The ex Ranger involved in a terrible Christmas Day tragedy


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Francis Archer Branscombe was born in Dennistoun, Glasgow on May 6th 1889. Like many keen young footballers of the time, he started his career in the junior game, most notably with Clydebank Juniors. In January 1909 he was given his chance to impress in senior football, when the 19 year old left sided attacker was signed by homeless Partick Thistle.

Frank's debut came in a Scottish Cup tie away to West Calder Swifts on January 23rd, an inauspicious start to a long Thistle career as the game ended 0-0. Primarily used as a left winger, Branscombe scored the first of his 60 Thistle goals on Saturday, 20th March 1909, in a 3-1 defeat at home to Port Glasgow Athletic in the First Division. Branscombe ended the season with 2 goals, but it was a difficult time for the club, still searching for a new home ground after losing their Meadowside base in Partick, and finishing bottom of the table in 1908/09 with only 2 league wins the entire season. They were spared relegation, however, and when they secured the Firhill new home ground in Maryhill they entered the new 1909/10 season with renewed optimism.

They found it difficult, however, to find a first home win at their new ground in the league. By Christmas Day they only had 2 home victories in the Scottish Cup against lowly opposition at Firhill, the best results in the league had been draws, most notably a goalless affair in front of 30,000 in November against Rangers. December 25th was a normal day in the football calendar, and the festive visitors to Firhill were Hibs.

The Firhill pitch was badly covered in frost for the game, with the decision made by both club officials to heavily sand the surface and allow the game to go ahead as a decent crowd had started to gather. Several players expressed misgivings about its safety, but in these days the decision was made by the clubs and not the referee on whether a match should proceed. Hibs suffered a double blow before kick off, their captain Willie Duguid withdrew feeling unwell and vice captain Sam Allan twisted his knee in the warm up. Though a replacement was found for Duguid, the days long before substitutes meant that Hibs started the game with 10 players. The captaincy was given to the impressive ex Motherwell player James Main, who had been one of the most vocal on the dangers of the surface.

Hibs started well despite their disadvantage, and deservedly scored the opener through Sharp. Then, as the interval approached, Frank Branscombe challenged for the ball with James Main near the touchline. Branscombe slipped on the treacherous surface, causing his foot to land in Main’s groin. The Hibs captain was unable to continue and was escorted from the field. Now down to 9 players, Hibs were overrun, and 3 second half goals gave Thistle their much awaited first Firhill league victory.

Later that night Main became violently ill and required a doctor. Two different medics attended him that night and both diagnosed severe bruising, no doubt helped by seeing the marks of Branscombe’s studs on his torso. But the next morning his condition worsened again and James Main was rushed to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh where he was diagnosed with a ruptured bowel as a result of his collision with Frank Branscombe’s boot.

The initial operation on the rupture appeared successful, there even being reports of Main awake and singing in his hospital bed, but his condition suddenly deteriorated, and tragically, on December 29th 1909, James Main died at the age of just 23. Unsurprisingly, the tragedy affected Branscombe tremendously and he did not feature in Thistle’s next match on January 1st against Queen’s Park. He was able to restart his football career later in the month, even scoring in a home wins over Kilmarnock and Morton, but Branscombe remained haunted by his unwitting role in such a horrific incident.

His Thistle career appeared to drift on with little enthusiasm, he scored just 5 goals in 39 starts till the end of season 1911/12. Then for season 1912/13 he was switched to centre forward, and Branscombe was like a player reborn. Whether this move took him away from the touchline where the accident happened, or whether simply time had allowed his heart to heal is unclear. What was clear is that Branscombe suddenly hit the headlines for much happier reasons.

He banged in 15 goals that season, including 3 against Rangers, one in a Glasgow Cup semi final draw, one in a narrow league defeat and one in a Charity Cup semi final defeat. He went on to score a decisive goal in a Glasgow cup semi final win over Rangers the following season, but had to make do with a runners up medal when Thistle lost to Clyde after a replay. His only other senior medal came 2 years later in the Charity Cup, when he again scored in the semi final (This time against Queens Park) but lost in the final to Celtic.

He also represented the Scottish league on two occasions a 3-2 win over the Southern League in October 1911 and a 2-1 victory over the Irish league in Belfast.

Frank Branscombe played 224 times overall for Thistle, his last being on 5th May 1917 in a home Charity Cup win over Third Lanark. He scored. Prior to this he had 2 brief loan spells away from Firhill, loans being a common occurrence during the dark days of the Great War. He had a brief spell in late 2015 at Vale of Leven, before switching to Rangers in March 2016. Branscombe only wore the Royal Blue 7 times but he made an excellent impression, mainly at left wing. His Rangers debut came on March 18th playing centre forward and he scored the only goal of the game away to Third Lanark in the league. All 7 of his Rangers appearances were in the league, Rangers never lost any of them, and Branscombe scored in 5 of the games. After that Third Lanark opener, he also scored against Dundee, Dumbarton, Clyde and Queens Park. He returned to complete his Firhill career with the thanks of all at Ibrox.

Branscombe decided to leave Firhill in the summer of 1917, moving from Glasgow to Woolwich to support the war effort by working in a munitions factory. After the War, he returned north and still enjoyed playing at amateur level. He even made one last appearance at Firhill playing for Dunkeld and Birnham in the Scottish Cup 1st Round in 1924. Thistle won 11-0.

He settled in Maryhill, close to the ground where tragedy had cast a dark shadow over his life and career. A tragedy almost forgotten amongst the long history of Scottish football.

Frank Branscombe passed away in Maryhill in 1942, aged 52.
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One last bump for a history article.

Probably a bit downbeat on another day of fun and laughter :))