a bad crush, we had to climb a fence from one section to the other to try and get a bit more room.

“The police were 100% at fault for opening the gates and letting everyone in. Complete shambles. It was a freezing cold night capped off by not getting a result then a bus with no heating all the way back to Glasgow.” Roy Finnie

“I had just turned 18 when we went to Forest. It’s been pretty much covered the events of that day and night. My Dad and myself spent a good few hours in a big pub in Nottingham before the game, and I can vouch for the general great atmosphere and friendliness between the two sets of fans.

“My story is no different to most I’ve read on the subject..we too climbed out of that first pen into the neighbouring, more central one..as I said..I was 18, and full of youthful enthusiasm and bravado..but I remember my Dad was scared..rightly so.

“There is one point where I have to put forward an alternative view..yes,Brian Clough did seem to get hold of the wrong end of the stick on the night..the flag at Davie Hay’s feet etc..but in the following days when The Sun(Scum) tried to label it as hooliganism from us..(sound familiar bringing Hillsborough into focus?) Clough came out and said the Celtic fans were great, and there was no hooliganism..just scared people trying to get away from danger..i feel it’s important that this is remembered..Clough normally got it right..eventually!

“I was completely thrilled how Celtic played that night..we should have won easily..and I was completely confident for the 2nd leg..so much so, that I took bets from many at work that not only would Celtic win the game..but I refused to take bets on anything less than a 3 goal victory!..

“My Dad and myself travelled up from London for that game..and we were played off the park!..the queue of outstretched hands and very light pay packet that week will live with me forever!” Noel McGrath

“I was at that game, was the most scared I have ever been at a game we got there early enough but the crowd wee crazy,I still have the whole ticket from this game as we got in a big exitgate that we were crushed against then when we did get in they had only opened the first pen, I climbed over that one then the next one but they seemed to take ages to open the pens up for what reason a don’t know as it was just all Celtic fans at that end, if the fans at the front off the first pen hadn’t started climbing on to the pitch God knows what would have happened.

“I’ve been going to games since I was a wee boy in the sixties and this was the most scared I have ever been at a football match, the lead up to the game was horrible as well the city was shite, it was freezing and foggy,and it was a horrible game as well,a hazy night with the swally on the Motherwell 9 in a row bus, but when I think off it now it was just as well a was half drunk cos if I wasn’t it would have been even more scary.” McGarrell  via Celtic Noise

“I was there that night in 1983. I was 15 and was a season ticket holder. I was in the lower executive (Brian Clough) stand with my Grandad and we were moved to the Upper tier as Celtic had our seats .Yes it was freezing, I remember the fence on the Bridgford end collapsing and fans on the pitch, I have never seen so many coaches in the car park we struggled though to find the exit it was that busy .Remember it well . Kind regards.” Steve Cottingham

“I was also at that game, I was living and working in Blackpool at the time and my father drove down from East Kilbride the night before to pick me up, I then took over the driving and we headed to Nottingham. Both of us sober due to driving and I thanked God for that many a time.

We arrived at the ground in plenty of time but still got caught in the crushing both outside and inside, I remember my father saying to one of the police officers in charge outside the ground that he had better open the exit gates to ease congestion, after a while this was done and we surged in to the city ground, we got directed into the first corner pen behind the goals and found ourselves halfway down the terrace and up against the fence.

“I pulled myself up the fence and could see that immediately behind the goals there was plenty of space, so my father and I both climbed over 3 different fences and settled in behind the goals.

“Why the stewards and Police directed us and hundreds of others into an already packed area we will never know. Incompetence and unprepared for what was a relatively small travelling support almost caused a disaster. To me it was indicative of Police attitudes to the public during the Thatcher era and it seemed as though they were geared up hoping for a riot rather than being there to help and protect.” 50 Shades of Green via Celtic Noise.

“I was there too…the crush in that narrow street going into the ground was horrendous…I will always remember my old man telling me (I was about 11) to keep my arms up go and with the flow of the crowd. It most definitely saved me from falling and serious injury.. thankfully I was nowhere near the crowd surge that caused the wall to collapse….it certainly was a very scary evening.” Docco via Celtic Noise.

Nottingham Forest v Celtic – Horror video shows what happened, listen to BBC’s Archie Macpherson

Another supporter’s account of his night at the City Ground in November 1983 as Celtic travelled with a huge support to back them to play Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the UEFA Cup.

It’s a match that Celtic should have won but the game is remembered more for the dreadful crushing that occurred just after kick-off as the Nottingham Police opened gates and packed thousands of additional supporters into tiny pens.  It was a disaster waiting to happen and thank heavens that the Celtic support was spared that night but it was a close run thing and it could easily have been our Hillsborough.

Sadly the lessons from this game were ignored by the English football authorities and the Police and it would be the Liverpool support who would face tragedy and the needless loss of life.


“I was there that night but there’s a wee story behind it. I flew in from New Zealand the day before to surprise my family as my brother was getting married, I had arranged to get a seat and ticket with the Shettleston Celtic Supporters Club which I had been a member before I emigrated to NZ in ’82, so I landed one day, next day on the bus to Nottingham.

“When approaching the ground after we parked the bus, you could see the problems mounting, Celtic supporters that had tickets for other parts of the ground where refused entry and directed to the one end, when we got there, only three turnstiles opened… and as we got closer to kick off the fans pushed to get to the turnstiles, nearing the turnstile I was crushed against the wall, nearly blacking out before one of my mates physically picked me up ( at the turnstile entrance ) the guy was refusing to let us in unless we produced a ticket and virtually at that point they opened the gates, next to the turnstiles.

“The rush was frightening and as we got to the terraces, the crush was a very scary sight to see, we squeezed in but the fans kept coming and it got mental, you couldn’t move or put your hands in your pocket, you were just jammed next to everyone around you and carried along. As it says eventually barriers gave way, the riot police deployed as they thought the spill onto the ground was fighting and as noted Brian Clough threw down the banner at the Celtic dugout, whereupon Frank Connor picked it up and went after Clough.

“Davie Hay came over and after seeing what was going on and talking to fans on the pitch, he grabbed the most Senior Policeman around and demanded they move the fans into other parts of the ground. A very frightening night, one that lives long in the memory and when I watched the Hillsborough Disaster years later from NZ and seeing the Doco’s, the symmetry of the situation created by the Police was scary and unfortunately the lessons had not been learned.” Stephen Deacon

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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