Rangers and the Scottish Cup: The Hoodoo

By Ayrshire Billy Boy
Last updated : 07 April 2007
When Rangers lifted the Scottish Cup on April 25th 1903 by beating Hearts 2-0 after a 1-1 and 0-0 draw, very few, if any, would have believed a whole new generation of Rangers fans would emerge before Rangers lifted the trophy again a staggering quarter of a century later. Lest we be accused of Timmy-like revision*, though, and ignore the bad results in our history, no look - however amateur the research - of Rangers in the Scottish Cup can avoid a 25 year gap between wins of the trophy.

Rangers' defence of the trophy opened against the opponents of the previous year's final at Ibrox on Saturday 23rd January 1904. A crowd of 30,000, which included a large contingent of Hearts supporters watched, according to contemporary reports, 'exceptional brilliance' on the part of Rangers. All they had to show for it, however, was a 1-0 lead at half time, Robert Hamilton netting in the 20th minute from a Nicol Smith free kick. Hearts equalised shortly after half time before John Walker restored Rangers' advantage midway through the half with a shot on the run. The same player put Rangers 3-1 up with a goal described as being, 'finer than any that had been scored in a cup-tie.' Despite Hearts pulling one back on 83 minutes, Rangers held out to win 3-2 and were sent by the draw to face Hibernian in Edinburgh, the game taking place on February 6th.

Hibs were confident prior to the game - they were League Champions the previous season - and had drawn with and beaten Rangers in the league prior to the Cup Tie. Rangers, however, relaxed the night before the game, taking in a show at the Theatre Royale. 18,000 were estimated to have been in attendance when the game kicked off, the numbers boosted by a huge support for the visitors, the contemporary Rangers fans cramming onto numerous special trains that had been laid on for them.

The travelling support would have been in full voice after Rangers stormed into a 2-0 half time lead thanks to two early goals, the first from Mackie following a corner and a John Walker shot 5 minutes later. Despite a nervy finish after the hosts pulled one back Rangers again withstood an attempted comeback by an Edinburgh team and found themselves drawn to play near-neighbours St Mirren at Paisley in the quarter final, the game going ahead on February 20th.

A crowd of 17,000 (including another huge travelling support), providing takings of £500, watched Rangers progress to the semi final thanks to a brilliant individual goal by the sublimely talented Robert Hamilton on 41 minutes. Then, by a curious quirk of the draw, Rangers having disposed of both Edinburgh teams, found themselves pitted against a second team from Renfrewshire with Morton drawn to play the semi-final at Ibrox, the days of neutral venues for semi-finals still not being introduced.

A surprisingly small attendance of only 10,000 assembled at Ibrox on Saturday March 5th to see Rangers completely outplaying their opponents almost from the first whistle. Goals from John Walker and Robert Hamilton gave Rangers a 2-0 interval lead and Walker netted his second and Rangers' third in the second half to ensure an easy passage to the final where Rangers would play Celtic.

The Final was unanimously agreed to be staged at Hampden and, in a start indicator of the laxness of attention to public safety of the time, it was agreed by a vote of 12/7 at an SFA meeting to reduce the admission fees in order to attract a bigger crowd to test Hampden's facilities and capacity. The final kicked off at 4pm on Saturday April 16th. The legendary Jock Drummond was recalled to the Rangers side after Alec Fraser had been injured during a Rangers 3-0 friendly win over Glentoran in Belfast.

Rather than dwell too long on the events of the final, it is sufficient to note that over 64,000 witnessed Findlay Speedie give Rangers a 2-0 lead at one point, before Celtic drew level before half time due to two Jimmy Quinn goals. The same player scored the winner for Celtic with 10 minutes to go ensuring a bleak season for the Light Blues.

When Rangers' 1904/05 Scottish Cup bid began, it did so against a backdrop of the death of the legendary Nicol Smith and the news that Robert Hamilton was doubtful for the upcoming games due to a knee injury sustained in March of the previous year.

The Scottish Cup campaign began with a -1 win over Ayr Parkhouse at Ibrox on Saturday January 28th. Robert Campbell made his debut for Rangers which was regarded as a factor in a crowd of 8,000 turning up at Ibrox. Jacky Robertson gave Rangers a 42nd minute lead with a John Chalmers goal in the second half ensuring Rangers' progression despite a late consolation. Rangers were then drawn to travel to Morton.

9,000 gathered to see Rangers outplaying and outclassing their opponents to the tune of a 6-0 victory. Robert McColl began the rout on 30 minutes, cleverly tricking his opponent before shooting home and further goals from Findlay Speedie and Archie Kyle gave Rangers a 3-0 interval lead. Speedie scored his second from a penalty after the restart and McColl and John Walker further added to the scoreline ensuring an easy passage to the quarter finals where they would play Beith at Ibrox.

The game, which took place on February 25th before a meagre crowd of 4,000 was over as a contest by half time. Goals from John Chalmers, a double from Archie Kyle and one from Findlay Speedie saw Rangers go into the interval 4-0 up. Archie Kyle scored Rangers' 5th in the second half before their opponents notched a meaningless consolation on the full time whistle. With a thus far straightforward progression to the semi-final, Rangers found themselves pitted against Celtic where a display of Celtic-minded sportsmanship awaited them.

34,000 gathered in Glasgow's East End on March 25th to see a game Celtic were expected to win as a matter of routine. Rangers were, after all, missing Messrs Hamilton and McColl and were not expected by contemporary commentators to provide much of a threat.

However, with a defence and goalkeeper playing superbly, Rangers went in at the break gaining in confidence. After 65 minutes, Findlay Speedie headed in an Archie Kyle cross and Rangers doubled their advantage 15 minutes later thanks to Jacky Robertson netting from an Alec Smith pass. Almost immediately after, Jimmy Quinn was ordered off for kicking Alec Craig in the face and as the Celtic player left the pitch, hordes of Celtic fans entered onto it, assaulting the referee and several Rangers players. Left with little choice, the Celtic board conceded the tie and Rangers took their place in the final where they would meet the formidable Third Lanark of the time.

Journalists of the period were tipping Thirds to lift the trophy although Rangers were not without their own confidence in winning it. However, the first attempt at settling the issue ended in a disappointing 0-0 stalemate in front of 55,000 at Hampden on 8th April. The replay the following Saturday in front of an almost identical crowd saw a game in which Rangers' defence was looking shaky, as well as having to contend with their forwards having an off day with Speedie and McColl both missing chances. This proved to be costly as Thirds took a 35th minute lead, doubled it on 50 minutes then ensured victory with a 40 yard shot before Alec Smith scored a consolation on 70 minutes.

Even though Rangers had lost the past two finals by no stretch of the imagination could it have been called a hoodoo and there would have been little for Rangers to worry about in entering the competition in season 1905/06.

The first round was negotiated easily enough, Arthurlie - recent conquerors of Celtic - were disposed of 7-1 at New Dunterlie Park on 27th January before a crowd of 6,000. James Spiers opened the scoring on 10 minutes, followed by a spectacular effort from Robert McColl giving a 2-0 interval advantage. Spiers added his own second after the restart a double from Robert Dalrymple. John May and Robert McColl with his second completed Rangers' tally before the hosts scored a last minute penalty. Rangers were then sent on the long journey to face Aberdeen in round 2.

3 crowded special trains left Glasgow for the game on Saturday February 10th, helping boost the crowd to 12,000 who watched a game played on a treacherous pitch. It had been predicted beforehand that Pittodrie's attendance record would be broken in this game. The inclement weather, however, limited it to nonetheless healthy numbers if not spectacular.

Robert Dalrymple headed in an Alec Smith corner on 19 minutes to give Rangers the lead. Aberdeen, however, hit back to lead 2-1 by the interval. Dalrymple restored parity on 59 minutes and Robert Hamilton grabbed what proved to be the winner on 74 minutes. The draw provided Rangers with what should have been a routine fixture at Port Glasgow on March 10th.

The reports of that game, sadly, evoke images of a similar cup-tie at Ibrox 81 years later in which Rangers pounded their opponents but found their path blocked by a goalkeeper playing the game of his career. 12,000 watched Rangers at Port Glasgow fall behind to a 30th minute goal and despite almost totally dominating possession were unable to find a way through. Therefore their attempts at Cup glory were thwarted for another season, the third one in a row. The semi-finals that year, incidentally, threw up something of a rarity in that neither Rangers nor Celtic were present.

Rangers were given a potentially difficult opening to their bid in the Cup of 1906/07, drawn away to Falkirk. A then record crowd of 16,000 assembled at Brockville on 26th January 1907 and watched the teams be separated by just a Robert Campbell penalty at half time. A Falkirk equaliser in the second half was countered by a McFie effort on 72 minutes in which he dribbled past two defenders to score what proved to be the winner. Having negotiated a potentially tricky tie, Rangers would have been more confident in being drawn away to Galston in the next round.

4,000 turned up for the game in East Ayrshire on 16th February and watched Rangers routinely dispose of their opponents by a 4-0 scoreline. An own-goal in the first half gave Rangers the lead before the switch-over. Further second half goals from George Livingston on the 70 minute mark following an Alec Smith cross and Spiers and Dickie with one each were ample for Rangers to progress to the quarter final where 60,000 turned up at Ibrox on March 9th to see Celtic ending Rangers' Scottish Cup hopes for a further year with a fairly comprehensive 3-0 victory.

A repeat of the previous season's opening round fixture sent Rangers again to Falkirk on Burns' Day whose ground had recently been okayed to hold 25,000. Another massive travelling support helped the crowd break the 20,000 barrier. The hosts took a 3rd minute lead which was cancelled out by a George Livingston shot on 33 minutes. Falkirk regained the lead 5 minutes later. John May earned a replay for Rangers with a 70th minute header and a hard fought game ended 2-2. The winners of this particular game would receive a visit from Celtic in the following round.

The replay at Ibrox on February 1st attracted a crowd of 52,000 who would watch Rangers progress easily to face their city rivals. Archie Kyle scored after 30 minutes, followed in the second half by one from Spiers and a double from Alec Smith. A late consolation was of little consequence.

So Rangers would entertain Celtic at Ibrox for the second successive season. Rangers were involved in the extending of Ibrox during this period and hoped to play the game at Hampden. However, uncertainty over the venue of the second replay between Queens Park and St Bernard's negated any possibility of Rangers' game being staged anywhere other than Ibrox and it was therefore decided to increase the admission fee to one shilling in an attempt to keep the crowd down. The fact that only 23,000 turned up would, in a strange way, deem this policy a success. As for the game itself, Rangers' progress was again ended by Celtic. Despite going down to an early goal, Archie Kyle equalised on the stroke of half time. Rangers acquitted themselves well enough until a bad mistake by John May on 72 minutes presented Celtic with what proved to be the winner.

The Cup competition of 1908/09 provides us with one of the most startling episodes in Scottish football history in that the Cup was withheld for that season in events that stunned the public. As far as Rangers were concerned, though, the Cup campaign opened in a less than spectacular manner with a 3-0 win at Northern League St Johnstone on January 23rd in front of a 7,000 crowd. Goals from Stark, Bennett and Campbell underlined Rangers' superior fitness and skills. The draw then sent Rangers agai to Tayside for a game against Dundee.

30,000 watched a determined, defensive struggle end in a goal-less stalemate on February 6th, necessitating a replay at Ibrox the following Saturday. A huge crowd of 56,000 saw a narrow Rangers win by virtue of a 70th minute goal from William McPherson, a chance created by the hustling play of Robert Campbell upsetting the Dundee defence. A Glasgow derby against Queens Park was Rangers' reward for defeating the then League leaders.

45,000 - aided undoubtedly by the innovative 'Special' service from Central to Ibrox which ran its first trains that day - again saw Rangers progress by a William McPherson goal. A mix-up between the amateurs' full backs offered a first half scoring opportunity which was gratefully accepted. Rangers could even afford the luxury of Alec Bennett seeing his second half penalty saved. The semi-final draw pitted Rangers against Falkirk for the third consecutive season. For the third consecutive game, a goal by William McPherson was all that separated Rangers and their opponents. 12,000 at Brockville on March 20th 1909 watched the game decided by a goal following a goalmouth scramble in the 59th minute.

The first game of the final which was to end in uproar took place at Hampden on April 10th. A huge 70,000 attendance saw Celtic take a 20th minute lead, a lead they held until the 75th minute when Tommy Gilchrist equalised. Rangers then went 2-1 up three minutes later when Alec Bennett scored a superb solo goal. The Cup looked to be heading to Ibrox until just before the final whistle until the Rangers goalkeeper, Harry Rennie, in the course of gathering the ball, turned away from the onrushing Jimmy Quinn, only to be adjudged to have carried the ball over the line. Despite Rangers' legitimate grievances, a replay was therefore required and it took place the following Saturday at the same venue.

60,000 turned up for the replay, many of them - and the players - expecting extra-time to be played in the event of the game finishing level. Rangers, however, led at half time thanks to a Jimmy Gordon goal although this was cancelled out on 62 minutes. As the final whistle blew, several players from both sides remained on the park expecting a further period of play. When it was not forthcoming, the crowd, sensing a feeling of being forced to pay extra money to see a third game, rioted in a severe disturbance that raged for several hours. In the event, both Rangers and Celtic petitioned the SFA to abandon the final and the trophy was with-held for that season.

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