Rangers First Title: 1890/1990

By Adam Robertson
 December 10, 2020

As millions of 'Bears' fans worldwide hope this is the season we finally land our 55th League Title, we take a look back to our very first title triumph some 130 years ago.  Before the formation of the league in 1890, the only trophies competed for were in Cup competitions the 'Scottish F.A. Challenge Cup' being the most prestigious.  Since the first edition in 1873-74, Rangers had reached the Final on only two occasions in 1877 and 1879 being beaten both times by Vale of Leven.   Success in minor Cup tournaments had proved almost equally as elusive.  In the 'Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup', Rangers only triumphed once (1879 against Vale of Leven) in five Finals while in the 'Glasgow Cup' their only appearance in the Final had ended in defeat to Cambuslang in 1888.

Mr. Peter Fairly representing Renton F.C

But things were about to change.  In March 1890, Mr. Peter Fairly representing Renton F.C. wrote to 13 other clubs including Rangers inviting them to a meeting to discuss the possibility of  forming a national league.   Despite strong protestations from the Scottish F.A. and adverse reaction from the press that such a formation would lead to the professionalism of the game in Scotland (at that time football was strictly amateur and any club found guilty of payment to players were usually hit with a lengthy ban or worse... expulsion from the association) the representatives decided to carry on with their plans regardless and on the 13th of May, 1890 the committee unanimously agreed to form a league to commence in August of that year.  By the time the decision had been ratified only 11 of the original 14 clubs were still in (Clyde and Queen's Park had declined the original invitation then Saint Bernard's suddenly pulled out on the eve of the formation).

first ever league match including Rangers

So, on the 16th of August, 1890 eight of the teams played their first ever league match including Rangers who hosted Hearts in front of 4,000 spectators inside 1st Ibrox Park.  The men from the capital had the better of the opening twenty minutes but shortly afterwards a shot from Neil Kerr came off the head of Hearts' full-back 'Jimmy' Adams past a perplexed Hugh Mackay.  However, Rangers' lead only lasted a minute as half-back Isaac Begbie let fly from distance and the ball went into the corner of the net.  Then on the half-hour mark, 'Willie' Taylor put the visitors ahead with a fine strike which they held onto at the interval.  In the second half, with the wind at their backs the 'Gers' turned up the pressure and eventually forced an equaliser in the sixty-fifth minute through Hugh McCreadie.  Five minutes later, Rangers were back in front through Kerr (though some reports credited it as an own-goal by James Cairns).  Then in the final couple of minutes, the Ibrox men put a gloss on the scoreline by netting twice through Kerr again and John McPherson.

Rangers played their first ever away league fixture

A week later Rangers played their first ever away league fixture at Wheatfield Park in Cambuslang.  The home side had walloped Vale of Leven 8-2 in their opener and started confidently by opening the scoring through Russell in the fifth minute.  But the 'Gers' hit back after fifteen minutes with a lightning shot from full-back Donald Gow.  Then Cambuslang were stunned by a double-whammy close to the break as McPherson found the net twice in as many minutes to put the visitors in command.  The victory looked secured a few minutes into the second half when McPherson struck again to complete his hat-trick.  Cambuslang rallied for a spell and they got a second goal through a tap-in from Plenderleith but with twelve minutes to go, 'Tom' Wylie restored Rangers' three goal advantage.  Then in the closing stages, Kerr got in on the act to score a sixth goal.  After two games, Rangers were the only side with maximum points. 

Rangers' 100% record was well and truly smashed

It would soon become three wins from three as the following Saturday, Renton were thumped 4-1 in front of 10,000 fans at Ibrox.  The only team keeping pace with Rangers were Dumbarton who were a point behind and would be the 'Gers' next league opponents.  But before that came the first major competitive meeting against the team who would become their most fiercest rivals in the 1st Round of the Scottish Cup.  By all accounts, Rangers put in an insipid display at 1st Celtic Park as they went down to a 1-0 defeat.  That was bad enough but what followed on the next weekend was disastrous as Rangers' 100% record was well and truly smashed as they succumbed to a 5-1 thrashing away to the 'Sons'.  Dumbarton led 3-0 at the break but despite having to play the second half with only ten men after 'Andy' McCreadie went off injured, David Hislop pulled a goal back with fifteen minutes remaining.  However, it was only a token response as the home side netted twice more before the end.

Rangers got back to winning ways

After a three week break, Rangers got back to winning ways with their biggest victory thus far.  In a sensational first forty-five minutes against Saint Mirren at Ibrox, the 'Gers' notched an amazing seven goals with one conceded.  The second half was dull in comparison with each side scoring only the once.  After the euphoria of that win the next game two weeks later brought only disappointment as Rangers were held to a 1-1 draw by bottom side Cowlairs at Ibrox with Hislop scoring for the 'Light Blues'.   More bad news followed a couple of days later when Renton resigned from the league and all of the matches they'd played including one against Rangers were declared void so the two points won in that game were scrubbed.   The decision stemmed from Renton being expelled from the S.F.A. a few weeks earlier after they'd played a friendly against Edinburgh Saints.  As far as the S.F.A. were concerned the team from Edinburgh and Saint Bernard's (who were under suspension for professionalism) were the same team playing under a different guise despite assurances to the contrary.  Renton were thus found guilty of playing against what the S.F.A. deemed a professional team.

By the time Rangers played their next match away to Vale of Leven, Dumbarton had opened up an eight point lead albeit having played three games more.  Another strong first half showing saw the 'Light Blues' race into a 3-0 lead before the home side got a consolation near the end.  Another vital two points were garnered the following week in a hard-fought encounter away to Hearts with Kerr's strike midway through the second half proving decisive.  Two weeks later with Dumbarton playing Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final, the 'Gers' travelled the short distance to Paisley to take on Abercorn to try to eat into the 'Sons' lead.  But in another abject performance they were held to a 1-1 draw with Rangers' goal coming from Hislop fifteen minutes from time.  The next matchday saw Rangers host Cambuslang who were just behind the 'Light Blues' in the table.  By the end of the match the home side had secured a 2-1 victory which put them five points clear in second place.  Good news also came through from Dumbarton who'd been held to a 2-2 draw by Celtic which reduced the gap at the top to four points with a game in hand.

Rangers went goal crazy in their next two games which saw them demolish Saint Mirren 7-3 in Paisley and notch four without reply away to Third Lanark.  They then faced Abercorn at home in their game in hand over Dumbarton.   This time there were no slip-ups as two first half goals from James Henderson and Hugh McCreadie brought them to within two points of the leaders.  The next match saw the 'Light Blues' travel to the East End of Glasgow for the very first league encounter against Celtic.   A topsy-turvy game saw the visitors take the lead then go behind before equalising deep into the second half.  Thankfully, Dumbarton were also held to a 2-2 draw at Cambuslang on the same day which kept the gap to two points with five games remaining.  Rangers then made another trip within Glasgow this time to the North of the city to face bottom side Cowlairs in Springburn where a goal in each half from Henderson and Hislop brought another two points.  They followed that up with an easy 4-0 pasting of Vale of Leven at Ibrox to put them level on points with Dumbarton having now played a game more.

The following week the 'Gers' title hopes were given a huge boost when Dumbarton lost 1-0 at Celtic which was their first defeat of the season.  The 'Sons' then won 4-0 at Hearts to move two points clear again before the vital clash between the top two at Ibrox.  Dumbarton knew that victory would leave them on the brink of the title but 12,000 fans inside the stadium needn't have worried as the 'Light Blues' put in one of their best performances of the season especially in the first half as they raced into a three goal lead.  Another goal followed midway through the second half and although Dumbarton rallied late on by pulling two goals back, the two teams were level on points again with the 'Gers' having a game in hand.  With two games left, Rangers needed three points to clinch the title.  The first of them was against Celtic at Ibrox played amid a constant downpour which made the pitch very heavy.  The visitors opened the scoring after half an hour through Peter Dowds but that was quickly cancelled out as Henderson equalised with a tremendous shot.  The conditions took their toll after the break as both sides were reduced to ten men due to injuries (no substitutes in those days).  Midway through the second half, 'Johnny' Madden put the visitors ahead once more and despite huge pressure for the remainder of the game, Rangers couldn't find a second equaliser.  Disappointing news also came through from Paisley as Dumbarton beat Saint Mirren 4-2 in their final game which meant Rangers had to win their last fixture at home to Third Lanark to finish level on points with Dumbarton and force a play-off (the goal difference and goal average rule to separate teams level on points was years away from being introduced).  Rangers were soon a goal to the good but by the interval, 'Thirds' were level.  However, the home side cut loose in the second half scoring three unanswered goals.  The game was a personal triumph for Alick McKenzie who in his only game as an outfield player notched a hat-trick (his other two appearances that season had been as a goalkeeper).

The League Committee convened a meeting soon afterwards to set a date for the play-off which was arranged for Thursday, the 21st of May, 1891 at the neutral venue of 1st Cathkin Park, home of Third Lanark.   Rangers went on the offensive from the start and were rewarded after only five minutes with a goal from Hislop.  Midway through the half, the 'Gers' were denied another goal by a dubious offside decision after Henderson had finished off a superb flowing move.  Soon afterwards however, they did make it 2-0 when McPherson lofted a dangerous ball into the box and McCreadie got in ahead of John McLeod to net.  By half-time Rangers could've been out of sight but the margin remained at two.  For the majority of the second half, the 'Light Blues' looked comfortable but in the seventieth minute John Taylor went on a mazy run and smacked the ball past David Reid to halve the deficit.  Five minutes later the 'Sons' were level following a goalmouth scramble with John Miller getting the final touch.  Dumbarton now scented victory but despite dominating the last fifteen minutes Rangers held firm and the game ended 2-2.  With no provision for a replay, the League Committee met again and declared both Rangers and Dumbarton as joint-champions which to this day remains the only occasion this has happened in the history of the Scottish League Championship.

Richard Keir

November 2020

thisisibrox logo
Copyright © thisisibrox
Proudly designed by @_westenclosure
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram