The Grand Slam of 1929/30
Feature by Ayrshire Billy Boy
Updated Monday, 9th April 2007
So far this look at Rangers and the Scottish Cup has concentrated specifically on that tournament. However, in this instance it is felt that an injustice would be served if any look at a season in which Rangers won everything they possibly could did not cover the other trophies. Therefore, this instalment, while remaining focussed on the Scottish Cup, will also cover the other prizes and how they all formed part of a legendary Grand Slam. Such was the uniqueness of the achievement in that the Alliance XI won their own Double we feel it's important to pay due recognition to their feat as well. While details are sadly sketchy at best where possible their progress throughout the season will be noted in tandem with that of the first eleven.
Season 1928/29 had, in the context of the time, been a successful one for Rangers. The League Championship, including a double over Celtic, had been secured, as had the Glasgow Charity Cup which included a Final victory over Celtic for good measure. However, having waited 25 years to see Rangers win the Scottish Cup, the Rangers fans of the time saw the defence of the Cup falter at the final hurdle with Rangers losing 2-0 to Kilmarnock on April 6th, 1929. However, this was an immensely powerful Rangers team, as the picture below shows, packed with heroic figures and, as Bill Struth strengthened his grip over the Scottish game, Rangers had no reason to think another hoodoo was about to pay a visit with regard to the Blue Riband trophy.
The picture above depicts, on the eve of the season under discussion, some of the men who would go on to create history. Many of their names will feature prominently in the following text; many of them established themselves as Rangers Legends in their own right. Apologies are offered for the quality of the scan although it's hoped it helps in some way the reader to put faces to names when appropriate. To see a Rangers team including true men of stature such as Dougie Gray, Alan Morton, Davie Meiklejohn, Bob McPhail and Jimmy Fleming really brings it home just much of a team of genuine legends this was. The contemporary support truly was privileged to have seen such a Rangers team.
The curtain went up on the season on 10th August 1929 with Rangers making the short trip to Motherwell, the arrangement of today of the previous season's Champions opening on their own ground as yet not introduced. Added to the Rangers ranks was a young left winger called Willie Nicholson who had been signed from Queen's Park with the not inconsiderable task of being reserve for Alan Morton his new responsibility. As fate would have it The Wee Blue Devil suffered a rather bizarre injury, hurting a foot while jumping over a hurdle at the then traditional Ibrox Sports Day and rendering himself unavailable for selection at the season's opener. As for the game itself, a potentially tricky opening fixture was negotiated by Rangers via goals in either half from Sandy Archibald and Jimmy Fleming, the latter embarking on a remarkable personal season.
With a 2-0 win under their belts against a team who legitimately could be called contenders for the title, Rangers were entitled to feel pleased with their efforts. Kilmarnock, however, enjoyed a brief spell at the top of the table on goal average after their 3-0 win over Hamilton Academical. On the same day, in what was a forerunner of things to come, the Rangers Alliance XI won a remarkable game at Ibrox, defeating their Partick Thistle counterparts 5-4 to get their own campaign off to a successful start.
Rangers assumed league leadership the following Saturday win a fairly comprehensive 3-0 home win against Hibernian with Nicholson again deputising for the injured Morton. It has to be said that such were the injuries Rangers suffered during the course of this season that the achievements in the end are all the more remarkable. Nicholson actually scored Rangers' third after earlier efforts from Bob McPhail and Doc Marshall put the Royal Blues on easy street. The joy at the final result, however, was tempered by the news that 'Greetin' Boab' had suffered a bad ankle injury and was eventually ruled out of the following game at St Johnstone. Points wise, though, a successful weekend was ensured for both Rangers teams as the Alliance XI won 4-2 in their fixture at Easter Road.
Both teams made it 3 wins out of 3 on August 24th with wins over both St Johnstone teams. The first eleven earned a narrow 1-0 win in Perth thanks to a Doc Marshall goal after 23 minutes while the Alliance team enjoyed a rather more comfortable 7-0 victory. After 3 games the first team were the only team in the division with a 100% record.
In a season when Rangers were unable to field a settled team on anything like a regular basis, Bob McPhail's injury meant a debut for Archie McPherson, a youngster from Stirlingshire, at the next fixture, a home game against Falkirk. An easy 4-0 win was in fact aided with a goal from McPherson after earlier counters from Jimmy Fleming and Doc Marshall. A late Tully Craig effort provided extra cheer for the 20,000 crowd. Meanwhile, at Falkirk, the Alliance team dropped their first point by drawing 1-1. After four games though, both teams could be satisfied with their respective starts.
The first XI made it 5 from 5 in their first midweek fixture of the season, a home game against Queen's Park on Tuesday September 3rd. 16,000 assembled to see Sandy Archibald's 35th minute goal prove enough for a win. This clean sheet meant that, taking the last game of the previous season into account, Tom Hamilton in the Rangers goal had went 6 games without conceding a goal. By today's standards that may not seem a great deal; but looking at it in the context of 1929 when every tram played with five forwards and goals were far more plentiful than today then we feel it is a statistic worthy of mention. It also emphasises the strength of the Rangers defence that they were able to keep the opposing forwards at bay to that extent.
In between that Tuesday and the following Saturday's trip to Aberdeen where Rangers would face a team that included three ex-Rangers - Duncan Yuill who we have already encountered in our look at the Scottish Cup and its relationship with Rangers, Bob McDiarmid of whom the same can be said, and Jamie Smith, son of the legendary Nicol - two anecdotes appear in the archives that are worth mentioning, if only to highlight a shift in attitudes over the course of time.
In an action that is almost unthinkable in today's climate, Royalty were invited to attend the forthcoming game at Pittodrie. The Duke and Duchess of York and the Duke of Gloucester were happy to accept the invitation and saw the game in question, making it one of the few occasions in which a Rangers game was watched by a member of the Royal Family.
In the same intervening period, the Ibrox United Free Church won the Old Govan Fair Cup and presented it to the Rangers President, ex-Baillie J. Buchanan. The whereabouts of this trophy remain something of a mystery to this Rangers fan at least and any information concerning it would be gratefully appreciated but it emphasises the bond Rangers once had with the local community. One can only hope such a relationship will again be experienced in the not-too-distant future.
To return to the topic at hand, though, Rangers dropped their first point of the season in a controversial 1-1 draw at Pittodrie in front of a then record crowd of 36,000. A late Alan Morton strike earned a draw for Rangers; however a disallowed Aberdeen goal provoked scenes outside the ground with angry locals waiting to confront the referee with accusations of bias. His crime appeared to be nothing other than being a Glaswegian which fuelled rumours - dispelled immediately by contemporary reporters - that he had travelled to the game with the Rangers team. It would appear the paranoia about 'West Coast Bias' is not a new phenomenon with plentiful demands being made in 1929 that no Glaswegian referee be allowed to officiate in a Rangers game in the north-east again.
When the furore died down the statistic that mattered was that Rangers had lost their 100% record; and moreover, the Alliance XI had collapsed to an appalling 5-0 home reverse to their Aberdonian counterparts, provoking numerous queries to the press asking when the last time any Rangers team lost by such a margin. Sadly, and memorably for all the wrong reasons, as far as the first XI was concerned, it was not all that far in the past.
What these two results signalled, though, was a remarkable parallel battle taking place between Rangers and Aberdeen in both the Scottish League and Alliance League. All four teams in the coming period displayed remarkable consistency in attaining results.
The next Saturday, Rangers' home fixture with St Mirren saw the return of Bob McPhail. 25,000 were on hand to see a late Sandy Archibald goal ensure both points after and early Doc Marshall effort had been cancelled out by a equaliser from the visitors. This result meant Rangers were 4 points clear of Hearts and Kilmarnock albeit having played a game more than both although the debit side of things was that Bob McPhail had injured his ankle again again and was out for the forthcoming important trip to Rugby Park. The Alliance XI, who finished the day 3rd in their league, were held to a 1-1 draw at Firhill.
To depart slightly from the topic, but in keeping with matters that are relevant to Rangers, the week following the St Mirren game saw the transfer of ex-Ranger Jimmy Smith from Ayr United to Liverpool. While this is primarily a study on what Rangers achieved, we feel it is appropriate to comment on the career of on of our ex-players who, in 1927/28, set a goalscoring record that will surely never be beaten. In Ayr's canter to the second division that season, Smith scored a bewildering 66 of their 117 goals. Added to that, his 19 in other tournaments amounts to a quite staggering 85 goals in one single season and due recognition for that feat is paid here.
Rangers wobbled slightly in their trip to Kilmarnock on Saturday 21st September, slumping to a 1-0 defeat. They remained two points clear of their hosts albeit having played a game more. At Ibrox, though, the second string gained some measure of revenge by defeating the Ayrshire team's second XI 2-0, a result, though, that kept them third, behind Kilmarnock and leaders Aberdeen.
Another of the trophies that would contribute to Rangers' haul at the season's end came into focus in the following week: their Glasgow Cup Semi-Final trip to Firhill was set for the Glasgow Holiday Monday of September 30th.
Rangers got back on the rails to some extent the Saturday after their defeat at Kilmarnock by defeating Dundee United 3-1 at Ibrox in front of a crowd of 25,000. A late consolation mattered little after McPhail, Archibald and George Henderson had put Rangers 3 goals to the good. Ironically, at Kilmarnock the same day, the Alliance team won 3-1, pulling themselves level with leaders Aberdeen but having played a game more.
Two days later, Rangers' first involvement in the tournament that would provide their first silverware attracted a crowd well in excess of 40,000 to Partick Thistle's ground for the Glasgow Cup penultimate stage. (A figure, incidentally, more than double which saw Celtic move into the final with a 3-1 win at home to Queen's Park on the same day.) A dominant Rangers performance at Queen's Cross eased them into the final via goals from Sandy Archibald and a Davie Meiklejohn penalty. Doc Marshall is pictured below in the thick of the action with the packed terracing forming an impressive backdrop.
Further good news followed for Rangers Roberts Hamilton and McDonald as they were both selected for the Irish team to face England in Belfast on October 19th.
With the first silverware of the season within Rangers' grasp, attention was then focussed again on league matters with a trip to Tynecastle beckoning, a ground where Rangers had lost only once since the resumption of football following the end of World War One. As is often the way in football, though, records counted for very little as Rangers slumped to a 2-0 defeat, losing their place at the top by a point to Aberdeen who recorded a 1-0 win at Perth. After 10 games each the top two had 16 and 15 points respectively. The Alliance team, in a game at Ibrox where spectators were informed on a quarter-hourly basis of events in Edinburgh, defeated Hearts 2-0.