Rangers and the Scottish Cup: The Hoodoo
Feature by Ayrshire Billy Boy
Updated Tuesday, 6th February 2007
Part 4: 1923/24 to 1926/27Finally we arrive at the concluding years of a remarkable chapter in Rangers' history. For a Club of the stature of ours to go 25 years without winning what was often referred to as the Blue Riband trophy seems almost incomprehensible to a modern day reader; yet that is exactly what happened. While the newspapers of the time were far, far less sensationalist back then, there was a tangible desperation emanating from Ibrox with regard to the Scottish Cup. While no interviews with players or management was featured, the snippets of comments made by Rangers people and the extraordinary crowds that were appearing in the latter stages of the Hoodoo suggest The authors of The Complete Record were accurate in describing it as an 'obsession'.
The over-riding impression the reader gets of contemporary reports is that it had become in Scotland an accepted fact outside of Edmiston Drive that Rangers simply did not win the Scottish Cup. It's remarkable that throughout the course of the quarter century under discussion, truly exceptional performances by Rangers teams were very much the exception rather than the rule; and the vast travelling supports Rangers took got used to the horrible feeling of shock defeats, so much so that a situation arrived whereby no Rangers defeat in the Cup could really be construed as a shock given the amount of times they happened.
From a personal point of view, studying the infamous Hoodoo has also been something of a journey. Having lived through the nine year inability to win the league and the mini-hoodoo from 1981 to 1992, it is very easy to empathise with bygone generations of Rangers fans when studying the disappointments they had to live through. It's not accurate to say our disappointment is on the same level as theirs as they had to live through it; but it's not stretching things too far to have a rough idea about how miserable things were! When all is said and done they thought the same about their Rangers players and teams as we do of ours and a time machine isn't needed to gauge the feelings of hurt and anguish as the Rangers of the 1920s went from one failed attempt to win the Scottish Cup to another. But, as has been said often enough, bad results are a part of a Club's history the same way good ones are; thankfully, though, this amateur study of Rangers and the Scottish Cup reaches the end of the infamous Hoodoo.
As with many seasons during the 25 years under discussion, 1923/24 was a year in which Rangers won the League but failed to do the double. The opening round passed, however, with very little incident. Lochgelly United visited Ibrox on Saturday 26th January 1924 and were defeated 4-1 in front of a rather small crowd of 5,000, although that may be explained by the fact the game was taking place during a national rail strike. George Henderson continued his own remarkable run of scoring in the Cup with a header from a Sandy Archibald cross on 13 minutes and Tully Craid doubled the lead on 25 minutes with a fierce shot. Henderson netted his second and Rangers' third with another powerful shot on 30 minutes to ensure Rangers' passage with an unassailable 3-0 half time lead. The same player netted his hat-trick on 79 minutes before the visitors grabbed a consolation seven minutes before the end.
So the 1923/24 campaign was off and running. The draw for the next round sent Rangers on the short journey to Paisley to visit St Mirren. While Love Street was equipped to hold a remarkable 60,000, 40,291 made up the crowd on Saturday February 9th. A methodical, determined performance by Rangers was rewarded by a solitary 72nd minute goal as George Henderson scored from an Alan Morton cross. Their reward was a home tie against Hibernian.
To move away from football briefly, in today's times when celebrating everything Irish is in vogue, and that that definition of Irish deliberately excludes anything to do with Scotland's links with Ulster, one is left to ponder how today's politicians would spin the statistics from the 1923 census in Scotland. Figures from that era show that of 159,020 persons in Scotland of Irish birth, 88,397 came from Ulster. Where, we may ask, is Holyrood recognition of that?
Still, this is a study of Rangers in the Scottish Cup and in the season in question, Rangers again came unstuck when opportunity for progress presented itself. The 54,000 crowd at Ibrox on Saturday February 23rd 1924 saw Rangers, as a poem dedicated to the fact after the event described it, commit hari-kari. It even brought a rare mention in the media with this defeat marking Rangers' 21st year in succession without winning the cup. We'll refrain from making any dreadful pun about the key to the door of the cabinet the cup was kept in being as far away from Rangers' grasp as ever.
As to the game in question, Rangers opened the scoring with a Davie Meiklejohn shot on 17 minutes and held their advantage until the second half. Hibs, sadly, rallied after the interval and scored twice to end Rangers' hopes for another year despite strong Rangers efforts to breach a resolute defence.
Season 1924/25 as far as the Cup goes is real X-rated material. It provided what is probably the deepest part of the abyss Rangers found themselves in. Sadly it can't be ignored although it is a tempting idea.
The campaign began reasonably enough. A trip east to visit East Fife on Saturday 24th January 1925 attracted a crowd of 10,000 including a healthy Rangers contingent. Sandy Archibald scored first in 10 minutes after the opposing goalkeeper failed to hold onto an Alan Morton lob. George Henderson netted the second after 20 minutes, capitalising on defensive hesitancy before the hosts pulled one back five minutes later. The first half's - and indeed the game's - scoring was complete on 40 minutes when Archibald's shot was fumbled by the goalkeeper. Thereafter the crowd was entertained by a dribbling exhibition from Alan Morton as Rangers contemplated their next venture in the Cup.
The next round gave Rangers a trip to Montrose. In an attempt to switch the game to Ibrox, Rangers offered Montrose £250 and half the money raised over £550. This was refused and a crowd of 4,000 assembled at Links Park in the north east on Saturday February 7th 1925.
Those there, including the many who had made the 3 hour journey by special trains from Glasgow saw a disappointing Rangers performance. A double by Chalmers, one in 25 minutes and the other in 70 minutes settled the scoring and Davie Meiklejohn missed a penalty before the end to ensure a comfortable if less than spectacular progress.
On the subject of special trains it's interesting to note how attitudes have changed throughout the years as the trains laid on for Rangers fans to travel to Montrose were also advertised to accommodate Clyde fans who were making the trip to Arbroath. As luck would have it, Arbroath defeated Clyde and were then themselves drawn to play Rangers at Ibrox.
A remarkable game on February 21st in front of 15,000 was initially meant to be a straightforward passage for Rangers. Tommy Cairns opened the scoring on 22 minutes after an Andy Cunningham shot was parried by the keeper and things were thought to have been done and dusted a minute before the interval when George Henderson finished off a neat move involving Tommy Cairns and Alan Morton. The visitors, though, halved the deficit a minute after the break before Henderson seemingly put the game beyond doubt with two goals in quick succession, the first from a Morton lob, the second from a corner from the same player. Cunningham got Rangers' last with a fierce left foot shot. With a 5-1 advantage it was easy for Rangers player and fan alike to imagine the game over; yet the visitors scored two goals in rapid succession to ensure a bewilderingly nervous finish for their more illustrious hosts who were glad to hear the final whistle and be certain of further participation in the tournament.
A trip to Ayrshire for the quarter final beckoned and 32,000 were at Rugby Park on Saturday March 7th 1925 to see Rangers play Kilmarnock although the game kicked off fifteen minutes late because the teams were held up in the traffic generated by the crowd of which support for the visitors was in the majority. The hosts took the lead on 18 minutes and held their advantage until half time; indeed, they were unfortunate not to have increased their lead, finding Willie Robb in inspired form in the Rangers goal. The Light Blues, though, got their act together in the second period and in 66 minutes, Henderson again netted after a Sandy Archibald cross was dropped at his feet by the goalkeeper. Andy Cunningham netted the winner soon after with an unsaveable shot from an Archibald pass.
The draw for the semi-final paired Rangers with the winners of the undecided Celtic - St Mirren game and was to be staged at Hampden. With Celtic winning a second replay 1-0 at Ibrox, Rangers were nevertheless expected to progress to the final. However, in what was surely the worst result of Rangers' history up until that point and in front of 101, 714, they capitulated to an horrendous 5-0 defeat, a defeat that is painful to read about never mind wonder how sore it was for the Rangers fans in attendance back then.
The following season, 1925/26, was a cataclysmic one for Rangers. They ended the season in their lowest ever position in 6th but were even a place below that when the Cup began against Lochgelly at Ibrox on January 23rd. It's not inconceivable to think the visitors had dreams of causing a shock given Rangers' woeful form and the fact Lochgelly had a player called Penman in their ranks who, prior to the game at Ibrox, had scored a hat-trick in each of his last three games.
A small crowd of 5,700 producing gate receipts of £250, however, were there to see Jimmy Fleming give Rangers a 20th minute lead, running onto a McKay pass. Seven minutes later he scored again after dribbling past both opposing fullbacks and ended the first half's scoring. In the second half an Archibald corner was punched into the goal by his namesake in the Lochgelly goalkeeper's jersey. A passage more comfortable than it might have been saw the draw pull Rangers out of the hat away to Stenhousemuir although the game took place at Ibrox on February 6th in front of 14,000 which meant gate takings of £798.
Stenhousemuir were division two leaders and fancied their chances strongly, even more so when the first half ended goal-less. A strongly contested affair in which the lower league team acquitted themselves admirably was not concluded until eight minutes from the end when George Henderson headed in a Sandy Archibald lob. This result had the Daily Record of the time asking if history would repeat itself, pointing out the last time Rangers won the cup, they beat Stenhousemuir en route.
The next round sent Rangers to Stenhousemuir's near neighbours Falkirk on February 20th. 22,000 were in attendance producing takings of £1,194. With Sandy Archibald in a class of his own throughout, Rangers eased into the quarter finals with a 26th minute goal from Robert McKay steering the ball out of the keeper's reach and a superb Cunningham volley near the end. Rangers in fact returned to Brockville on league duty four days after the Cup game and drew 1-1.
The quarter final draw gave Rangers a trip to Greenock to face Morton although there were calls for the game to be switched to Ibrox on safety grounds. Nevertheless the game did take place at Cappielow on March 6th, the ground having been okayed to hold 28,000 standing patrons. In the event 15,000 were there, meaning an income of £550 although unofficially there were many more in, the turnstiles being rushed prior to kick off.
In the event it was a comfortable afternoon for the Rangers players, if not the fans, who had to contend with missiles being thrown into the ground from the 'Little Dublin' area of Greenock which lay adjacent to the terracing. Alan Morton scored on 15 minutes after Morton's goalkeeper failed to hold a Jimmy Fleming shot and Fleming himself scored on 25 minutes from a Wee Blue Devil cross. Morton himself scored his second on 40 minutes from a forward flick by Jimmy Fleming, the two of them having a highly productive afternoon. Cunningham ended the scoring with a late penalty.
With Rangers' league season in disarray, many pundits were ironically predicting this would be the year the Cup would find its way to Ibrox. With the semi-final draw pairing Rangers and St Mirren it was widely expected Rangers would advance to the final. Again, though, the venue was a contentious issue with Bill Struth requesting the game be played at Hampden and only the deciding vote from the SFA President decreeing it take place at Parkhead.
When Rangers took to the park on Saturday March 20th, they did so having got there without losing a goal. However, in front of 61,000 who produced monetary incomes of £2,500 Rangers again faltered almost at the finishing line, going down deservedly to a 51st minute goal. If that wasn't bad enough, league results elsewhere conspired to send Rangers to an incomprehensible 8th place in the league after 32 games.
So therefore we arrive at the last year of the infamous and yet lengendary Cup hoodoo. In a League sense, 1926/27 was a happier one as it saw the Flag return to Ibrox. We are not, though, privy to the thoughts of the players as the Cup remained elusive for yet another season and we are also left to ponder the thoughts of the contemporary supporters who must surely have been wondering if Rangers would ever lift the trophy again.
The campaign began with a trip east to face Leith on Saturday January 22nd 1927. A 14,000 crowd making a welcome £470 watched the hosts take a 10th minute lead before Alan Morton equalised on the half hour mark after slipping his marker. A minute later Jimmy Fleming showed determination to force his way through a ruck of defenders to score. Tully Craig then scored a 25 yarder just before the interval. Alan Morton chipped the game's last goal on 75 minutes.
A fortnight later Rangers welcomed their conquerors of the previous year. An impressive 55,000 crowd gave receipts of £2,100 and watched Rangers destroy their opponents. In fourteen minutes, Jimmy Fleming scored from a Tommy Muirhead pass and on 19 minutes, Morton, showing no little trickery, found space for himself to shoot high into the net. Despite Rangers being totally in control of the game, the half ended with no further scoring. However, on 65 minutes Morton's skills again produced a reward, this time allowing Sandy Archibald to score Rangers' third. Morton himself made it 4 on 70 minutes via the underside of the bar and Cunningham got the 5th with a long range effort. Jimmy Fleming ended the scoring at the final whistle from an Archibald cross.
Having extracted some measure of revenge on St Mirren for the previous season's semi-final defeat, Rangers were rewarded with a home tie against Hamilton Academical on February 19th. Another large crowd of 53,000 watched another one-sided affair. Jimmy Fleming scored on 19 minutes after racing through the defence and three minutes later Cunningham scored from a Morton pass. Fleming again scored on 42 minutes with a header leaving an interval lead of 3-0 and Rangers almost sure of progression. Archibald ended the scoring on 60 minutes after some excellent interchange play by Rangers, lobbing the goalkeeper and the ball going in off the post. Despite a heavy defeat the visiting supporters were in high spirits with one claiming to have enjoyed the 'community singing'. We leave it for the reader to decide if they were songs that would incur phoney moralising in today's overly sensitive times.
The quarter final draw sent Rangers again to Brockville. A large attendance of 20,233 doubtless pleased the Bairns' treasurer with the takings of £844. Rangers looked on their way to progression with a superb Sandy Archibald shot on 6 minutes following an exquisite Jimmy Fleming pass. The hosts, however, battled back to take a 201 lead which they held to almost the full time whistle. However, a last minute Davie Meiklejohn free kick into the box was adjudged to have been handled at Bert McCandless, with what proved to be the last goal of the Hoodoo - although no-one was to know it at the time - scored with the resulting penalty, necessitating a replay.
This game in particular caught the imagination of the public and, even though it kicked off at 3-45pm on a Wednesday afternoon, attracted a colossal crowd of 80,000, producing a gate of £4,588. Among them were a staggering number of Falkirk fans, taken to Ibrox by 56 buses and two special trains, a truly exceptional number given the circumstances. In the event, they went home the happier out the two sets up supporters. With 90 minutes producing no goals, extra-time was necessary and the visitors took full advantage of their hosts' inability to break down a resolute defence to score 7 minutes before the end.
So ended Rangers' attempts to win the Cup for another year and with it our look back at a remarkable quarter of a century. This 25 yearspan had seen a World War break out, civil unrest in Ireland and the installation as manager at Ibrox of the greatest Club manager the world has ever seen. However, it still had not witnessed Rangers lifting the Scottish Cup.
Thankfully though, we put that to rights in the next instalment. Next - finally! - the Hoodoo Busters.