Rangers 1963-64 – a final flourish for the 60s

THE mid-1960s through to the 1970s was Celtic’s time in Scotland, Jock Stein’s side winning almost everything on offer. Before the tide turned in Glasgow, Rangers completed a memorable treble in 1963-64. Ibrox Park regulars would have found it hard to believe if anyone had told them, in 1964, that the Gers would not be crowned Scottish champions again for 11 long years.

The Rangers team of that time had some outstanding players that are now considered to be legendary figures: John Greig, Willie Henderson, Ron McKinnon and, of course, Jim Baxter.

The city of Glasgow had belonged to Rangers since the mid-1950s. From 1955-56 to 1963-64, they won six of nine Scottish championships, while Celtic never finished above third place. When Rangers didn’t win the title, Hearts or Dundee finished top.

Rangers had discovered fresh impetus under manager Scot Symon, who was appointed in 1955 following Bill Struth, who had been in charge for an astonishing 34 years. Symon, whose full name was James Scotland Symon, played for Rangers either side of the second world war and was capped once by Scotland. He managed Preston North End – including Tommy Docherty and Tom Finney – and led them to the FA Cup final in 1954.

Symon also took Rangers to two European Cup Winners’ Cup finals, including 1961 when they became the first British team to reach that stage of a European competition. Rangers lost both times, to Fiorentina in 1961 and six years later to an emerging Bayern Munich team that included luminaries such as Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller.

Rangers won the Scottish “double” in 1962-63, finishing nine points ahead of Kilmarnock in the league and, satisfyingly, trouncing Celtic 3-0 at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final in front of 120,000 people.

In 1963-64, Rangers fielded a very young side on a number of occasions. The regular team included Grieg (20), McKinnon (22), Davie Provan (22), Willie Henderson (19), George McLean (20), Jim Forrest (18) and Baxter (23). When Rangers met Real Madrid in the European Cup, the average age of the team was under 23 years. Almost every member of Rangers’ first choice XI was capped by Scotland at some stage of their career, such was the club’s importance to the national team.

Rangers started the season well, beating Celtic 2-1, and went unbeaten until their 14th game on November 30, losing at home to Hearts. Surprisingly, given the passion and size of their crowd, of Rangers four league defeats, three were at Ibrox Park. They also lost to St. Johnstone (home and away) and at home to St.Mirren.

Rangers’ Ralph Brand (l) douses his teammates with a bucketful of water as captain Bobby Shearer holds on to the Cup following Rangers’ 1964 Scottish Cup Final win, which completed the domestic treble: (l-r) Ralph Brand, Billy Ritchie, Davie Provan, Bobby Shearer (holding cup), Ron McKinnon, George McLean, Jimmy Millar, John Greig, Jim Baxter, Willie Henderson (front, seated), Davie Wilson (front, wearing hat).

Rangers were boosted by young striker Jim Forrest, who kept the more experienced Jimmy Millar out of the team for a long period. Forrest would score 21 goals in 24 league games and in all competitions, 39 in 39. He netted four goals in the Scottish League Cup final as Rangers beat Morton 5-0. Another 19 league goals came from Ralph Brand, who would go on to play for Manchester City.

Creativity and virtuosity came from Jim Baxter, “Slim Jim” to the Rangers faithful. The 1963-64 season was his last full campaign as he broke a leg in December 1964. Baxter was something of a free spirit, but his vision, passing ability and trickery made him one of Scotland’s most exciting players of the era. When he was injured in 1964, he  struggled to regain fitness and started drinking and after pleading with the club to let him move to England, was sold to Sunderland in 1965 for £ 72,500. Like many flawed heroes, Baxter’s legend has lasted longer than his career. His part in Scotland’s 3-2 win at Wembley in 1967 has never been forgotten by the Tartan Army, but there are many fans who believe he never quite fulfilled his immense promise.

Other players from the 1963-64 team lasted longer at Ibrox. John Greig, for example, was a youngster when Rangers won the title, but he played almost 800 games for the Gers and 28 times for his country. Originally a forward, and then a midfielder, he settled at left back, captained the club and has been named the greatest-ever Rangers player. Centre half Ron McKinnon played almost 500 games for the club and was an often under-rated by supporters. Glasgow born, he won 28 caps for Scotland but his career was cut short by injury.

Willie Henderson was just 19 but missed only four league games in 1963-64. A speedy winger, 5ft 4 inch Henderson was known as “Wee Willie” and was capped at 18 by Scotland, the first of 29 appearances.

Rangers blend of youngsters and established players rarely took their eye off the ball in 1963-64. When they were beaten by St.Mirren on February 8, Kilmarnock went top of the table, but a week later, Rangers were back in the lead, albeit on goal average. On March 14, goals from George McLean and Davie Wilson were enough to beat Kilmarnock 2-0. Rangers eventually shook off the challenge of Kilmarnock and Celtic in the closing weeks and they finished six and eight points ahead of them respectively. On April 25, Rangers clinched the double when they beat Dundee 3-1 in the Scottish Cup final.

It had been a glorious season, but the green half of Glasgow was stirring and when Jock Stein became manager in 1965, the balance of power shifted quite dramatically. Scot Symon stayed with Rangers until 1967 – things were never the same after Berwick Rangers beat them in the Cup in one of Scottish football’s biggest shocks – when he was somewhat controversially sacked to make way for a younger man – David White.

Rangers were very much cast into the shadows by Celtic’s era of near-total dominance. They won just six major trophies in 10 years, compared to 21 picked up by their “Old Firm” rivals in that same period. Not that Rangers were lacking in talent – in 1967-68, even though they finished runners-up in the league, they lost just one game. Celtic and Stein were exceptional, but back in 1964, Rangers under Symon were certainly Scotland’s top side.


Photos: PA


McLean’s Dundee United, breaking the mould in Scotland

THE PASSING of Jim McLean will sadden many people in Dundee and right across Scottish football. He was, after all, one of the instigators of the duopoly that was called  “The New Firm” – Aberdeen and Dundee United which broke the Celtic-Rangers stranglehold. For many people, Scottish football had never been more interesting. But it didn’t last long and by the end of the 1980s, Rangers were changing the face of the Scottish game and even Celtic were struggling to keep up with them. But back in 1982-83, a minor miracle took place in a city renowned for being the home of comics like The Dandy and The Beano. Dundee United were Scottish champions.

McLean’s world

Jim McLean became Dundee United manager in 1971. He had been a journeyman of a player, turning out for Hamilton Academicals, Clyde, Dundee and Kilmarnock, playing almost 400 games. He was just 34 years of age when he was put in charge of Dundee United.

McLean built a squad of players that would form the nucleus of the United team for many years. By the mid-1970s, young players who would play a pivotal part in the 1983 title success were being nurtured or signed from junior football. Just take a look at the appearance record of the team that won the championship: two played more than 800 games for the Tannadice club; two made 700-odd appearances; another one more than 500; one played over 400; two almost 400; and three played more than 250. It’s an astonishing record. What’s more, three of the team went on to become Dundee United managers. This team spirit was indomitable as Dundee United won the title.

Dundee United were a small club in comparison to the Glasgow pair. While Celtic and Rangers could pull in 40,000-50,000 to their home games, United attracted 9,000. This makes Dundee United’s success even more notable.

Success brewing

Things started to happen at the back end of the 1970s. Dundee United had been runners-up in the Scottish Cup in 1973-74, losing to Celtic. In their line-up, however, was future Scotland manager Walter Smith and a fledgling Andy Gray. By the end of the decade and into the 1980s, McLean’s men had won the Scottish League Cup in 1979-80 and 1980-81. The first of those saw them beat Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen 3-0 after a replay. The team, though, was taking shape: Hamish McAlpine, Derek Stark, Paul Hegarty, David Narey, Eamonn Bannon, Paul Sturrock and Billy Kirkwood were all in the line-up. The following season, with Davie Dodds added to the team, they beat neighbours Dundee 3-0 in the final.

In 1981-82, they finished fourth in the Premier, but it was clear that both Aberdeen and Dundee United were now challenging the establishment. Rangers, certainly struggled to keep pace with the new order, but Celtic won the title in 1982.

The future is Orange

McLean went into the 1982-83 season with realistic ambitions for his side. “I didn’t think we had the strength in depth to win the league, although I knew we were good in the cups,” he recalled some years later.

But they got off to a good start in 1982-83, beating Aberdeen 2-0 at Tannadice. Pretty soon, United’s consistency and some key wins made people accept that perhaps this could be their year. They were unbeaten in the league until their 10th game, a crushing 1-5 defeat at Aberdeen after Richard Gough had given them the lead.

Aberdeen were the team to beat that year and Ferguson’s side inflicted a second defeat upon United on January 3. That was followed by a 1-2 defeat at Rangers and suddenly, questions were asked about their ability to last the pace.

By March, the title race had become very intense and when Dundee United went to Aberdeen on March 19, they could ill-afford to lose. They won 2-1 and with Celtic losing at Dundee, the initiative had started to swing United’s way again.

The game with Celtic on April 20 was another landmark event. Gough was sent off early on but three times United took the lead, running out 3-2 winners.

Then three successive 4-0 wins, against Kilmarnock, Morton and Motherwell, put them in the driving seat. The win against Kilmarnock was especially vital as Celtic slipped-up at Aberdeen that same day.

It was all stage-managed for a grand finale on May 14. United were top with 54 points, Celtic and Aberdeen one behind on 53. United had to go to, of all places, Dundee, while Celtic hosted Rangers and Aberdeen were at home to Hibernian.

Over 29,000 packed into Dens Park to see the most important Dundee derby of all time. The ground was full more than 30 minutes before kick-off. United raced into a 2-0 lead, thanks to a superb chip from Ralph Milne and Eamonn Bannon’s close range follow-up after his penalty had been parried. Dundee played well and pulled a goal back, but despite a tense finish, United held on. Celtic had won 4-2 after being 0-2 down and Aberdeen had no trouble in beating Hibs 5-0. It was enough for United to win the title by a single point.

McLean, not normally shy of speaking his mind, was speechless. But once he regained his voice, he admitted his team had not handled their nerves too well and the tension had got to them. “I would like to think that Scotland is happy for us and don’t begrudge my players this success. It is incredible,” he claimed.

Just £ 192,000

Only two players in the Dundee team cost money – Bannon and Hegarty. Most of the players had been around the club for some years, yet they were still very young. Goalkeeper McAlpine was 34, but the rest were under 30 and in their prime as players. Many would go on to have international careers and some tried their luck in English football.

Paul Sturrock became a Dundee United legend and scored 171 goals in 576 games for the club. He had been with the club since 1975 and was in Scotland’s World Cup squads in 1982 and 1986. Defender Paul Hegarty arrived from Hamilton and was converted by McLean from attack. Full back David Narey’s other claim to fame was a spectacular goal scored against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. Derek Stark gave up an ambition to join the police force to go full-time with the club.

Bannon had joined from Chelsea and he played 440 games for the club before joining Hearts, his first club. He was capped by Scotland and featured in the 1986 World Cup. Ralph Milne, a winger capable of scoring excellent goals, was only 21 when the club won the league, a year older than Gough, who would play in England with Tottenham.

Midfielder Davie Dodds, sadly, had to quit at a young age through injury, but played more than 350 times for the club. Also in midfield, Billy Kirkwood went on to manage the club in 1995 after his playing days were over.

What happened next?

It was always going to be tough to retain the title and United finished third in 1984. But the European Cup brought great excitement to Tannadice. They beat Hamrun Spartans of Malta (6-0 on agg.), Belgium’s Standard Liege (4-0), Austrian side Rapid Vienna on away goals and then faced Italy’s Roma in the semi-finals. They won the first leg 2-0, but crashed out 0-3 in the second game. It had been a memorable run. In 1986-87, they reached the UEFA Cup final, beating Barcelona on the way, losing to Sweden’s IFK Goteborg.

It’s nigh on impossible for the club to recapture that golden period, but Dundee United fans will always raise a glass to the great Jim McLean.