THE only first-person account ever written about the formation of Rangers in 1872 has been unearthed after lying undiscovered for 76 years – and it reveals the founding fathers considered naming the Glasgow club Rovers.

David Mason, the Rangers historian, this week launched his new official biography of the Ibrox institution, The Rangers Story: 150 Years Of A Remarkable Football Club, as part of the sesquicentennial anniversary celebrations.

During the course of his research for the book, Mason came into possession of a short hand-written autobiography penned by a Scottish man called James Hill in Canada before he died in 1946.

Hill had grown up in Glasgow in the 1860s and 1870s and had been present at Fleshers Haugh on Glasgow Green when the club formed by Moses McNeill, Peter McNeill, Peter Campbell and William McBeath played their first games.

Hill – who was the younger brother of the eminent early Rangers player and Scotland internationalist David, who is pictured in the iconic photograph of the 1877 Scottish Cup final team, and who also played in some first team games himself – emigrated to Canada in 1882.

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However, he wrote his memoirs before he passed away aged 86. In them, he recalls how members of the Argyle Cricket Club joined in games of football with the McNeill brothers, Campbell and McBeath and helped to establish the new club.

He also confirms the colours worn by the first side were light blue and reveals the name Rovers was considered when Rangers were constituted in 1873.

Hill’s granddaughter Meryle Nerland travelled to Scotland back in the 1990s and passed on the manuscript to the then Rangers commercial director Bob Reilly during a visit to Ibrox.

Mason discovered the document when he was writing The Rangers Story and contacted Hill’s great-granddaughter Sonya Savage, a prominent Canadian politician who has served as the Minister of Justice as well as the Solicitor General for Alberta, to request permission to use it.

“There have been various accounts of Rangers’ formation over the years,” he said. “One was written by William Dunlop, who played in the 1877 team. He wrote quite an authoritative account about the formation. But he wasn’t there. He was just talking about what he had been told. It was second-hand information.

“Moses McNeill did a piece in the Evening Times in 1935. But that was written by John Allan, who produced Rangers’ first history. It was closely aligned to that book and we know there were some errors in it.

“Apart from that, nothing has ever emanated from someone who was actually there at the time Rangers were formed. That is the beauty of the Hill account. This is an account from someone who was integral to the formation of Rangers. It isn’t anecdotal information.  

“Nobody until now has ever shown the association of cricket in the formation of the club. It aligns with what was happening in football at that time. It also shows they played in light blue. There has been some debate about whether they played in light blue or royal blue.

“It also shows they considered the name Rovers. They played under different guises early on. They operated under the name Western for a time, they were also called Argyle.

“But in 1873 when they were constituted they finally decided on the name Rangers. There were various suggestions put around. Rovers was one of them, but they decided on Rangers.

“The reason was that Moses McNeill saw the name Rangers in an English rugby football annual. He felt it was an apt name because they were mainly boys from out of town so they were strangers.

“Hill’s autobiographical account had remained lost in family archives until a chance encounter I had with his descendants a few years ago. It is fascinating on a number of levels.

“It highlights the emerging popularity of football at the expense of the summer game of cricket.  It also provides some context to the development of the club. But it is the role of the Argyle cricketers that is intriguing.”

Hill wrote: “He (David) excelled in cricket, was a good bowler, and was a leader in the Argyle Cricket Club, which played on Saturday afternoons on Glasgow Green with other boys who attended St James Parish School. That would be about 1870 to 1873.

“About that time, the Rangers made a start. Some youths from the Gareloch used to meet and kick a football on the Saturday afternoon.  It was not long until the boys of Argyle CC got interested and discarded the cricket and joined in playing football.

“They used to pick sides and have good games. It ended by their amalgamating into a club and calling it the Rangers, with light blue sweaters and white pants (knickers). 

“If I remember, there were other names proposed.  Rovers I think was the other name, but Rangers carried and it certainly has been a great club in Scotland, playing association football.”

He continued:  “They were playing in Glasgow Green and there was quite a competition to get the playing ground near the shrubbery on the Fleshers Haugh.

“As I was attending school, and had a holiday on Saturday, I sometimes got the Rangers goal posts in position on that pitch. As I grew older, I got playing if they were short a man and in time I was a recognised player in the 2nd eleven. I occasionally filled a place in the 1st eleven but my coming to Canada put a stop to my football career.

“Davie played with the 1st eleven from its beginning and although he was the youngest player in the team, he done so well. He was picked by the Football Association to play against England in 1882. They done well that year as they beat England 6-2, if I remember alright, in the Oval, London. He also played against Wales and Ireland. 

“He generally got the credit of being the originator of the passing game. In association football, as most players at that time (were) inclined to hang on to the ball until they lost it.”

Mason said: “Hill’s account is really important information. His granddaughter has passed away. But I contacted the family and received permission to use the memoirs.

“His great-grandaughter Sonya Savage sent me an email stating she had no objections and congratulating Rangers on reaching ‘the great milestone of 150 years’.”

 

The Rangers Story: 150 Years Of A Remarkable Football Club by David Mason is published by Pitch Publishing and costs £40.

 

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