The Emergence of Rangers: 1920-29

The manager of Rangers in the years from 1899 to 1920 had been William Wilton, a man highly regarded within football circles and a close personal friend of Willie Maley. Tragically, in the summer of 1920, Wilton drowned in an accident near Gourock and Rangers trainer, Bill Struth, was appointed to the post. Struth had never played football but as an athlete in his younger days, he recognised the value of certain qualities and immediately adopted a strict regime in which discipline, hardness and fitness were all-important. He also insisted that the club travel in style – first class, preferably – and made the players dress accordingly.

All these moves brought instant success and suddenly, the Ibrox club became the dominant side in Scotland. The Scottish Cup might still have been their Achilles Heel (they had not won the competition since 1903 and would not be successful again till 1928) but their overall record was still pretty impressive. Their success stats for the 1920s, for instance, were;


League     Scottish Cup     Glasgow Cup     Charity Cup     Total

8                      2                            5                         6                    21


compared to Celtic’s record of;


League      Scottish Cup     Glasgow Cup   Charity Cup     Total

2                        3                          4                       3                     12


In this decade of the 1920s, Celtic were involved in another two of the ‘one-of’ competitions and this time, the club did not come up trumps in either of them. The first one took place in 1921.


Lord Provost’s Unemployment Fund Tournament

This was an initiative to alleviate the distress caused by unemployment on Clydeside, the levels of which were higher than elsewhere in Scotland. A feature of the tournament was that the competing clubs – all from Glasgow – would meet all the expenses.

Celtic’s first outing was on 29th November 1921 at Parkhead, where a crowd of 5,000 saw them beat Third Lanark 2-0, with Tommy McInally scoring both goals. That put them into the final, held at Hampden on 13th December 1921. Rangers were the opponents and a crowd of 25,000 turned up to see the action, which was very definitely controlled by the Light Blues, who scored twice, through Cairns and Hansen, to claim victory.


The other trophy up for grabs in this decade came seven years later and had a most quaint name;



Glasgow Dental Hospital Cup

As the name might suggest, this trophy was put up for competition in 1928 to raise funds for the local dental hospital, which, many years later, between 1961 and 1966, could almost be regarded as my other ‘home’.

A fine cup was put up for the competition and the winners were guaranteed gold medals, so the 8 chosen teams were keen to take part, none more so than Celtic, who got their campaign underway on November 14th 1928 at Parkhead with a first round match against Queen’s Park. Goals from Joe Riley (2) and Owen McNally (2) gave the club a fine win in front of a crowd of 4,000, putting Celtic into the semi-final, where they would meet Partick Thistle. And what a shambles that turned out to be!

The tie kicked-off at the very late time – for a game on 28th November – of 2.30pm and almost as though it was ordained to happen, the match finished in a 1-1 draw. Although it was already around 4.15pm or even 4.20pm, extra-time was ordered and the teams got ready. As they lined up, the referee, Mr Hutton of Glasgow, well aware of the failing light, advised the teams to play on as long as possible. In semi-darkness, Thistle scored two goals and were leading 3-1 when the referee called a halt to the play with 10 minutes left. It was an odd ending to any competition but it was confirmed later that the result would be allowed to stand.

Most observers of the match were of the opinion that Thistle were the better side on the day and they went on to win the Glasgow Dental Hospital Cup by beating Rangers in the final.


Special Moments during the 1920s


1          In 1922, the Celtic Board made the decision to withdraw the Reserve Team, apparently on the grounds of cost. The predictable outcome was that the assembly-line of young talent coming into the first-team dried up, a very peculiar decision at a time when Rangers were going from strength to strength.


2          In 1920, Celtic made a quick trip to France, where they played the ‘Lions of Flanders’ at Lille and other matches in Paris, including one against Newcastle United.


3          In the summer of 1922, Celtic headed for Europe again, this time a tour ridden with rough play. They were beaten 2-3 by SK Slavia ( attendance 52,000), then lost 1-2 to Sparta Prague (51,000) before drawing with the Prussian Select side at Grunewald (26,000).


4          The Offside Law is changed by the International Board in 1925. Instead of a player requiring three players between him and the opposing goal in the opposition half to be onside, that requirement dropped to two players.

5          The Scottish Third Division, which only started in 1923-24, folded in season 1925-26, as most of its clubs could not afford to continue playing.


6          In one of the memorable Old Firm matches, Celtic thrashed Rangers 5-0 in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup in 1925. In the final, against Dundee, Patsy Gallacher scored an amazing equaliser for Celtic and later, they went on to win 2-1. Unfortunately, footage of the goal has never surfaced.


7          The English First Division match between Arsenal and Sheffield United on 22nd January 1927 was the first to be broadcast on radio. A diagram of the pitch, divided up into squares, was printed in the Radio Times. One commentator described the play while another called out the number of the square, so listeners knew where the action was taking place. Thus, the famous phrase ‘back to square one’ came into being.


8          Jimmy McGrory scored 49 goals for his team during the 1926-27 season but his team, who hit 101 in total, could only finish 3rd in the League behind Rangers and Motherwell.


9          The Celtic South Stand caught fire on 28th March 1929, so Celtic finished the season with five ‘home’ matches played at various venues. Third Lanark at Shawfield (30-3-29), Partick Thistle at Firhill (1-4-29), Hibs at Easter Road (13-4-29), Queen’s Park at Hampden (17-4-29) and Falkirk at Shawfield (20-4-29).


10        On May 18th 1930, Scotland played its first match abroad, beating France 2-0 in Paris.


Special moments out-with Football


1920    Mary Pickford marries Douglas Fairbanks, the world’s most eligible bachelor

1921    Adolf Hitler becomes President of National Socialist Party.

1922    The BBC is formed and begins daily news broadcasts.

1923    A new law in the UK allows wives to divorce husbands for cruelty.

1924    Death of Lenin, founder of Soviet Russia.

1925    Norway’s capital Christiana is re-named Oslo.

1926    Death of film-star Rudolf Valentino.

1927    Malcolm Campbell breaks world land speed record, reaching 174mph in Wales.

1928    Flying Doctor service is inaugurated in Australia.

1929    Wall Street crash begins; more than 12 million transactions recorded.