Archibald Leitch, the architect of English football punctuated by the Ibrox Park tragedy

The story of Archibald Leitch (1865-1939) is that of a guy reluctant to give up. He was a Scottish architect whose main occupation was designing factories in his hometown, Glasgow. However, the most important assignment of his career did not come to him in the industrial world, but in football. The Rangers, a club he was a fan of, asked him in 1899 to design their stadium, Ibrox Park. Leitch gladly accepted and did so without charge, out of love for the team. That decision, however, was close to being expensive.

Leitch witnessed the friendly match between Scotland and England (1-1) at Ibrox Park in April 1902, which was attended by 80,000 people. That day, the grandstand, built with wooden planks, fell in the 51st minute because it could not support the weight. The fans fell from 12 meters to the ground; there were 26 dead and 587 wounded. The mistake would have been the end of anyone’s career, but it was not his case.

The architect wrote a letter to the club after the tragedy in which he argued that no one regretted what happened as much as he. THe also met with Rangers managers and was blunt: if they hired someone else, they would make him the culprit for what happened. The responsibility for the tragedy, however, fell not with Archibald, but with the producer of the wood. The architect was released from charges and continued with a meteoric career.

The Rangers Stadium bleachers. (Reuters)

Goodbye wood and hello steel

The tragedy changed Archibald’s ideas. For the rest of the constructions that were commissioned, He left wood behind and opted for tubular steel and concrete beams as the main element. The goal was to avoid another accident like Ibrox Park.

The next commission came in 1903. Middlesbrough was the first team to bet on him after what happened in Glasgow. The construction of Ayresome Park, the fiefdom in which the club played until 1995, bore his signature. 16 of the 22 Premier League teams hired his services in the 1920s.

The Rangers bet again on him and was in charge of the remodeling of Ibrox Park. This time, there were no errors. The next jobs were in the capital, where he built Stamford Bridge and renovated Craven Cottage. Some renovations that he also carried out in Liverpool, both at Anfield and at Goodison Park.

Liverpool fans celebrate Salah’s goal at Anfield. (Reuters)

Stadium reconstruction

These works were followed by the construction of Old Trafford for Manchester United, from The Den for Milwall, the reform of White Hart Lane for Tottenham in 1909, Highbury’s design for Arsenal in 1913 and Villa Park’s design for Aston Villa in 1914.

Archibald’s plans were to continue with the construction of stadiums because there was no war conflict in his plans. The First World War paralyzed his career until 1921, when he resumed it. That year he was commissioned by Scottish Dundee to design his stadium, Dens Park. Then came the construction of St. James Park and the reform of Anfield, Goodison Park and Villa Park.

Its stadiums have seen it win titles of all kinds: Premier, Recopa de Europa, Champions League, UEFA … The only thing that Leitch’s constructions have lacked has been a national team trophy.

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