By David Herd
In the last few decades, there have been some very high-profile figures at Ibrox who also wore the red of Liverpool. Two of them were probably the biggest worldwide names ever to sit in the manager’s office in our magnificent stadium, with Anfield icons Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard being given the monumental tasks of restoring Rangers to their rightful place in Scottish football after long years in the wilderness. Those 2 European Cup-winning Liverpool captains will likely always be the first names anyone thinks of when asked to name those who represented both clubs.
In the 36 years since that unforgettable day in May 1986 when The Magnificent One sauntered into Ibrox and was introduced to the world as player-manager, there have been plenty players who wore the red and the royal blue. Souness signed several former Liverpool players, like Avi Cohen, John McGregor and Nigel Spackman, and he also raided Ibrox to take that brilliant winger Mark Walters down to Merseyside when he was in the Anfield hotseat. Gerrard used his previous knowledge of the set-up down there to bring in the likes of Jon Flanagan, Ovie Ojaria and Sheyi Ojo, as well as the current team’s most expensive signing, Ryan Kent. In between times, the likes of Gregory Vignal, Soti Kyrgiakos and Danny Wilson all played for the two teams.
But ever since Liverpool’s formation in 1892, there are players who crop up in their history with a connection to Rangers. The likes of Bobby Neill, an ever-present in the 1898/99 Invincibles was signed from Liverpool, and George Livingstone, the first-team trainer at Ibrox in the early years of the William Struth era included both teams in a nomadic playing career that also saw him wear the colours of Celtic, Manchester City and Manchester United. And there are 2 players with immortal places in Liverpool history in those early years who wore the Rangers colours too.
The first of these was an Ayrshireman named Tom Wyllie. He signed for Rangers as a teenager in 1888 and has a place in our club’s history as one of the first 11 men to play for Rangers in a league match, starting at outside right in the first-ever Scottish League game the club played on August 16th 1890 against Hearts at the first Ibrox Park. Rangers won 5-2, and Wyllie played in 3 more league games before leaving the club to join Everton of the English First Division, where at the time wages were higher. His new club won the title, although with just 4 appearances Wyllie didn’t receive a winners’ medal. This meant he had played for the winners of both the Scottish and English leagues in the one season, but had no medal to show for either.
He remained at Everton until the summer of 1892, when former club president John Houlding left the club after a boardroom split and formed a new club in the city, Liverpool FC. The new club recruited Wyllie as they started their journey in senior football in the Lancashire League. They also played in the local Liverpool Senior Cup, and reached the final where they were to meet Everton for the first time ever. The Merseyside Derby was born when the teams met in the final on April 22nd 1893. The league team were the hot favourites, but they decided to rest several of their usual starters and played a mainly reserve side. That over-confidence was their undoing, as the new boys in town shocked their rivals with a 1-0 win in front of 10,000 in Bootle. The only goal of the match, and the first-ever goal in one of the most famous city derbies in football, was scored by Tom Wyllie.
Everton didn’t take their defeat well, trying to have a replay ordered when they appealed to the Liverpool FA on the grounds of refereeing incompetence. The appeal failed, and Wyllie’s goal remained a history-making moment. He left Liverpool soon afterwards, and enjoyed a career with Bury and Bristol City before retiring from the game.
If the first winner in the Merseyside Derby isn’t historic enough, then what about the goal that won Liverpool their first-ever league title? Liverpool have been champions 19 times, and sit just 1 title win behind their arch-rivals from Old Trafford on the all-time list. It was in 1901 that they first became English champions, and again there is a Rangers connection. In their team was Scottish international inside forward John Walker, a player signed from Hearts in 1898 after he had won both league and Scottish Cup with the Edinburgh side. He came close to adding the English title in his first season with Liverpool when they finished second behind Aston Villa. But they would go one better two seasons later.
Sunderland looked the likely title winners most of the season, but they suffered a couple of surprise defeats in the run-in, and it meant Liverpool would be champions for the first time if they took a point from their final fixture at West Brom on April 29th 1901. They did better than that, winning the match 1-0 thanks to a first half strike by John Walker. Like Tom Wyllie almost exactly 8 years before, it was a goal that would be part of club history forever.
John Walker played one more season at Anfield before returning north to sign for Rangers in the summer of 1902 after his Liverpool contract expired. Rangers were champions, but the club had been in mourning after the Ibrox disaster a few months previously when 25 fans were killed and around 500 injured when a terracing collapsed during a Scotland v England international match. The club had sold several players and had created an Ibrox Stadium Fund for those affected by the tragedy. The focus at the club was very much on the rebuilding of the stadium and on raising as much money for families as possible, and Walker’s 4 years at the club saw him win just a solitary Charity Cup. He did play in the first 2 drawn matches of the 1903 Scottish Cup final trilogy against Hearts, missing the decisive 2-0 win in the third match through injury. The closest he came to national glory after this was when in the losing side against Celtic in the final the following year.
He left Rangers in 1906, and emigrated to Canada after a brief spell at Morton. John Walker served with the Canadian Signal Corps during the Great War, and died in an accident in 1936 while working in the province of Manitoba.
In the build-up to our clashes with Liverpool in the biggest club competition in the world, there will undoubtedly be interviews and articles on former players who played for both clubs. I wonder how many of them will mention the ex-Rangers players who scored 2 of the most significant goals in the early history of Liverpool Football Club.