Rangers and Northern Ireland international footballer

Born: December 12, 1929;

Died: January 27, 2017

BILLY Simpson, who has died aged 87, was a Rangers great who scored 172 goals for the team in 265 games - which is better than Ally McCoist's average. He also played for Northern Ireland, winning 12 caps for this country.

He was born William Joseph Simpson and raised in Donegall Road in South Belfast. His family had something of a footballing pedigree, his elder brother Reggie having played for Belfast Celtic. Billy left school to take up a joinery apprenticeship, and to play football for Roosevelt Street Boys Club.

His goal scoring with the boys club came to the notice of Linfield, and he signed for the Northern Irish giants in 1947. His scoring debut for the club, against Cliftonville, indicated he was a special player and in the next three and a half years he won a string of medals, including two Irish League winners and two Irish Cup winners, and was chosen four times for the Irish League XI and for a Northern Ireland FA XI which played the USA Olympic Games team in August, 1948.

Rangers legend Torry Gillick saw him and immediately contacted old boss Bill Struth with the advice to “sign Simpson”. The 21-year-old was then invited over to Ibrox, arriving off the overnight boat, taken to meet Struth, who signed him on the spot, for a then club record fee of £11,500 and put him straight into the Reserve team, to face Queen's Park Strollers, at Hampden that afternoon.

Simpson had scored 85 goals in 129 appearances for Linfield and he opened his Rangers' account with a hat-trick against East Fife, on his debut, on 23 December, 1950.

He won the first of his 12 Northern Ireland caps against Wales, in April, 1951, scoring the first of five goals for his country in a 2-1 defeat. The most important of these was his winning goal, when Northern Ireland beat England 3-2, at Wembley, in November 1957. This was the Northern Irish team's first Wembley win. That squad was the basis of the side, managed by Peter Doherty and captained by Danny Blanchflower, which would reach the World Cup quarter-finals in Sweden in 1958. Sadly, although he travelled to Sweden, injury meant Simpson did not kick a ball in anger.

The following season, 1958-59 would be his last at Ibrox. In 260 games for the club, he scored 172 goals, an average of 0.66 goals per game. Some of these were important – his winner in the 1953 Scottish Cup Final replay against Aberdeen, and the winner against Nic in the club's first European Cup match in 1956 for instance. He also scored the goal at Tynecastle in April, 1957 which sealed a 1-0 win and took Rangers top of the table and on their way to the league title, one of three he won with the club. He is a member of the Rangers' Hall of Fame

He also scored Rangers' consolation goal in the 1957 League Cup Final, won in case anyone does not know, 7-1 by Celtic. Billy Simpson always claimed his goal was the best of the eight, but team-mate Johnny Hubbard would chide him: “If you'd taken the other seven good chances you missed, we'd have won 8-7”.

Many of his best goals were headers - he had worked at developing this aspect of his game under the tutelage of Willie Thornton, the man he was signed to succeed, while, in his early Rangers days, former athlete Struth sent him along to Bellahouston Harriers for sprint training.

After Rangers, Simpson had short spells with Stirling Albion, Partick Thistle and the then non-league Oxford United, prior to hanging up his boots in 1961.

After football he kept greyhounds, which he raced at Shawfield; he also golfed well and was an honorary life member at Haggs Castle. Very family orientated, he remained in Glasgow, working at Remington Rand in Hillington, where a certain Alex Ferguson was one of his apprentices, before fishing out his joiner's tool bag to work until retirement as a cooper at KGV dock.

Brave, quick and a ruthless penalty box predator, Billy Simpson is remembered by former team mate and ex-Scotland manager Bobby Brown as “a lovely man, with a pleasant smile and a philosophical outlook on life”. Rangers have been well served by several great Northern Irishmen – Bert Manderson, John McClelland and Jimmy Nicholl to name but three, Simpson is right up there with them as a true Rangers Great.

Billy Simpson and wife Margaret were due to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in March this year. His death, after a lengthy battle against dementia, comes just weeks after that of another Rangers legend of the 1950s, full-back Johnny Little.

Margaret survives him with daughter Maureen, sons Brian and Colin and their 17 grand-children and 12 great-grand-children.