Behind the Iron Curtain 1962: Part Two

July 20, 2011

The first leg of the tour was over and Rangers swapped Moscow for Tbilisi, the Georgian capital 1000 miles south, for Wednesday’s clash with Dinamo Tbilisi. The Gers had also brought the sun with them following poor weather conditions on arrival in Moscow.

In the hours before their clash with the Georgian side, Rangers were hit with a crisis when eight first-team players refused to sign new deals for the season ahead including Caldow, Baxter, Scott, Millar, Brand and Wilson, as well as, two other members of the squad.

The “rebels” as they were called by the Scottish press were unhappy at the terms offered by the club for the coming season which were £30-per-week and £5 appearance fee, plus bonuses.

Rangers had to battle against temperatures of over 90 degrees in Tbilisi and an enthusiastic crowd of 30,000 in the Georgian capital.

Despite the contract disputes, Symon went full-strength with the same eleven that featured against Lokomotiv and left Willie Henderson on the bench despite making a good impact in Moscow.

But it was Henderson who scored the decisive goal midway through the second-half and after neat work with Ralph Brand, he slotted home the winning goal and topped off the moment with a somersault celebration.

Again, praise was reserved for Rangers’ defensive stalwarts Harold Davis and Eric Caldow who performed out of their skin in the difficult conditions.

With two wins from two games, the Light Blues were in buoyant mood – they even burst in to “Auld Lang Syne” after a training session in Kiev – and they were set to face a 65,000 capacity crowd in the Kruschev stadium in Kiev.

On the banks of the Dnieper River in Kiev, Rangers took on the toughest of the three opponents of the soviet tour, Dinamo Kiev, who were one of the dominant clubs in the Soviet Union.

Symon made no changes to the team from the two victories thus far, and were up against a side who are champions of the Soviet Union. They included the likes of legendary left-midfielder Valery Lobanovsky and Oleg Basilevich.

Dinamo were the better side for large parts of the game but the Gers took the lead just after half-time when Alex Scott cut the ball back to Ralph Brand who had the easy job of finishing off the move.

And although the Ukrainians had the majority of the possession, Rangers stubborn backline was a good match for their attacks. However, Andriy Biba curled home a free-kick from the edge of the box to deny the Gers three wins from three.

Harold Davis came out for some special treatment after producing three stunning performances in the summer tour.

The Evening Times had sent Gair Henderson as their special correspondent with the Ibrox club and he commented on Davis’ impact in the tour.

He said: “When strength was needed, he was a Samson; when skill and cunning were required, he had those two qualities in abundance.”

Rangers were greeted back at Renfew Airport by hundreds of jubilant supporters who had invaded the operational runway to welcome their heroes back from Russia.

This sparked a major security alert inside the airport with over 2000 fans breaching fences to get a look at the returning squad.

McMillan remembers the return to British soil as one of the most memorable parts of the summer trip.

He added: “The plane could hardly get in to the airport on landing and the crowd came right out to greet us on our arrival. Of course, that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays!

“When we came out the plane, it was just was a mass of people in front us, just waving Rangers flags and scarves. It was the most welcome return to Scotland we could have hoped and obviously they thought we’d done well. It was very uplifting to have such a welcoming return.”

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Behind the Iron Curtain 1962: Part One

July 19, 2011

The “Iron Curtain” is synonymous with Rangers Football Club in a number of ways with, arguably, the greatest ever side based around a solid defensive barrier – known as the “Iron Curtain”.

Assembled by legendary manager Bill Struth, who served the club for 18 years, the Rangers defence in the late 40s and early 50s is widely regarded the finest in the history of Scottish Football.

Between the sticks was Bobby Brown and he held the position for almost a decade, playing over 250 matches for the club. In the heart of the dominant rearguard were Willie Woodburn at centre-half, and full-backs, George Young and Jock “Tiger” Shaw.

These three were complemented by wing-backs, Ian McColl and Sammy Cox, who were not just excellent defenders but were perfect at intelligently reading the game.

Struth’s side went on to win another five league championships, and perhaps regrettably, another fine side constructed by the greatest ever Rangers manager that was unable to compete in European competition.

But to most people the “Iron Curtain” is the phrase we associate with the Former Soviet Union because of its mystery and isolation from the rest of mainland Europe.

After weeks of bureaucracy and negotiations with the Russian authorities, the Light Blues were lined up with an 11-day mystery trip through the Soviet Union to take on some of the country’s best football teams.

Club secretary in the summer of 1962, Jimmy Simpson, was himself unsure about what lay ahead for the double winners of 1961-62 who lost out to Dundee for the League championship by one point.

Simpson told the Glasgow Evening Times: “We will just have to wait and see where we play – and who we play, for we have no knowledge of the teams chosen to come out against us.”

The 24-strong party flew out from Renfew Airport on a monstrous Russian TU-104 jet, and after a pit-stop in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, the Gers landed in Moscow in an eerie environment with just two Russian officials there to greet them on their arrival.

Inside-forward Ian McMillan played over 200 times for the Light Blues and was an integral part of Scot Symon’s free-flowing attacking side. McMillan would feature in all three matches in the Soviet Union and reflects on the general atmosphere before the Gers arrived in Moscow.

He said: “It was very nerve-wracking and we were a bit anxious. We didn’t know much about the quality of football and also we didn’t know much about the quality of food so it was a bit scary.

“The standard of opposition was very good, better than I expected.”

Housed in one of the best hotels in Moscow, built during the Stalin regime, the squad would face three stern tests in 11 days against Lokomotiv Moscow, Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Tbilisi.

Scot Symon led his charges in to the magnificent Lenin stadium in Moscow on June 2 to take on Lokomotiv Moscow in front of just over 20,000 fans.

The Light Blues lined up with: Ritchie; Shearer, Caldow; Davis, McKinnon, Greig; Scott, McMillan, Millar, Brand, Wilson.

Symon had the option of using all of his 18 players during the match after agreements were made pre-match with the Russian club to prevent a similar incident as Moscow Dynamo fielding 12 players on their historic tour back in 1945.

But the Gers did not need the full quota of players to brush off the challenge of Lokomotiv who were easily beaten 3-1 on the night.

Ralph Brand opened the scoring late in the first-half with a right-foot effort high in to the net to send the Scottish side 1-0 ahead going in to the interval.

Lokomotiv missed a penalty early in the second-half but they were back on level terms from a free-kick not long after. Rangers made just the one change with Willie Henderson entering the fray to add some pace to the attack.

He made an instant impact, assisting Ian McMillan who made it 2-1 and Davie Wilson wrapped up the triumph with a third goal late in the game.

Special praise was reserved for Harold Davis who played a fine part in Rangers’ win over Lokomotiv Moscow. Davis was a combative and tough wing-half who spent eight years at Ibrox under Symon and had the unfortunate task of competing with another legend Ian McColl for a starting berth in the team in the early years of his time with the club.


Rangers in North America 1928: Part Five

July 18, 2011

The Rangers tour of the United States and Canada had been a major success, and being the first professional tour of its kind, the locals and ex-pats were keen to embrace the treble-winning Rangers party of 1928.

However, the Light Blues were beginning to feel the effects of so much travelling with a 400km drive from Montreal to Boston followed by a match on the same day as the arrival.

Rangers took to the field of the historic Fenway Park – the home of Major League baseball’s Boston Red Sox – in front of 10,000 fans for their clash with Boston Wonder Workers.

The champions had to show resilience after going 1-0 behind inside six minutes but equalised and subsequently took the lead through Jimmy Marshall and Andy Cunningham.

But even an inspired performance from goalkeeper Tommy Hamilton could not stop the Boston outfit from levelling on 84 minutes through Johnny Ballantyne.

The Light Blues travelled west across the United States to Chicago for their second last friendly before returning to the United Kingdom.

A double from Bob McPhail and goals Andy Cunningham and Jimmy Marshall saw off the all-stars of Illinois who could not cope with the attacking prowess of the Gers.

McPhail (pictured left) took his tally to 13 for the tour so far and would add another one to that in the final game in New York.

The powerful and dynamic McPhail would go on to net 261 goals in 408 matches and won nine league championships for the Light Blues.

And Struth’s men would sign off their American tour in style against an American Soccer League select team in Ebbets Field.

Rangers were boosted for the final match by the return of Alan Morton and Jimmy Fleming and both were whisked straight back in to the starting eleven for the conclusion of the Ibrox side’s tour. Andy Cunningham netted a double and was joined on the scoresheet in the second half by Archibald, Buchanan, Marshall and McPhail.

Negotiations for the famous Light Blues to play a final match in Trenton, 66 miles south of New York, for Sunday, June 24 were ongoing during the trip but talks stalled towards the end and the Gers ended their historic tour at Ebbets Field.

However, Rangers would return to North America two years later to thrill the soccer enthusiasts and they set sail on the RMS Berengaria on Wednesday, June 27, the same route as the fatal voyage of the Titanic, 16 years earlier.


Rangers in North America 1928: Part Four

July 17, 2011

In the most recent census, almost six million Canadians have claimed to have Scottish routes with the first emigrants arriving in North America in the 1700s.

Between the 1910s-1930s, it is known that over a quarter of a million Scots immigrated to Canada which took the overall tally up to over two million people who had decided to swap Scotland for Canada.

For the first time, Rangers travelled across land from Detroit to Toronto in neighbouring Canada where they were greeted enthusiastically with a civic welcome from Scottish groups in the country along with football fans from across Canada.

The authorities even arranged special night trains from other cities to allow admirers to come to Toronto and welcome the Light Blues.

The class and calibre of Bill Struth’s side shone through in the first of their two fixtures in Canada against Toronto Ulster United who had been largely dominant in Canadian soccer.

The Gers were back to full-strength with McCandless keeping his place in the team and it was another stunning display with McPhail scoring four, Fleming with two, and Cunningham with the other to complete a 7-0 thumping.

Rangers entertained the 8,000 strong crowd at the Maple Leaf stadium with some “spectacular combination play” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Rangers were back on water, this time aboard the SS Athenia, another British ship which was used as a cruise liner before the Second World War, as they embarked on their journey from Toronto to Montreal.

Bill Struth’s title-winning side were the first professional British team to play in Canada and arrived in Montreal, Quebec without two of their star men.

Alan Morton and Jimmy Fleming returned to Scotland on ‘important business’ and would not be available for the Light Blues until the last match of the tour back in New York. In Morton’s case, he was ruled out of the matches through injury and would not have been fit to play if he had stayed with the squad.

Despite the two absences, Rangers were still making big headlines on their arrival in Montreal and decided to keep a relatively low-profile with no civic welcome or banquet like their previous trips.

With the demand being so high, more tickets were put on general sale for fans, as well as, travel from as far as Winnipeg – over 2,000km away – was available for fans wishing to make the trip to Montreal.

In front of many well-known faces, including Mayor Camillien Houde, Rangers racked up another rout in their tour of North America with a 5-1 victory against Montreal all-stars.

The Ottawa Citizen reported: “They treated the spectators, numbering close to eight-thousand, to a wonderful and dazzling exhibition, replete with stellar combination play and clever footwork.”

Andy Cunningham was the star of the show, scoring twice, with Archibald, Marshall and McPhail on the scoresheet as well.

Cunningham spent 14 years at the club, making his debut in 1915, and leaving in the new year of 1929 to Newcastle United.

Ayrshire-born Cunningham was one of the best inside forwards to have played for the Light Blues but his early years at Ibrox were disrupted by his involvement in the First World War. The next decade at Ibrox would make Cunningham a regular in Struth’s fantastic side and he won seven league winners medals at Rangers.

The trip to Montreal had generated over $7,000 in revenue for the local soccer clubs and in the final five days, Rangers would return to the United States for three more matches.

Part Five will conclude the Rangers tour of North America with a return to the United States to play three final matches in Boston, Chicago and New York.


Rangers in North America 1928: Part Three

July 17, 2011

As much as Rangers arrived in North America, eager to enhance their football reputation, it was a chance for the players to mix with ex-pat Scots and local clans from each city that the club visited.

The five-day break between Massachusetts and Pittsburgh, allowed Rangers to mingle with the local Scottish clan from ‘the Steel City’. Those looking on as the Light Blues arrived in Pittsburgh by cruise liner were immediately sent in to raptures as one of the best football sides in Europe came to their shores.

Some described the players looking “as fit as a proverbial fiddle” and that Rangers would attract the biggest local crowd for a soccer match in Pittsburgh’s history.

Despite decent ticket sales, somewhere in the region of 10,000, the attendance on the early evening clash on June 9th was much less, reports claim 2 or 3,000, due to a torrential downpour – not the first time Rangers faced such conditions in their tour thus far.

The “multi-million aggregation of footballers from the banks of the Clyde” bewildered the crowd who had braved the conditions to see the Scottish champions in action.

The dazzling skills of Alan Morton and co. were back at their best with a slaughtering 9-0 victory against the all-stars of Western Pennsylvania. Rangers made just a few alterations from the previous match against Fall River with Tommy Muirhead, “Wee Willie” McCandless and Jimmy Marshall coming in to the starting line-up for Struth’s side.

The newbie’s staked a strong claim for a future place in the team with Marshall netting a hat-trick, along with Bob McPhail, an Alan Morton double and Jimmy Fleming rounding off the triumph.

Rangers, who had been described as “the premier world soccer organisation, bar none” pre-match, certainly met the standards set in the opening two matches.

After winning comfortably in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Rangers made the late trip north-west to face Detroit on June 10th.

An impressive performance from McCandless in the previous game meant that he kept his place in defence and was joined by Simpson and Hair who came in to the team with Gray, Meiklejohn and Archibald rested.

Detroit welcomed a healthy attendance of 15,000 to their home patch and somehow managed to hold the Light Blues to a 1-1 draw with the visitors the superior side for the entire match.

Rangers had only failed to win once from their previous four friendlies and it was more luck than anything that kept Detroit in the game.

The Gers take a short stop in Canada for Part Four before returning to the USA to complete their 1928 tour of North America.


Rangers in North America 1928: Part Two

July 16, 2011

Rangers were back on the road after their dominant performance against Eastern Pennsylvania and made the 95-mile journey north along the East Coast of the United States where they would base themselves in New York for the three days.

Over 20,000 enthusiastic fans came out to the see the Light Blues in action at Ebbets Field in the ‘Big Apple’ for their clash with Brooklyn Wanderers.

The same starting eleven took the field in New York (June 2nd) and they produced another scintillating performance with the impressive Jimmy Fleming score all four goals in the victory over Brooklyn Wanderers.

Fleming’s contribution against Brooklyn was somewhat shadowed, if that is possible when you score four times, by the impressive winger Alan Morton who had his praises sung by the Boston Globe.

A reflection of the true athleticism and professionalism of Struth’s champions was that the eleven players who had just played two games in three days, started again the day after (June 3rd) for their match with Fall River in Massachusetts.

The Light Blues arrived in the port of Fall River on the famous Cunard cruise liner from New York and took on Fall River Marksmen in front of 15,000 local supporters.

Rangers were up against a very decent outfit who were the best team in the American Soccer League. The hosts had won three ASL championships in a row between 1923 and 1926 and added another four consecutive titles in the late 1920s.

The Providence News played this clash between the finest clubs in Scotland and the United States as a “high-grade soccer clash” which Fall River “outplayed the Rangers for 75% of the match”. The hosts had the better of the chances, and had nullified the strengths of Rangers but neither side could take the spoils as it ended 0-0.

After the two comfortable victories, the Light Blues found it tough and the ever-impressive Alan Morton, who had been building a glowing reputation in the USA, was stifled by Fall River’s defenders in an aggressive manner.

However, the local press was very complimentary about the “gallant defence of Rangers” and that Davie Meiklejohn was “the greatest exhibition in centre half work”.

‘Gentleman John’, as the Americans called him, played 563 times for the Ibrox club, winning 12 league championships and five Scottish Cups.

Meiklejohn is remembered as one of the finest central-defenders with an imposing presence, as well as, a classy style of play. He was inducted in to the Rangers Hall of Fame and is regarded by many as the definition of a true Rangers captain.

Another player who was receiving rave reviews by the local media was midfielder Tom ‘Tully’ Craig who had played the first three games on the tour of North America.

Craig was a former Celtic player who was signed by Mr Struth in 1923 and went on to enjoy a glittering career at Ibrox in the 1920s where he picked up five Scottish championship medals.

The travelling Rangers party were back on the cruise liner that was shipping them from port-to-port and after struggling against Fall River, the team had a welcome five days to prepare for their next match against Western Pennsylvania All-Stars.

Pittsburgh Press columnist Ralph Davis described the clash on June 9th as “one of the outstanding sport combinations of the world”. Davis told the all-stars to cherish the chance to play against Rangers’ talented stars.

Davis points out that the Brooklyn Eagle said: “They are genuine machine. There is a place for every man and every man finds his place,

“Each man has a sympathetic touch with his fellow players and seemed to have an uncanny understanding as to where the ball would go when the possessor was ready to part with it.”

Davis concluded: “Those at Ebbets Field will have something to tell their grandchildren about in after years.”

Part Three follows Rangers to Pittsburgh and Detroit where they conclude the first stint in the United States before arriving in Canada.


Rangers in North America 1928: Part One

July 15, 2011

Bill Struth led his travelling party of Rangers players to North America for a summer tour following another successful season for the Light Blues.

Struth was assembling one of the best teams in Rangers history and the Gers came off the back of another triumphant season, securing a 16th League Championship, a fifth Scottish Cup and a 13th Glasgow Cup, as well as, a clean sweep of all reserve honours.

In the league, Rangers racked up 109 goals, the club’s best ever goals scored record in league football until that was emphatically wiped out in the 30s.

The team travelling to North America for a summer tour included two of the club’s best ever wingers Alan Morton and Sandy Archibald.

“The wee blue devil” – as Morton is affectionately known – was one of the finest footballers to pull on the famous jersey and he won nine league titles with the Ibrox club.

Morton was a regular in the Scotland national team and both played a huge part in the stunning victory over England in 1928, where he combined with other excellent attacking talents such as Alex James and Alex Jackson to secure a historic win at Wembley.

The left-sided winger dazzled defenders with his wonderful dribbling skills, combined with pace and a terrific end product.

Archibald, on the other hand, was a strong, dynamic winger and was not necessarily as skilful as Morton but his powerful build and fine turn of pace made it incredibly difficult for defenders to win the ball of him.

Both wingers were complemented perfectly by inside-forwards Andy  Cunningham, Jimmy Fleming and legendary centre-forward Bob McPhail.

The young McPhail, in his first full season with the club, netted 17 goals in the treble-winning season. His goal record for the season was not the highest as he was pipped by inside-forward Jimmy Fleming who had an incredible 33 league goals in 34 appearances and he famously holds the record as having scored the most goals in the Scottish Cup wearing the Light Blues.

Fleming, however, was denied a goal in the famous Scottish Cup final of 1928 by a handball on the goal-line from Celtic’s desperate captain Willie McStay, but goals from Davie Meiklejohn, McPhail and a double from Archibald delighted the record crowd of 118,115 at Hampden Park.

It is not surprising that this very talented bunch of players were well-received on their trip to the United States and Canada where they would play 10 games over May and June.

Based in the East Coast of the USA for the opening few matches, Rangers directors Baille Duncan Graham and James Bowie were joined by the travelling group from Glasgow who were embraced by Scottish clans in New York.

The clans gave the Scottish champions a warm welcome with a banquet on their arrival and after arriving on the SS California, built in 1907, they were greeted with kilt-wearing bagpipe players as they came ashore.

Rangers kicked off their tour on May 30 with Struth’s men taking on Eastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the locals were blown away by what the local press called “an impressive looking team” on their pre-match training session.

Over 4,000 fans watched the opening match of the “Rangers Invasion of the USA” and the gallous champions dazzled their way to an 8-2 victory over the hosts – in albeit horrific weather conditions that almost postponed the match.

Local admirers of the beautiful game were told to cherish the visit of the Rangers and Struth treated them with a full-strength side of: T. Hamilton; Gray, R. Hamilton; Buchanan, Meiklejohn, Craig;  Archibald, Cunningham, Fleming, McPhail, Morton.

And it was Rangers’ potent attacking line – who played “fast attack” according to the New York Times – with the super Jimmy Fleming scoring a hat-trick, along with Bob McPhail who also netted three times. The Light Blues completed the thumping with goals from Alan Morton and Sandy Archibald.

Part Two will include Rangers’ trips to New York and Massachutetts where the Light Blues took on Brooklyn Wanderers and US giants Fall River Marksmen.