Rangers and the Scottish Cup: The Hoodoo
Feature by Ayrshire Billy Boy
Updated Wednesday, 7th February 2007
Part 3: 1919/20 to 1922/23The 1920s heralded a quite superb decade for Rangers in a League sense and also saw a certain Mr William Struth take over the managerial reins following the tragic death of William Wilton. Be that as it may, though, the Scottish Cup remained as elusive as ever with the early 1920s in particular providing no end of shock defeats for the management, team and fans of the day.
In season 1919/20 when the Scottish Cup resumed after the war, Rangers swept all before them in the League suffering only 2 defeats in a 42 game programme, ending with 71 out of a possible 84, 3 ahead of runners-up Celtic. Few would have offered Dumbarton much of a hope at Ibrox in the first round of the of that season. 30,000 though saw a resolute Dumbarton defence hold Rangers at bay on January 24th 1920 to ensure a goal-less game and a replay. A second attempt to settle things was also held at Ibrox due to Dumbarton failing to meet assurances they could cope with the expected crowd at their own ground. 30,000 again attended for a Tuesday afternoon kick off and witnessed Rangers struggle to a narrow 1-0 win via a Tommy Cairns goal in 8 minutes after an Andy Cunningham shot was not fully cleared.
Progress assured, Rangers welcomed Arbroath to Ibrox on February 7th and cantered to a 5-0 win in front of 20,000. Tommy Muirhead headed an early goal from on the line and, following a brief scare when Arbroath hit the post, Sandy Archibald netted the second and the tie was put beyond all doubt when James Bowie scored Rangers' 3rd and final goal of the first half. Cunningham scored the 4th running onto a through ball and Tommy Muirhead netted the 5th and last near the end with a fine solo goal. Thus Rangers assured themselves of an easy progression. However, given the amount of ties that were requiring to be finished midweek, in a rather stark indication of the times, shipbuilding companies started complaining to the SFA that midweek replays were affecting production as workers were downing tools to get to the games. Given that the replay policy seems to have been unaltered we can only assume the SFA were as receptive to input back then as they are now.
Staying with the games, though, Rangers were given another home tie in the 3rd round, this time against Broxburn United on Saturday February 21st 1920. A respectable crowd of 16,000 paid their shilling to see Rangers methodically win 3-0. Tommy Muirhead nodded in the first on 20 minutes and Andy Cunningham netted what contemporary journalists described as a fluke just before half time. Rangers then appear to have largely played within themselves, provoking a large exodus on the 70 minute mark. The tramway Loyal possibly? Those that left would have missed Arthur Dixon finish the scoring on 85 minutes, netting from the rebound from his original penalty being blocked.
The quarter final draw produced a Rangers - Celtic tie at Ibrox. In all honesty, Celtic did have a formidable team during this period. The three games thus far between the two teams had ended with a win for either side and a draw so there is little wonder there were reports of interest in this game surpassing any other in the history (up until then) of Scottish domestic football. It also gives us an early example of organised transport for supporters with one Maryhill Rangers fan offering seats on a bus (or motorised charabanc to use the contemporary term) to Ibrox for like-minded people. Those that used this mode of transport would have formed part of a huge record 85,000 crowd on Saturday 6th March with 50,000 reported to have been in the ground 90 minutes before kick off.
The game itself kicked off amid a very strong breeze with Rangers apparently mastering it much better than their opponents, switching the ball from wing to wing with 'great precision'. For all their mastery, all Rangers had to offer though was a 1-0 win, attained via a 50th minute Tommy Muirhead goal from a George Patterson cross. However, a win was to be savoured and few would have seen anything other than a straightforward Rangers march to the trophy, ending what was then a 17 year wait.
The draw pitted Rangers against the surprise package of the tournament, Albion Rovers, who would end the season in bottom place in the league eventually 44 points behind the Champions Rangers and with 36 separating them at the time of the semi final. Rangers had also scored 7 without reply in 3-0 and 4-0 wins against them in the league meaning anything other than a Rangers win would be something of a major shock. The venue was set as Celtic Park by a vote of 15/6, the minority of 6 on the deciding council deeming Tynecastle in Edinburgh a better choice for a Glasgow team playing a Lanarkshire one.
When the game kicked off in front of 30,000 on 27th March 1920, things appeared to be going to plan when George Paterson scored - rather fortunately - just before half time with a cross that the wind blew into the net. The usual failings in the cup started to haunt Rangers in the second half as they began to look increasingly nervous and pain the price when Rovers equalised with a late penalty.
The replay took place the following Wednesday at the same venue. 37,000 were there, rather strangely meaning a better crowd watched a midweek afternoon replay than the Saturday precursor. While Rangers enjoyed the bulk of possession they could not do anything productive with it and the game ended goal-less. It was therefore decided extra-time would be played in the 3rd game should it be necessary.
A quite amazing 65,000 turned up at Parkhead for the 3rd game on Wednesday April 7th and witnessed a Light Blue horror show. Even missing two influential players in Archibald and Dixon there is no denying this was a major upset in Rangers' history. 2-0 down at half-time to a battling Rovers team, Rangers could not engineer a way back and even missing a penalty into the bargain.
Therefore, despite this particular tournament providing Rangers with a momentous victory over Celtic, it was all to no avail given the outcome of the protracted semi-final meaning the wait to see a Rangers Captain hold the Scottish Cup aloft was extended by yet another year.
Bill Struth was in charge of Rangers for the 1920/21 campaign. Again in the League Rangers demonstrated remarkable consistency, ending in first place 10 points ahead of Celtic and only dropping a quite startling 8 points from 42 games. As will be seen, though, it was the same old story in the Scottish Cup with the two-decade mark in the cup's absence from Ibrox fast approaching.
Rangers entered the cup at the second round stage and were given a home tie against Morton. A huge attendance of 67,000 on Saturday 5th February 1921 watched as Alan Morton scored the first half-s only goal on 8 minutes with a wonderful dribble and shot. Morton then supplied George Henderson with the chance to head home the second and final goal on 57 minutes. Rangers were then drawn at home to either Alloa or Clydebank, the former winning 1-0 at the third time of asking.
Alloa were a Central League team at this time and few, if any, would have forecast anything other than a substantial Rangers win. However, an impressive 54,000 on 19th February watched on in disbelief as Alloa not only held Rangers to a 0-0 draw but came close to winning in a late breakaway. The replay a week later at Ibrox again attracted an even bigger gate, 55,000 this time paying at the turnstiles. Rangers this time made no mistake and were 3-0 up at half-time. Andy Cunningham on 20 minutes shot into the net a lobbed pass from Sandy Archibald. Tommy Cairns then doubled the lead with a half-volley then 3 minutes before the interval, burst the net with a ferocious shot. Rangers then played out the second half comfortably secure in the knowledge progress was assured. Near the end Archibald scored from a lofted Cunningham pass and right at the end Alloa scored a deserved consolation.
The quarter final draw sent Rangers to Dumbarton for a game the home Club doubled admission fees to 2/-. This had a negative effect as, despite being room for 20,000, a mere 6,000 were in attendance. As for the game, Jimmy Bowie netted after 7 minutes following a Sandy Archibald corner that was not adequately dealt with by the home defence. There were no further goals until the 48th minute when Andy Cunningham scored with a powerful left foot shot that went in off the post. The scoring was complete near the end as George Henderson netted following an Alan Morton cross.
In the semi-final, Rangers were given the chance to avenge the previous year's upset when they were drawn again against Albion Rovers. Again the game took place at Parkhead and again attracted a crowd in excess of 60,000. Rangers, though, emerged victorious on this occasion. Tommy Cairns opened the scoring on 60 seconds following a Sandy Archibald cross. Two minutes later he scored with a header from a Meiklejohn centre. On 27 minutes the game was all but over as Andy Cunningham this time scored from an Archibald centre. With a 3-0 interval lead there was no way Rangers were not going to the final but made sure of this midway through the second half when Archibald netted following a goalmouth scramble. A consolation 7 minutes from the end was of little consequence.
Rangers were therefore in the final and in a prime position to end their barren run with the cup given that they would play Partick Thistle who defeated Hearts 2-0 after two 0-0 draws. The final was set for Parkhead and and admission fee 0f 2 shillings was decided upon. The venue and price provoked a storm of complaints from the public, citing the safety issues that surrounded a game of this popularity being staged away from Hampden, the biggest neutral venue possible. Calls for boycotts were therefore audible and in the end a mere 28,294 turned up with the Daily Record claiming that as a moral victory and a vindication for common sense.
With regard to the game itself, more and more mention of Rangers' failure to win the trophy was evident with more than a few journalists commenting on how it had been 18 years since Rangers last lifted it. It was also pointed out that none of the current first team had a winner's medal; again, though, few outside of Firhill forecast anything other than a Rangers win at this time of asking.
However, the Rangers fans present again went home disappointed after watching their team, if reports are accurate, throwing the game away. Losing 1-0 at half time to a shot that was carried away from Willie Robb in goals by a strong gust of wind, Rangers became rattled as the game progressed and could not find a way through. A consolation of sorts was offered the following Tuesday as a 3-1 win at home to Clyde ensured League success.
1921/22 saw Rangers end the season with both Glasgow trophies secured. Again, though, the Scottish Cup was a source of major heartache. (It's hard enough researching it so we can only speculate just how difficult it was to have lived through it!) The first round of this particular year gave Rangers an away tie at Inverness Clachnacuddin. Despite Rangers' efforts to get the game switched to Ibrox, their hosts refused to concede and the game took place in the capital of the Highlands on Saturday 28th January 1922, albeit at Rangers' insistence at a 1.20 kick off to enable them to return to Glasgow the same day.
A fair crowd who had travelled from Glasgow are reported to have helped swell the attendance to 3,000 and would have been thinking their journey worthwhile after only 7 minutes George Henderson scored from an Alan Morton corner. 2 minutes later the same player got his second following a free kick awarded for a foul on 'The Wee Blue Devil.' Bob McDiarmid scored the 3rd via the underside of the bar and Henderson completed his first half hat-trick from close range on 30 minutes, leaving an interval lead of 4-0. In the second half Alan Morton netted himself from a McDiarmid cross.
For the third successive year, Rangers were then drawn to play Albion Rovers, this time away from home. 20,000 were at the Coatbridge ground on 11th February and saw Rangers go in 1-0 up at half time thanks to a 40th minute Alan Morton cross that was diverted past his own goalkeeper by Rovers' McColgan. That advantage was cancelled out on 46 minutes when ex-Ranger Billy Reid scored with a spectacular effort. Despite Rangers' numerous chances, a replay was required as there was o further scoring.
The replay at Ibrox the following Wednesday was a very one-sided game. A healthy crowd of 35,000 watched as Rangers took a 2-0 interval lead thanks to a 30th minute 30 yard shot from David Meiklejohn and a 37th minute long range effort from Sandy Archibald. Alan Morton then took it upon himself to finish the job off with a dribble and shot on 58 minutes and near the end netting the rebound from his own shot that had hit the post.
Therefore one of Rangers' previous conquerors had been put to the sword and the draw for the 3rd round would send them east to face either Broxburn or Hearts. As it was, it would be to Tynecastle they would travel, Hearts eventually seeing off their less illustrious opponents 3-1 after two surprising 2-2 draws.
On 25th February 1922, Rangers were dominant right from the first whistle in front of a 40,000 crowd. Andy Cunningham scored after 10 minutes, shooting home a pass from Tommy Cairns. Arthur Dixon scored the second on 25 minutes following a defensive mix up and the first half scoring was complete on 35 minutes when Cunningham headed in a corner. Despite more Rangers pressure in the second half, Rangers only added a late fourth, Bob McDiarmid scoring in the 86th minute after breaking clear from the defence.
The quarter finals pitted Rangers at home to near neighbours St Mirren, the proximity of the teams inspiring a 67,700 Ibrox crowd on March 11th, including a not unimpressive estimated travelling support of 20,000. Rangers took the early initiative but on 35 minutes found themselves trailing after hesitancy by Tommy Muirhead enabled St Mirren to take the lead. It was not until 19 minutes before the end that Rangers equalised, George Henderson capitalising on defensive hesitancy to score despite frantic efforts on the part of the Paisley team's defence to stop the ball crossing the line.
The replay at Love Street the following Tuesday produced a record crowd of almost 40,000. George Henderson gave Rangers one foot in the semi-final on 10 minutes, shooting from 20 yards. Progress was assured on 32 minutes with Cunningham scoring from an Alan Morton pass. Sandy Archibald is accorded special mention in contemporary reports for his performance in this game, being described as 'scintillating' among other things and being recorded as setting up numerous chances for his team-mates who were unable to take them. However, a 2-0 win was enough to take Rangers forward to the semi-final where they would face the team they lost to in the last year's final, Partick Thistle.
Again controversy surrounded the venue. Hampden Park was unavailable due to a league fixture between Queen's Park and Kilmarnock. Parkhead was nominated but, rather stangely, was opposed by none other than William Ward, the Chairman of Rangers' opponents who cited the west of Glasgow location of both clubs and that the game should be staged at Ibrox. In a reasoning that possibly gave Eric Cantona some inspiration several decades later, Ward stated: "We should keep our own fish guts to our own sea maws." This writer will leave the logic in that comment to others better qualified to find it.
As it was, 60,000 were at Ibrox on Saturday March 25th 1922 for the semi-final. As a contest the game was over by half time, Rangers scoring on 25 minutes as George Henderson netted following a Tommy Cairns pass. 5 minutes later the game was over and the scoring complete as Sandy Archibald netted a penalty following a handball incident. Despite there being no further scoring, the crowd were entertained by a dazzling performance by Alan Morton en route to yet another final.
The 1922 final was to be against Morton at Hampden, the Greenock men getting there by virtue of a 3-1 semi-final win against Aberdeen. Rangers were not as clear-cut favourites as one might expect. Observers of the time were commenting regularly on the Ibrox men's inability to get over the final hurdle of the cup and not a few were predicting a Morton win. In the event they were right. 70,000 were at the National Stadium on April 15th and witnessed, from the Light Blue perspective, a nightmare. After Morton took the lead on 12 minutes, Rangers, 14 minutes later, were reduced to 10 men as Andy Cunningham was forced out the game with a broken jaw. Again Rangers failed to find a way through and saw the prize go to their opponents. Indeed, it provoked an eloquent observation from the Glasgow Herald of the time: "There is a conviction a fatality attaches itself to the Ibrox Club's quest to win the Scottish Cup." By the time the following year's final came around, should Rangers have failed to have secured it then this fatality would have reached the two decade point.
As well as trying to end the Scottish Cup obsession, Rangers in the mid 1920s also had to contend with the marvellous Airdrie team of the period eventually finishing the season 5 points ahead of their second placed Lanarkshire rivals. The Glasgow Cup and the Charity Cup were also secured; yet the Scottish Cup still remained a barrier to a clean sweep.
Round 1 of the Scottish Cup of 1922/23 gave Rangers a Glasgow derby away at Clyde, scene of two exits from the Scottish Cup in what were then recent years. 65,000 were expected to witness this year's clash. In the event, 'only' 35,000 paid in, many no doubt being deterred by the think fog that enveloped much of Glasgow that particular day. Rangers quickly got into their stride and on the 5 minute mark, Andy Cunningham scored with a left-foot shot from an Alan Morton cross, itself following clever interchange play between Morton and Tommy Cairns. George Henderson scored Rangers' second on 23 minutes following an Archibald corner leaving an interval lead of 2-0. On 58 minutes an Alan Morton cross sailed into the goal and the rout was completed on 70 minutes as Cunningham sent a ferocious volley into the net.
A potentially tricky tie had therefore been negotiated; however the reward for that feat was to be presented by another one in the shape of a tip to a ground Rangers traditionally do not always have it their own way at. Round two ensured a trip to Somerset to face Ayr United. The game took place on the west coast despite the best efforts of the Ibrox board to have it moved to Rangers' own ground. Ayr, not without reason, refused. 16,000, including what is reported to have been a massive travelling support, gathered at Somerset Park on January 27th 1923 and saw Rangers' hopes of ending the cup drought ended. A sticky, laboured Rangers performance ended in, according to contemporary reports, a fully deserved Ayr win, their goals coming without reply on 71 and 74 minutes.
So the Rangers hoodoo continued. In the League they could do little wrong. In the Cup they could do little right. In the next instalment of our humble study of Rangers and the Scottish Cup we arrive at what surely was the nadir of that particular instance in our Club's past. As it is, we leave it at the 20 year mark for the time being.