Sam English - Season of Glory
Feature by Ayrshire Billy Boy
Updated Thursday, 6th July 2006
75 years ago this summer, Rangers signed a young Ulsterman who had been plying his trade for Yoker Athletic. In his first season for Rangers in 1931/32 he set a goalscoring record that, as yet, has not been beaten.
In just three seasons in the Junior ranks, he had scored almost 300 goals, an incredible return.
Therefore, in a small recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the season in which this record was set, we hope to present here – albeit somewhat limited – a record of Sammy English's feats and contribution to Rangers' history as a tribute to his memory. Sadly, his goalscoring exploits were not rewarded with a league Championship medal, Rangers finishing second to the talented Motherwell team of the era. Therefore, while commentary on the Championship race is inevitable in a study such as this, the primary focus will be on what Sammy achieved as an individual rather than what Rangers did not achieve as a team.
Throughout Rangers' long and glorious history, the support has been privileged to have witnessed some truly magnificent strikers in the Royal Blue. Robert Hamilton, Jimmy Smith, Bob McPhail, Willie Thornton, Jimmy Millar, Jim Forrest, Colin Stein and Ally McCoist will all rightly be remembered for their abilities as Rangers front men. All had their own particular areas of specialty when it came to putting the ball in the net. Willie Thornton, for example, is noted for his heading ability while Ally McCoist's sublime predatory instincts put him in the top bracket for that particular area. But what type of a player was Sammy English? With the only footage of him that seems to be available being the fateful accidental collision with John Thomson – which we will return to in due course – anybody from the modern era seeking to build a profile of a player from 75 years ago has to do so with contemporary reports, memories and stories handed down from generation to generation of Rangers fans.
With regard to the latter source, this Bear was fortunate enough to fall into the company of an elderly gentleman about 5 years ago in a Rangers pub, fittingly enough ran at the time by another goalscoring record holder, Jim Forrest. The old Rangers fan in question – and it is to be hoped he is still with us - had been following Rangers for almost 80 years at the time the conversation we had took place and could well remember the great Rangers teams of the late 20s and early 30s and spoke at length of the legendary players he had seen.
Men like Meiklejohn and McPhail, Shaw, Young, Dawson and Woodburn, Baxter, Caldow and Cox were discussed during a lengthy question and answer session as to who were the best Rangers players he had seen. When the name of Sammy English, though, cropped up, it was obvious he had a special place in the heart of the one Rangers supporter this Bluenose had ever spoken to who had actually seen him play. “Ahhh………Sammy English,” said the old guy, spoken with the affection the current generation have for the likes of Davie Cooper and who will doubtless be in similar situations with as yet unborn Rangers fans many years in the future.
“Sammy English.” With an obvious trip through the memories of the mists of time being undertaken. “He had a right foot that seemed to be able to find the net from anywhere; he was the best striker I ever saw playing for The Rangers.” Given the plethora of great strikers the aged gent must have seen playing for our beloved Club, that is quite a statement to have made and we would suggest it's a valid viewpoint.
While Sammy English may not have played for his beloved Rangers for the same length of time as Ally McCoist or Willie Thornton, such was his talent that if length of service is disregarded in favour of talent when debating who Rangers' best ever strikers were then it is not unreasonable to have Sammy English as a contender for best when using this word purely in its most basic context. It should also be pointed out that in no way is this meant to try and take away the contribution or attempt to query the talents of modern day favourites such as Ally McCoist whose place in the memories of those that saw him will rightly remain a primary factor.
Another link with Sammy's Rangers career comes in the form of FF's very own Gub. FF's noted scribe's grandfather saw Sammy English playing during season 1931/32 and, through stories passed from one generation to the next of Gub's family, the contemporary description of ‘a goalscoring machine' gives us an idea of the talents the player in question possessed. Therefore, with the actual memories from one elderly Rangers fan who was alive in 2001 and who saw Sammy English play, along with an unbroken chain that has seen memories passed down through three generations of the one family of Rangers supporters we would contend this gives a platform from which to build a profile of a player whose memory and feats are, sadly, neglected at times in favour of a tragic accident that haunted him for the rest of his life. It is hoped that this admittedly limited work, in some small measure, redresses the balance in favour of what Sam English achieved as a footballer during his record breaking season.
The curtain on Sammy's record breaking season went up at Ibrox on 8th August, 1931. A crowd of 30,000 saw Rangers canter to a 4-1 win over Dundee. The Daily Record reporter of the time – going under the name of “Brigadier”(!) was fulsome in his praise of the new striker, describing him as being possessing of electric pace. Straight away that provides us with another part of his game with which to construct an idea of the type of player he was. Both his goals, however, were headers making the picture clearer yet. A fast striker with a keen shooting eye for goal and one who was adept at heading the ball suggest s the early impressions of contemporary observers were spot on when they alluded to the possibility of Rangers having unearthed a diamond.
The first of what was to become a record breaking 44 arrived, ironically, after 44 minutes of his Rangers debut as he headed in a cross from Bob McPhail. As will become evident, this was far from the last time these two Rangers would combine in such away. His second was a header on the 85 minute mark, this time being supplied by Nicholson. Therefore, it was a satisfactory start to the season. With two goals on his debut, it ensured Sam's goals-per-game ratio for the entire league season with regard to the amount of appearances he made would always be balanced in favour of the former. The accompanying photo was taken on Sammy's debut at Ibrox. Sadly, no caption exists other than to state where it was taken. However, given the method in which the goals were scored and the image captured on the photo, it is not out of contention that we may be looking at him on the verge of scoring his first ever goal for Rangers although that cannot be stated for definite.
Knocks sustained in his debut precluded his participation in Rangers' following two League fixtures: a 2-1 win at Ibrox over Airdrie on 11th August; and a 4-2 defeat to eventual Champions Motherwell on Saturday 15th. It is worth noting, though, that contemporary reports suggest the vast majority of the 25,000 crowd were Rangers fans proving the draw of our great Club was as strong 3 generations ago as it is now.
Tuesday 18th August, 1931 will, to return to the topic, in all probability be the day in which Sammy won the adulation of the Rangers support. In what appears to have been a remarkable game, Sammy scored 5 of Rangers' goals in a 7-3 win over Morton. Although a description of his fifth goal that night has proven to be sadly elusive thus far, the notes on his first four indicate a striker who was, by each passing game, demonstrating he was in possession of every key element a forward needs.
The first of his five came on 13 minutes as he shot home with his left foot from a Bob McPhail pass in a partnership which was already bearing fruit and which would, in later years, have Bob McPhail stating Sammy English was the player he most enjoyed playing alongside in his own long and illustrious career. Praise indeed.
The second arrived on 40 minutes when, demonstrating alertness and quickness of mind, English pounced on a defensive mix-up to score.
A first half hat-trick was then duly completed on the half-time whistle as he shot home from a Doc Marshall pass.
His fourth goal indicates a natural awareness of where to be to accept a pass as he ran into position to accept another pass from Doc Marshall to slot home.
As noted, the attempts to uncover a description of his fifth goal have so far met with no success; but the variety of methods used to score the goals so far depicted suggest a striker with every weapon in his armoury. Speed, the ability to head, the ability to use both feet to shoot, positioning sense and the natural blending in to a team to form partnerships with his fellow strikers depict a highly talented striker showing he had everything it would take to be a legend for Rangers. As it stood, he now had a goals-per-game ratio of seven-to-two. Not a bad start at all.
He continued his scoring run in his third game for Rangers, this time against St. Mirren at Ibrox on 22nd August, 1931. His seventh minute strike again shows alertness and quickness of thought as he ran onto a misplaced defensive header to the St Mirren goalkeeper and slotted the ball past the opposing keeper. With a record thus far of eight goals in three games it is not difficult to see why the contemporary Rangers support had adopted him as a favourite son. It is perhaps also apposite to note that Sam's brother signed for his home town of Coleraine the following Monday.
Sam scored for the fourth game in succession on Tuesday 25th August in Rangers' 4-0 win over Leith. (A team, incidentally, who held their AGMs and EGMs in Masonic Halls leading to the question of what the reaction would be in Scotland 2006 should that be the practice of any other top flight club.) After 64 minutes he showed an ability to drift into position, judged a lob by The Wee Blue Devil himself ‘to perfection' to take him away from the defence and to score his ninth goal in a mere four games.
A trip to the coast to play Ayr United on August 29th brought Sammy's total to eleven goals in five games. The first, which was scored on 21 minutes, demonstrates strength, skill and an acute understanding of the workings of his team mates. Judging a pass from Doc Marshall, English's speed enabled him to race away from two opposing defenders to bring his total into double figures. The second of his brace duly arrived 20 minutes before the game's end as he latched on to a pass from Jimmy Fleming – himself to set a record in two years' time by scoring nine against Blairgowrie in the Scottish Cup – to score.
The remarkable sequence of having scored in every League game he had played in thus far was continued in a midweek fixture at Falkirk on 2nd September. After ten minutes, English pounced ‘like lightening' onto a slip by a Falkirk defender and placed the ball out of the reach of the goalkeeper. He was also responsible for a penalty miss, hitting the post with his effort.
After 6 games in which he had scored in every one, his total stood at a highly impressive 12 goals, obviously averaging out at two every game. When attempting to decipher what bracket of striker Sam would fit into, comparisons with more recent players are inevitable.
There is no question we are dealing with a quite exceptional footballer and are not basing definite comparisons on a mere 6 games but on reflection of his record breaking season as a whole. Some may agree, some may think the analogies are inaccurate and hyperbolic and we would welcome such criticisms; yet while understanding it maybe a bit early in Sam's career for making such judgements as yet such comparisons help to build an idea of what components his game consisted of and thus construct a profile of the type of striker he was. Indeed, the Glasgow Evening News saw fit to compare Sam to the great Hughie Gallagher, showing how much of an impression he'd made on the viewing public in such a short space of time.
Sadly, however, his next outing in the Royal Blue of his beloved Rangers on League duty was on that fateful 5th September 1931. In writing an article on Sammy English there is no getting away from the accident that took place that day. We would hope, however, he is remembered for his footballing skills rather than for being in the right place at the right time from a striker's point of view; but at a time that left an opponent dead and Sammy with memories that haunted him for the rest of his life.
Now Sammy played his heart away
In Rangers' Royal Blue,
Until one tragic Saturday
When the fates were oh, so cruel.
The Prince of Celtic goalies died
As Sammy tried his best
And all around the ground they whispered:
‘Johnny Thomson's dead.'
Sammy English was innocent of any wrongdoing in the incident that led to the death of John Thomson. Only in the minds of the twisted and bigoted is there room for any ambiguity with regard to Sammy's involuntary role in the accident in question. Sadly, such poison was evident at Celtic Park in 1931 in the shape of Willie Maley and has manifested itself down through the years, taking a modern day for with scurrilous messages posted on various internet forums with some Celtic fans still unwilling to accept that there was absolutely no intent on the part of Sammy English to injure John Thomson; but that the tragic outcome was just a horrific result from a collision caused by two players legitimately going for a ball, in the case of Thomson by using the then goalkeeping method of diving at the feet of the oncoming forward rather than spreading his body as is the norm nowadays.
The Gub has written extensively on the aftermath of the accident with particular reference to current Celtic propagandists and their attempts to exonerate Maley from any wrongdoing. It is not the wish of this study to repeat Gub's research which is the best of its kind. What will be stated here is that the Rangers player was absolutely and unequivocally innocent of anything other than trying to score a goal. This cannot be stated too often until the bigotry that seeks to cast aspersions on Sammy's memory is defeated.
Sammy actually played against Celtic in the Glasgow Cup just over 3 weeks after the accident. His involvement in competitions outwith the League will be covered in a subsequent section of this study but what is of relevance here is the reaction of the Celtic players and fans to Sammy's presence. Such was the invective aimed at him from the terracing that the Rangers Captain Davie Meiklejohn was forced to ask the referee to do something about it; and such was the treatment he received from the Celtic players that he ended up with a dislocated wrist from two tackles that contemporary reports describe in, even by the restrained language of the time, a disgusted manner.
Maley's comments at the Fatal Accident Inquiry of 15th October 1931 noted how he ‘hoped' it was an accident. This was a totally abhorrent and reprehensible comment, suggesting ambiguity where none existed. There is no other conclusion other than to say they were the words of a bitter, vile bigot who refused to believe that Sammy's innocence was total. It also put him at odds with the Celtic programme that was issued for their first home game after the accident, the notes of which are quoted verbatim: “We are sure all who were at Ibrox will agree in exonerating [Sam] English completely from blame.”
We are also left to wonder how Maley's aspersions would have been felt in the household of John Thomson's grieving parents. On Wednesday 16th September Sammy English, Bill Struth and Davie Meiklejohn travelled through to their home. The outcome of the meeting was that John Thomson's parents completely absolved Sammy English from any blame at all and wished him and successful career; and, moreover, expressed their sympathy for the way they saw him suffering. Sadly, such sentiments were absent from the evidence submitted by the then Celtic manager, the memory of whom on account of the sly, poisonous way in which he tried to suggest culpability on the Rangers player's part could not be ruled out is left worthy of nothing but contempt.
As it was the Fatal Accident inquiry totally absolved Sammy of any guilt whatsoever, although, naturally, it haunted him forever. There is nothing more that can be added to this but to state once again Sammy English did nothing wrong that fateful day. Any right thinking person then or now can see that.
The fact that even such a Christian gentleman as Bob McPhail went into print to say he never forgave Maley for that disgusting comment says it all.
Unsurprisingly, Sammy's goalscoring form deserted him following the death of John Thomson. He failed to score for the second league game in succession in Rangers' 3-1 win at Firhill the Saturday the 0-0 draw with Celtic. Incidentally, Rangers topped the table at this point, with 17 points after 10 games. The following Tuesday, Rangers defeated Aberdeen 4-1 at Ibrox in a game English again did not score in, albeit with a still impressive goals-per-game ratio of 12/9. The 0-0 draw with Hearts at Tynecastle on 26th September meant that this was the fourth consecutive game in which Sammy failed to find the net and, moreover, saw Rangers lose the lead at the top of the table due to Motherwell's 7-1 win over Leith putting them on top due to goal average.
He regained his goalscoring touch, though, at Ibrox on 3rd October during a 6-1 win. The first, on 34 minutes, was again a product of the understanding being developed with Bob McPhail, with Sammy running onto a long pass from the latter to score. The second, on 43 minutes, was a header from a Doc Marshall cross.
It is worth noting that the current ratio of 14/11 included four headers, a remarkable statistic given that he was only 5 feet 8 inches tall. It would appear he had the ability to outjump taller defenders by means of timing and positional sense. Players like that are a rarity in football and it is not unreasonable to suggest this ability, along with the others already noted, offer validity to the thought related earlier on that Sam English was in fact the most talented striker ever to have played for Rangers. Of course, that will never be an open and shut case but there is a definite case for his nomination.
The inconsistent league form that afflicted Rangers that season played its part in a shock 1-0 defeat at home to Queens Park on 17th October, a game in which Sammy was deployed as an outside right. Back at centre forward for the trip to Hamilton the following week, however, he netted Rangers' equaliser in the 40th minute on the way to a 2-1 win for the team. He had now scored fifteen goals in thirteen league games and had embarked on scoring in a run of six consecutive games.
The following week, at home to Dundee United, his three goals contributed immensely to Rangers' 5-0 win over the visitors. The first came in 17 minutes via a first time shot from a Sandy Archibald free kick. The description of the second in 71 minutes evokes memories of Ally McCoist as he is described as running onto a through ball, drawing the keeper and scoring. The hat-trick was completed on 82 minutes with a volley as the ball dropped from the air. The running total of goals per games was now a very healthy 18/14. Motherwell, incidentally, drew 2-2 with Celtic which meant they led the table with 28 points from 17 games with Rangers two points behind having played a game less.
On 14th November, Clyde travelled to Ibrox for a game that was to witness another slip by Rangers in a game that ended 2-2. English, though, scored again, putting Rangers 2-0 up in the 38th minute by moving onto a McPhail pass and scoring with a shot that entered the net via the underside of the crossbar. The tally now stands at 19/15. The team got back on winning ways at the trip to Morton the following Saturday in a 2-1 win on a pitch that reports describe as resembling a quagmire. Sam's goal was another header, albeit from the range all strikers like – right on the goal-line – from a Sandy Archibald cross to net his 20th league goal in only 16 games: a highly impressive tally for somebody who had been playing Junior football only the previous season.
He passed the halfway mark in his own eventual total on 28th November with another hat-trick, this time in Rangers' 5-2 win at Leith. In what appears to have been a classical display on being alert and grabbing whatever chances arose, his first goal of this afternoon came on the half hour mark as he latched onto a defensive mix-up and scored. A minute after the second half started he raced onto a pass from Bob McAulay – the Wishaw Yankee as he is described as – to net his second and grabbed his third after Bob McPhail found him in the box with a pass.
As Rangers entered December, Falkirk visited Ibrox on Saturday 5th for the return fixture. The young Ulsterman netted his second successive hat-trick in Rangers' 4-0 win, displaying all the talents that cannot pigeon-hole him as a penalty box striker but rather somebody who looks to have been the complete centre forward. His first was a low drive after only 4 minutes with the second arriving on 57 minutes, a header from a Jimmy Smith cross, one record breaking centre forward supplying another with a cross to score. His scoring run came to an end, though, on 89 minutes with what must have been a contender for goal of the season. He is described as having won the ball on the halfway line, running and dribbling almost to the goal-line in the process of beating the entire Falkirk defence before slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. That goal, as mentioned, brought to an end a goalscoring run that had lasted six games and delivered 12 goals including three hat-tricks and brought his personal tally up to a superb 26 in eighteen games. The following week, at Pittodrie, Rangers and Aberdeen played out a 0-0 draw. (A game contemporary Rangers supporters could have travelled to by special train for the princely sum of 11/6 or 61p in modern money.)
Another two points were dropped on 19th December in a 4-2 defeat at Dundee with a then sportswriter fulsome in his praise of one Scot Symon, describing him as ‘not standing on ceremony.' Sammy, though, netted one of Rangers' goals, a ‘glorious' shot from 15 yards on 41 minutes. Motherwell, though, defeated Queens Park 4-1 that day to move five points clear of Rangers, albeit having played a game more. However, on Boxing Day, Rangers reduced that deficit by beating the League leaders 1-0 at Ibrox in front of 50,000 thanks to a 20th minute goal from Sammy English, yet another header from a Bob McPhail cross.
So 1931 ended with Rangers' summer acquisition from Yoker having more than proved his worth with a superb tally of 28 goals in 21 League appearances. Ironically, Rangers' turned into a sublime spell of form on the turn of the New Year and after at the same time Sammy's scoring touch deserted him. The 2-1 win at Parkhead on the 1st January – in which reports describe Sammy as an ‘artist' on the field – was thanks to goals from Sandy Archibald and Doc Marshall – whose goal Sammy set up while the subsequent 4-0 win over Partick Thistle on 2nd Jan and 2-0 win in Paisley on the 9th saw Sammy achieve an unwanted hat-trick: three games in a row without scoring and saw his goals-per-game ratio drop to a still very impressive 28/24.
He found his scoring touch in the League on January 23rd, 1932 in another big win over Ayr united at Ibrox. Another hat-trick helped Rangers on their way to a 6-2 win although they were unable to make up ground on Motherwell due to the Lanarkshire side's 1-0 win at Pittodrie. However, once again the variety of goals scored by Sammy again indicate all the tricks he had at his disposal and took him over the 30 mark for the League campaign thus far.
The first of his three came after a mere four minutes when he headed in from close range after a Sandy Archibald shot came back off the cross bar. The second arrived in 54 minutes, again from a Sandy Archibald shot, this time netting after the goalkeeper had failed to hold it. The third goal, that took him to 31 goals in only 25 games, was scored on the hour mark and is described by the journalists of the day as an acrobatic effort despite being surrounded by opposing defenders.
Goal number 32 arrived at Ibrox on February 6th in Rangers' 4-2 win over Hearts when he is said to have ran onto a through ball, drew the keeper and scored. Goals like this suggest that it is not only out and out strikers that Sammy can be compared to. A Rangers player of recent times who possessed an uncanny ability of perfectly timing runs onto through balls was Iain Durrant and the descriptions offered of Sam English's play suggest he had that natural ability as well. Of course this cannot be taken as fact; it is mere speculation. However, it is not unduly speculative to base comparisons with modern day players on account of contemporary descriptions and can be claimed to be necessary in order to build up a profile of a player of whom virtually no footage exists. The talents he appears to have had state quite clearly Rangers had a player of quite phenomenal ability on their books. Therefore, it is apposite to compare him to players who are still very much fresh in the memory.
February 20th was Sammy's 27th game of his League campaign and brought his goalscoring tally to 34. Third Lanark were beaten 6-1 at Ibrox, a game in which Sammy score a double. The first was scored on the half hour mark, a classic poacher's goal after a Bob McPhail shot had been blocked on the line by the goalkeeper's feet. The time of the second and a more accurate description has proved thus far to be untraceable but we do know it was yet another header. Motherwell, incidentally, ran up an identical victory to Rangers at Dundee United.
On February 27th, Rangers again won 6-1, this time at Hampden against Queens Park. English netted on four occasions, bringing his total to a superb 38 goals in 28 games. Motherwell, as the title race drew to a close, won 1-0 at Tynecastle to leave them 5 clear of Rangers with the top two having 6 and 8 games to play respectively.
To continue our account of Sam English's season, though, it is worth noticing that his four goals all came in a remarkable 23 minute spell in the second half. The first again demonstrated his speed, positional sense and quickness of thought as he raced onto a Doc Marshall pass to score. Ten minutes later he repeated the trick, this time from a George Brown pass. Five minutes after that, he completed his hat-trick with a header from a Davie Meiklejohn cross; and Meiklejohn played his part in Sammy's fourth on 75 minutes after a shot from the Captain was blocked by a defender but was netted by English from the deflection.
Rangers' next league game was at Tannadice on 12th March in a game where they continued their rich scoring form, recording an emphatic 5-0 victory in which the young lad from Coleraine netted a double which arrived in the space of three minutes in the second half. On 51 minutes he hooked a Meiklejohn lob past the goalkeeper; and on 54 minutes he headed in a cross from Fleming taking his personal scoring total thus far to 40 goals from only 29 games. It is obvious he was making an impression on the sportswriters of the time – when that was what they were, unlike today where supposed journalists and failed theology students believe their press pass into football games qualifies them as social commentators – with ‘young Strathmore' of the Daily Record noting how Sammy led the forward line with great conviction, noting how he was a ‘real leader'.
Motherwell, though, refused to wobble at the top, winning 4-2 at Parkhead. In an interesting anecdote that shows the changing attitudes of football fans though the years, it was noted that fans of Motherwell's near neighbours, Hamilton Academical, remained in their ground after beating Clyde for news of the respective scores of Rangers and Motherwell. On hearing that Motherwell had triumphed at Celtic Park, the Accies fans are said to have celebrated the victory of their fellow inhabitants of Lanarkshire as they were supporting them in the race for the title. It is difficult to imagine such an event taking place today.
The following Saturday, Rangers defeated Kilmarnock 3-0 at Ibrox in a game that gave Sam English his 41st goal in 30 games. This arrived 12 minutes into the second half as he ‘glided' the ball into the goal following an Alan Morton cross. Motherwell won 1-0 over Partick Thistle, ensuring the Ibrox side were still playing catch-up, trailing by 5 points with 6 games to go, two more than the leaders. Again, in another depiction of changing attitudes in the game, on the same day a massive 94,000 were at Hampden to see Scotland defeat England 3-1 in an amateur international.
On the Spring Holiday fixture, sadly, Rangers severely dented their chances of overtaking Motherwell due to a 4-3 reverse at Cathkin Park to Third Lanark. For the purposes of this study, however, the game provided Sammy with his 42nd and 43rd goals of the season. In 42 minutes he sidefooted an Alan Morton cross into the goal; and, in the second half, scored again with his head from a Sandy Archibald cross. The negative outcome of the game, however, was fatal to their Championship hopes although they kept fighting until the end.
Sammy English's 44th and last goal of a remarkable personal season arrived on April 2nd in Rangers' 7-1 hammering of Cowdenbeath in Fife. In 83 minutes, he knocked home a cross by Jimmy Fleming bringing his League scoring for the season to an end. Thus far, in the 32 games he had played, showing a remarkable consistency in missing only Rangers' 2nd and 3rd League fixtures, he had accumulated 44 League goals in the one season, a record that still stands 75 years on.
Motherwell, incidentally, gave Rangers a faint hope of the title by drawing 0-0 at Firhill but it was a result that still left them only needing 3 points. Indeed, it was Rangers' failure to beat Clyde at Shawfield on April 23rd that rendered Motherwell uncatchable. While Sam English played, he did not score Rangers' goal in the 1-1 draw, Doc Marshall netting from a penalty. Likewise, he failed to score in the next two games, a 3-0 reverse at Airdrie on 25th April and a 1-0 win at home to Hamilton on the 27th. That game, in which Davie Meiklejohn scored Rangers' only goal, was Sammy English's last League appearance of that season: his 35th. He did not take part in Rangers last League fixture, a 4-2 win at Rugby Park on April 30th.
Down, therefore, dropped the curtain on Sammy English's record breaking season for The Rangers. Remarkably, none of his 44 goals came from penalty kicks; all of them came from open play. It is a shame that such a phenomenal scoring feat was not rewarded with a League Championship medal; but until such times as another forward arrives on the scene and scores 45 goals in one League Season then Sammy English remains at the top of that particular table.
Obviously it was a season that contained an awful event that is unavoidable when studying this period in Rangers' history. However, as Rangers supporters it is our duty to remember our player properly by celebrating and being grateful for his exploits on the park and for the joy he undoubtedly brought to the Rangers fans of the time. (Who, incidentally, appear to have had our beloved Follow, Follow as part of their terracing tunes back then.) It is obvious from the old reports that Sammy had a strong Christian faith and while we would not presume to look into somebody else's mind, it is to be hoped that provided him with the strength to live his life as best he could following that fateful September day; although Bob McPhail noted how that tragedy haunted Sammy for the rest of his life.
This imperfect work, however, is aimed at being a tribute to an ex-Rangers player and therefore we will, having looked at how Sammy, 75 years ago, set a goalscoring record that remains unbeaten, note his contribution to the Rangers cause in the cup competitions of the time.
As fate would have it, Sammy's first involvement in a cup competition was a mere 5 days after John Thomson's death as Rangers defeated Third Lanark 4-1 at Ibrox. The papers of the time were subdued following the game at Ibrox and merely note that Sammy started the game because Jimmy Smith had a cold; although the memories of Bob McPhail indicate Sammy would have started anyway with Bill Struth telling him: “Keep your eye on the ball and remember to play football.” Mr McPhail also believes it was the correct decision by the Rangers manager, a view we would not disagree with. Again, as fate would have it, the draw sent Rangers to Parkhead for the next round for a game played on Monday 28th September.
It was perhaps inevitable Sammy would not score and the game ended 1-1 although, as already covered, it would appear some Celtic players and thousands of their fans rejected any notion of Sammy's innocence and reacted accordingly in a macabre display of seeking some sort of retarded revenge. The replay was at Ibrox on October 6th – an afternoon kick-off that drew a crowd of 40,000 and again ended in a draw, this time 2-2. A third game was needed and took place the following day in front of 32,000. Sammy English was absent from the Rangers team which triumphed – one would say decency had prevailed – 1-0 thanks to a Jimmy Smith goal. Thereafter, on October 10th, Rangers defeated Queens Park 3-0 at Hampden in the final, a game in which Sammy was deployed as a right winger, the goals coming from Jimmy Smith, Bob McPhail and an own goal. That, therefore, gave English a winner's medal and surely only the poisonous and warped would have begrudged him that.
The Scottish Cup, being of superior prestige to the Glasgow competitions, provided Rangers with their highest moment of the season. Remarkably, it was also a competition in which Rangers' young Ulsterman averaged more than a goal a game, netting nine times in his seven appearances.
The first round sent Brechin City to Ibrox on January 16th, 1932 and witnessed Rangers record an 8-2 triumph. Three of those goals were from Sammy English. He repeated that feat in the next round which sent Rangers to Kirkcaldy and netted three of Rangers' five goals which received no reply from Raith Rovers. The first of his hat-trick was scored on the stroke of half-time as he netted following a Sandy Archibald cross. The second, five minutes after the break, was made achievable by neatly sidestepping a defender to create space for himself before hitting home; and the third was the result of a cross by Doc Marshall.
It was Marshall who scored the only goal of the game as Rangers defeated Hearts at Tynecastle in round 3 on February 13th. Thereafter, in a game that was given as much build up in the press as any that season, Motherwell were drawn to play at Ibrox in the Quarter-Final. Such was the interest generated by this game that football specials were laid on from all corners of Scotland – and Ayrshire! – in order to take fans to Ibrox. In the event there was a tangible disappointment in the media that the crowd did not breach the six-figure mark but was registered at a ‘mere' 88,000 although it was noted the wet weather played its part in ‘limiting' the crowd. Rangers came out on top by a score of 2-0 thanks to goals from ‘Saltcoats' Murray and Bob McPhail. They were then drawn against Hamilton Academical in the semi-final at Hampden on March 26th.
Even though Rangers' opponents were rank outsiders for the game, they still expressed confidence in the build up to it and are reported as having acquitted themselves in a highly respectable manner before succumbing 5-2 to Rangers' superiority. Sammy English netted a double, both in the first half. The first was yet another header from a George Brown cross, the second in 41 minutes was thanks to being alert enough to hit home after another cross by Brown had rebounded off a post.
The final against Kilmarnock took two games to decide, with the combined attendances reaching approximately 216,000; both games attracted gates of over 100,000. The first, on 16th April, ended in a 1-1 draw with Bob McPhail scoring for Rangers. The replay, four days later witnessed a convincing 3-0 win for Rangers, Sammy scoring in the 71st minute with a header from a lobbed Davie Meiklejohn free kick. His was the last of the Rangers goals, the previous two coming from Jimmy Fleming and Bob McPhail. Bob McPhail, demonstrating his sympathy for his team-mate and striking partner, had this to say of Sammy's involvement: “I was glad that he [Sammy English] was a member of our cup winning side that season. He deserved to be a winner…………just once.” It's not strictly accurate to say that Sammy only finished a winner once in his Rangers career as Rangers won the three cups that were available to them; but the sentiment is very clear.
Rangers lifted the last trophy of the season, the Glasgow Merchants' Charity Cup on Saturday May 14th. The previous Saturday they beat Queens Park 3-1 at Ibrox in the semi final thanks to a hat-trick by Doc Marshall. Sammy scored twice in Rangers' 6-1 win over Third Lanark in the final, both in the first half. Again, after 15 minutes, he scored with a header and, ironically enough, while we do not possess a written description of his second goal on 37 minutes, we may well have a photograph of it which is included below. We leave it for the reader to decide whether or not Sammy – far left – has headed the ball or has just hit it with his foot.
That, therefore, is our incomplete study of season 1931/32. Obviously people will make up their own minds as to Sammy English's qualities and restrictions as a player. We have tried to have been as fair as possible in analysing his style and would hope not to have gone overboard as is the less-endearing feature of others. Never having seen him in playing we are left with old reports and memories with which we can try and construct a picture.
All the pieces put together depict what must surely be a contender for the perfect centre forward. It has been demonstrated he could shoot with both feet; for somebody 4 inches smaller than 6 feet tall he had a superb scoring record with his head; a recurring description of his play is his lightening speed; and his ability to read a game and position himself accordingly is evident.
Surely, though, there can be no higher praise or clearer indicator than to leave the final description of him to somebody that played alongside him. We leave that to Bob McPhail: “Sam was better than Hughie Gallacher. Yes, he was better than Jimmy McGrory. Yes, he was better than Jimmy Fleming. Though I never played with the great Dixie Dean of Everton, I did play against him. I would have taken English before him.” Surely that says it all and more.
As Rangers fans in 2006, we have it within our capabilities to ensure Sammy's achievements are recognised properly. The unforgivable instance of the Rangers programme in 2001 ignoring Sammy's goalscoring feats in favour of one tragic event was disrespectful in the extreme. It is to be hoped that, as the 75th Anniversary of the season in which he set a record that is as yet unbeaten, we acknowledge his contribution to our great Club.
AYRSHIRE BILLY BOY