Bill Struth - The Wonder Years - Part 1
Feature by The Govanhill Gub
Updated Wednesday, 5th July 2006
This weekend the Blue Order's tribute dinner will mark the start of a series of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Bill Struth. The Gub has written a series of articles in tribute to the great man. This is part one.
Despite the fact that the season just past has produced, statistically, the worst Rangers team of all time; unbelievably we look forward to next season with renewed optimism. That optimism and a belief that the proper order will be restored can be put down to one single reason, the appointment of Frenchman, Paul Le Guen as manager.
Football however has a habit of throwing up all kinds of ironies and whilst we will look back upon 2006 as an important year for a variety of reasons, it is also a very poignant time as September 21st, will see us celebrate, for want of a better word, the 50th anniversary of the death of not only the greatest 'Ranger' of them all, but also the greatest manager in world football history. I refer of course to the one and only William Struth. We here at Follow Follow would like to look back not only at his achievements but also the effect he had on the club.
Bill Struth joined Rangers as trainer and assistant to William Wilton in 1914 upon the death of Jimmy Wilson. Rumour has it that Struth had been offered the job previously but he refused it on the grounds that it would have meant Mr Wilson would have been out of a job. If nothing else, that gesture alone is the mark of the man and worth remembering.
Of course a great deal of Struth's formative years at Ibrox were used up along with manager William Wilton in helping the war effort by offering up many hours of voluntary service at nearby Bellahouston hospital helping wounded soldiers.
It would also be fair to say that the WW1 period saw Rangers play second best to the dominant Celtic side of the day and in the period 1914/15 - 1917/18 inclusive the club amassed one solitary title and one Glasgow Cup win. However there were new players coming through such as Ulsterman Bert Manderson, Andy Cunningham, Sandy Archibald and Tommy Muirhead who would very soon help the club break out of the shackles and become very much the number one club in Scotland.
The Bill Struth story starts in earnest after the death of manager William Wilton who died in a boating accident at Gourock on Sunday May 2nd 1920; one day after Rangers had clinched the 1919/20 championship. The club had little time to get over the tragedy and had to play a Charity Cup tie against Thistle at Ibrox just three days later. They fell in the next round to Celtic also at Ibrox.
So within the space of one week at the start of May 1920, Rangers had won a league title, allowed the Charity Cup to slip from their grasp but more importantly they had lost the services of one of the most innovative and inspirational figures in the club's entire history.
In the year 2006, the word legend is possibly the most ridiculously over-hyped and over used word if not in the English language, then certainly on the Follow Follow message boards. Look at the calibre of some of the Rangers servants feted as legends on FF any day of the week and you should get the point. Make no mistake, even now looking back 86 years after the fact; Bill Struth had stepped out of the shadows of, and into the shoes of a Rangers legend in the truest sense of the word.
The following is how William Wilton in typically understated Rangers fashion, was remembered in the 1920/21 Wee Blue Book; (Which was of course a Wilton invention)
The Late William Wilton
'At the outset of this work it is meet that reference should be made to the great loss which the club has sustained through the tragic death of William Wilton who was Manager and Secretary of the club for 34 years.
Known and beloved by all - Directors, players and spectators alike - his familiar figure and genial smile will be sadly missed at Ibrox.'
1 - So, season 1920/21 saw Rangers with Struth's first major signing, Alan Morton, in place and despite an early season set back at Celtic Park in the Glasgow Cup before a 65,000 crowd the league form was exemplary to say the least. Twenty three league matches were played from Aug 17th to Dec 25th; two were drawn and the rest were won.
A forward line of Archibald, Cunningham, Henderson Cairns and Morton was taking shape and firing in goals from all angles. And another Ulsterman, Billy McCandless had been acquired at full back also. He would dovetail with fellow countryman Bert Manderson at full back, conjuring up images for older Rangers fans of Nicol Smith and Jock Drummond from a generation earlier.
Ne'erday saw Celtic first foot Rangers at Ibrox and to everyone's' surprise they left with both points. Celtic fans would have been wise to celebrate that New Year's evening. It would be another fourteen years before they won a league game at Ibrox and sixty-two years before they had that winning Ibrox feeling at 'the bells'. Despite that set-back Rangers duly dusted themselves down and went on another winning sequence of ten games.
The league had been won in a canter and all eyes turned to the Scottish Cup. It had been 18 years since the old cup had rested at Ibrox. Surely this side would banish all talk of a cup hoodoo? Well, they got to the final and their opponents were Partick Thistle who had been beaten emphatically home and away in the league.
Rangers naturally, started as firm favourites and took the game to Thistle from the start. What happened on 30 minutes was that Jimmy Bowie was off the field replacing a pair of shorts and a man to the good the 'Harry Wraggs' broke up the park and scored. From then on it was backs to the wall stuff once again but they managed to hold on and record their only Scottish Cup win to date.
Incidentally, the final at CP, was attended by a paltry 28,000. Rangers packed in 67,000 against Morton and 60,000 and 55,000 respectively against Alloa at Ibrox in the cup campaign that season. Yet the SFA for some reason decided to double the prices for the final and therefore it was boycotted to a considerable extent. It seems it is not just the modern game in Scotland that is run by fools.
Season 1920/21 would be looked upon by manager Struth as a success league wise but the cup competitions could have been better. A month later they would lose in the Charity Cup final at Hampden before 55,000.
Manager's Report Card; That convincing league win showed the 'boy' Struth had potential.
2 - Season 1921/22 dawned and Rangers started off in a whirlwind fashion with nine league wins on the spin scoring 24 goals in the process. The Glasgow Cup was also garnered thanks to a Davie Meiklejohn goal against Celtic before just under 77,000 spectators at Hampden. Yet despite it all Rangers couldn't shake off the attentions of the men from the east end. The week after the Glasgow Cup win, Hearts brought the team crashing back to earth with a 2-0 victory at Ibrox. So it was all to play for in the race for the title.
The traditional Ne'erday OF fixture at Parkhead was a no score draw and was to prove something of an omen for the rest of that drab, dreich' month. All in all five league matches were played that January. Three were drawn, (Celtic, Thistle and Hamilton) one was lost (at Raith Rovers) and there was a solitary win versus Ayr Utd at home.
Those five dropped points were to prove crucial as the league was eventually lost to Celtic by one point in a last day of the season cliff-hanger. Whilst Rangers could only draw at Shawfield the Celts scored a late equaliser away to Morton to secure the title.
Once again the main focus seemed to be on the club getting to grips with the Scottish Cup again. A 40,000 attendance at Tynecastle and just fewer than 68,000 against St Mirren at Ibrox on the run to the final proved the Rangers support's increasing obsession with the competition.
With Clachnacuddin, Albion Rovers and Thistle also despatched along the way Scottish Cup Final day loomed once again on April 15th. And this time Morton, who had been dismissed by three goals to nil at Ibrox on league business the previous month lay in wait.
It was to be a case of a Scottish Cup final Groundhog Day once again for the club. Alan Morton hit the post in the opening seconds. They bombarded the Morton goal throughout the match and this despite the fact that Andy Cunningham had to go to hospital, accompanied by manager Struth, with a broken jaw.
Unfortunately as far as Rangers were concerned, Morton had broken up the park round around the 10 minute mark and scored with basically their only attack of the game. In fact in the dying seconds, the 'wee blue devil' once again went round the entire Morton defence, rounded the goalkeeper and shot for goal only for their goal scorer that day, Jimmy Gourlay to clear off the line.
Manager's Report Card; The Glasgow and Charity cups won. The Scottish Cup lost by a solitary goal, the league title lost by one point. Is this guy Struth a flash in the pan or what?
3 - Season 1922/23 saw the Rangers side set out with a point or two to prove. And the side was already rolling off the supporters' tongues. Robb, Manderson, McCandless, Meiklejohn, Dixon & Muirhead. Archibald, Cunningham. Henderson, Cairns & Morton. Hansen would come fleetingly into the side.
It was a stop-start, beginning to the league campaign and even a smashing 3-1 win at Parkhead on league duty in the October did nothing to inspire steadiness in the good ship Rangers. Celtic by mid season had slipped out of the running, which left a Hughie Gallagher and young Bob McPhail inspired Airdrie as the closest challengers.
The Ne'erday OF fixture saw a wee bit of history being made as our Danish import; Carl Hansen certainly had the Rangers support 'dancin' with the opening goal in a 2-0 win. This was the first OF league goal to be scored by a foreigner. Sandy Archibald scored afterwards just to make sure of the points.
Before then the Glasgow Cup had been annexed with a 1-0 victory over Clyde after a replay. This was to be a rather drawn out tournament. Earlier on it had taken Rangers another two games to dispense with Third Lanark. To give today's youngsters an example of how highly this tournament was regarded at the time it should be noted that 47,000 attended the first match with Thirds away from home. A mind boggling attendance to comprehend in the modern era I would think.
Just like two years previously, with the league seemingly sewn up in January it was time for the club to turn its attentions to the Scottish Cup once again. Forty-thousand saw Rangers sweep Clyde away 4-0 at Shawfield. But any illusions of ultimate triumph were shattered in the next round when the side went down by two goals to nil at Somerset Park. That was now a full twenty years since the club had won the Scottish Cup.
February, then March saw league points dropped against Thirds, Airdrie, Morton, Raith Rovers and Albion Rovers but once again the team rallied and eventually the league was won for the 12th time. For good measure the Charity Cup was retained for a record 11th time also, beating Queens Park in the final.
So, the league was brought back home, which was the most important thing, and the Glasgow and Charity Cups stayed at Ibrox as well. So, three out of the four major trophies were won. Incidentally, that summer, six matches were played in a tour of France and Switzerland. All the games were won and Rangers scored 29 goals in the process for the loss of only two.
Manager's Report Card; I don't know about you lot, but I'm beginning to warm to this chap Struth. I think given a wee bit o' time, this fella can make the grade.
4 - The start of season 1923/24 saw a couple of players brought into bolster the squad. Tully Craig who had one time been on Celtic's books as a centre forward but who would be deployed by Struth as a half back and goalkeeper Tom Hamilton.
'The wee blue book' took the following view of the previous season's exploits; 'The Rangers Football Club and their followers have little reason to be despondent over season 1922/23. It was the jubilee year of the old Club, and players and management alike were most anxious to make it a record one.'
Significantly the wee blue book had changed its 'Club Records, Dates and Data' on the penultimate page. Whereas before this season, the club acknowledged that it was founded in 1872 from now on we would claim to be formed a year later. Tsk, tsk, tsk Mr Allan.
Once again it was a fairly impressive start overall to the league campaign. There were to be a smattering of draws interspersed between the wins and it was at Somerset Park in January before the club finally lost a league match.
Incidentally, the Glasgow Cup had been garnered once more thanks to a George Henderson goal, which pipped you-know-who in the semi final at Ibrox. Third Lanark were duly put to the sword in the final, also at Ibrox, with Henderson, Archibald and Muirhead supplying the ending. It has to be said, that fella Henderson just loved banging in the goals.
So yet again with the league campaign looking promising, all Ibrox eyes peered at what the Scottish Cup Gods would throw at us this time around. Lochgelly were summarily dismissed then there were 40,000 at Love St to see the team ease through thanks to another Henderson strike.
The following round saw 54,000 at Ibrox and the majority would have been feeling comfortable at half time with their team a goal up thanks to Meiklejohn and coasting. Unfortunately, no one at Hibs seemed to be reading the script and a couple of second half goals saw them put the Scottish Cup favourites out on their collective 'kishters' once again.
As was now becoming the custom under manager Struth, the whole club had to cope with the disappointment that the Scottish Cup was now bringing as a certainty and get back to the job in hand of securing the title. Ironically enough it was clinched against Hibs at Ibrox!
All that was left was for the club reach the Charity Cup final but the side fell ultimately against Celtic 2-1. Incidentally, although no one knew it at the time, the Scottish Cup final was to have a Rangers Royal blue thread woven through the proceedings. Airdrie defeated Hibs 2-0 at Ibrox and a certain young Broomfield pup that day, Bob McPhail, was to collect the first of his joint record 20th century haul of seven Scottish Cup badges. You will find out just how he collected the rest in later chapters, I'm sure.
Therefore season 1923/24's Report Card read as follows. League title, which always has to be considered 'Numero Uno', a pleasing Glasgow Cup haul, but no Charity Cup win and most of all no Scottish Cup brought back to the stadium.
5 - Season 1924/25 was a time of contradiction, a year of highs and a scarcely unbelievable low. The side started off in a canter with four straight league wins then a draw versus Kilmarnock at Ibrox. The first defeat in the league would come in the 8th match of the season at Broomfield to the previous season's runners up, Airdrie. After that, Rangers would not lose another league game till the end of January, this time at Hamilton. There must have been something in the Lanarkshire air that season.
'The wee blue book' had this to say at the outset of the campaign; 'The Jubilee Year (Tsk, tsk, tsk) of The Rangers Club, while not just the unqualified success all true followers of the club would wish, was nevertheless such as to maintain the traditions of the old club.'
A 'Foreword' went on to mention the Scottish Cup, or lack of, in these terms; 'But that "elusive bauble" - the Scottish Cup - still eludes us like a "will o' the wisp". In this competition the principal factor is "Dame Fortune," and one day soon we hope she will cast her favour Ibroxwards.' Read these words in the context of what was to happen to us later that season.
Interspersed among all the bread and butter was a truly delightful Glasgow Cup triumph for all friends of Rangers. Clyde and Thistle were beaten en route to the final, which was to be played against Celtic at Celtic Park.
On October 4th, just less than 74,000 turned up at CP and saw Celtic take the lead but from then on Rangers took command. Henderson (yup, him again) with a brace and one goal apiece from Morton and captain Tommy Cairns saw Rangers on easy street. So much so that Cairns commanded his side to ease up and save their strength for more difficult battles that were sure to lie ahead. (It was a decision he would live to regret but more on that later)
November and December were good months points wise with a yield of 16 out of a possible 18 harvested. Ne'erday saw Rangers batter Celtic for the second consecutive match by four goals to one. Geordie Henderson with another double and Cunningham and a McCandless penalty making it another Happy Blue Year for the support. Despite all this good work Rangers were not having it all their own way in the league by any means and the greatest Airdrie team of all time were always breathing down their necks.
January of course meant Scottish Cup time was here again, and East Fife, Montrose, Arbroath and Kilmarnock were beaten along the way which meant that Celtic were the semi final opponents. On Saturday 21/3/1925 a then record Scottish crowd record of 101,000 lined up at Hampden to see favourites Rangers well on top for the first half hour yet Celtic went in at half time a goal to the good.
Who knows what happened for sure in the second period but the normally sure footed and reliable Rangers defence had their biggest nightmare ever and another four goals were conceded as the roof caved in. Rangers 0 v Celtic 5; once again the Scottish Cup had thrown up a freak result at Rangers' expense and this time it hurt more than ever.
A penny that faraway bleak, March night for the thoughts of Tommy Cairns, who only five months previously had told his players to ease up in the previous OF cup tie? Cairns acted as foolishly as Graeme Souness was to do sixty-four years later in turning off the tap when our opponents should have been thoroughly hosed down.
Who knows, maybe there is a future captain of Rangers reading this wee scribble. Well, if so then here is the most important lesson of all. Good wins, bad wins, scrape through by the skin-of-your-teeth wins will all happen in the Old Firm environment. But the chance to really rub it in comes along but once in a generation if you are lucky. My advice is that you take it if and when the opportunity comes.
As I said earlier, the league was not done and dusted by any means and although the Scottish Cup drubbing was a severe blow, twelve points out of the last fourteen saw the title secured from Airdrie by just three points. Oh, and the Charity Cup was back at Ibrox thanks to a Henderson goal against Clyde in the final. That was to be the last of Geordie's 40 goals that season.
So the manager's report card for 1924/25 looked like this. The title won for the third consecutive season, the first Championship treble since 1911/12/13. The Glasgow Cup held at the stadium for the fourth season in a row and the Charity Cup captured for a 12th time. But the one sting in the tail as ever was the Scottish Cup or lack of in the trophy cabinet. The Elaine C Smiths and Tony Ropers of the day were having a high old time laughing at this Scottish Cup hoodoo. Not that they were alone I suspect.
Two significant future signings came to Ibrox in the summer of 1925, Dougie Gray from Aberdeen Muggiemoss and James (Doc) Marshall by way of Shettleston juniors. Both would make an impact on the club but not immediately, although Gray was thrust into battle a lot earlier than the manager would have wanted in the ensuing months.
6 - No club has a divine right to success of course but in terms of injuries to significant players season 1925/26 was a pretty wretched one for the support to behold. It was basically a term that was written off for Davie Meiklejohn and Sandy Archibald with Craig, Henderson, Tommy Cairns and even Alan Morton finally succumbing to injury along the way. All told seven internationalists missed large parts of the season. Who said Rangers and injury crisis was modern terminology?
The Rangers Football Handbook, sounded off in bullish fashion, pointing out that Rangers had won six out of the last eight League campaigns and that the forthcoming season would find the club 'well prepared.' It has to be said, that is possibly not the best editorial from the wee blue book, ever.
There was a lack of cohesion from the outset and four league games were lost out of the first ten fixtures. In that autumn period the Glasgow Cup was wrestled from our grasp although it took three matches for Celtic to do so. Later on the Charity Cup would be surrendered lamely also with Rangers bowing out to Clyde at Ibrox 4-3.
But even accounting for the injuries however there was no accounting for the often lack lustre displays and defeats at Airdrie, Aberdeen, Thistle, Hearts, Raith, Dundee Utd and St Johnstone all before Christmas meant that the league was a foregone conclusion for the club that season. This was not what a support now getting fully accustomed to the Struth way of operating was used to.
Even in the Scottish Cup the general malaise afflicting the club seemed to have affected the support. Lochgelly and Stenhousemuir, admittedly not the biggest of draws caused barely a ripple attendance wise at Ibrox. Similarly Falkirk and Morton away were hardly bursting at the seams. However over 60,000 turned out at CP on semi final day, only to watch their heroes go down 1-0 to eventual winners, St Mirren. The season was over. All that was left was for Rangers to hirple into 6th place with a smashing effort in April which saw the club gain seven points out of a last possible eight.
So the manager's report card this time around made for sombre reading. No league, no cups, no nothing for the club basically save for a three-in-a-row reserve Cup. Regards injuries, the only consolation to be found was that when Alan Morton had to call off from that season's Home International clash with England; 1926 became known as 'The year Morton did not play'.
I think the end of season 1925/26 is a good time to leave Mr Struth and his charges licking their wounds and getting back to full fitness. Who knows what they will achieve in the next chapter.
The Govanhill Gub.
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