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George Niven

George Niven, who has died at the age of 79, was a goalkeeper with both Rangers and Partick Thistle who was denied international recognition through injury.

Footballer Born 1929 Died July 17, 2008

George Niven, who has died at the age of 79, was a goalkeeper with both Rangers and Partick Thistle who was denied international recognition through injury.

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Born in the mining village of Blairhall, Fife, he signed for Rangers in 1951 from Perthshire junior club Coupar Angus and gave 10 years of faithful service, having been signed by legendary Ibrox boss Bill Struth. He made his first-team debut in the final league game of the campaign on April 19, 1952, at Aberdeen, the game ending in a 1-1 draw.

Niven seized his opportunity when the opening game of season 1952/53 saw Rangers slump 0-5 at Tynecastle in a League Cup tie and retained his place throughout the rest of that campaign as the league and cup double were secured, the last trophies of Bill Struth's 34-year reign.

In the Scottish Cup final that year against Aberdeen, Niven demonstrated great character when, after diving to save at the feet of Dons' forward Paddy Buckley, he was stretchered off with blood pouring from a head wound. Yet he returned, with four stitches in a bandaged wound, to play a key role in the 1-1 draw, then four days later he kept a clean sheet while wearing a protective leather helmet in Rangers' 1-0 replay victory.

He was not the tallest of goalkeepers - but a safe pair of hands, a good shot-stopper and commander of his area.

Niven eventually made a total of 400 appearances for the Light Blues, achieving shut-outs in 138 of those games. He won five league championships, two Scottish FA Cups, one League Cup, three Glasgow Cups and three Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup-winners' medals. He was capped seven times by the Scottish League, but was denied full international recognition in the biggest game of them all when an injury suffered in a Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Celtic at Hampden denied Niven the opportunity to play at the same venue against England seven days later.

Recovering in time to play in the 2-0 cup final win over Kilmarnock, it appeared that a game for Scotland would surely follow that summer when he was selected for the touring party that visited Austria, Hungary and Turkey - but Niven returned home at the end of the tour without having stripped for action.

Niven was a key member of the first Ibrox team to play in European competition. In total, he played in 15 European Champions' Cup matches, including eight of the nine games in 1959/60 as the club reached the semi-finals for the first time. A 12-4 aggregate defeat at the hands of West German champions Eintracht Frankfurt put paid to Ibrox dreams of becoming the first British club to reach a European final.

Niven was also in goal for Rangers during the 1957 League Cup final defeat at the hands of Celtic, 1-7. But he was not made scapegoat, that role belonging to centre-half John Valentine who would never play for the club again.

His final game as a Ranger was in itself historically a significant one - the club's final Charity Cup fixture, a 3-4 home defeat at the hands of Clyde on April 25, 1961.

Niven left Ibrox in February 1962, having been superceded as first choice keeper by the younger Billy Ritchie, to sign for Partick Thistle for whom he gave seven years as he played until his 40th year, making a total of 257 appearances. He impressed on his debut in a 3-0 defeat of league leaders Dundee. He was an ever-present for the Jags in the league campaigns of seasons 1962/63, 63/64 and 67/68. Ironically, Niven was succeeded by Billy Ritchie as Partick Thistle goalkeeper just as he had been at Ibrox.

Later he ran a successful restaurant and coffee bar with former Ibrox colleague George Young in Glasgow's Renfield Street. A true gentleman, he enjoyed bowling and holidays on the Island of Cumbrae.

Niven died at St Vincent's Hospice, Kingussie, after suffering ill health in recent months. He is survived by his partner Ann and four children: David, George, Fiona and Kenny.

ROBERT McELROY

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