1896-97 Second Division Champions

 

  • Good runs in the Glasgow Cup and Qualifying Cup
  • Neck-and-neck with Leith in the Championship
  • New ground obtained
  • Player exodus as John Proudfoot goes to Blackburn, Pat Smith to Bolton, and David Proudfoot moves to Leicester

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The close season saw the usual search for new players. There were six new professionals at the club for the start of the season, notably James Auchincloss who was brought in from Arthurlie to replace Robert Ferguson at fullback. Ferguson had moved to Morton. James Logan, formerly of Linthouse and Tottenham Hotspur, was also signed, from Parkhead, as forward cover, needed since John Campbell’s departure to Blackburn (where he joined John Wilkie).

There was an ambition and confidence around Inchview, and the club felt it could build on an impressive run towards the end of the previous season. Most of the players had re-signed, including Herbert Morrison, and John and David Proudfoot, who had been targeted by agents acting for English clubs (English newspapers announced that John had signed for Blackburn). Morrison returned as a professional this year. Bulky goalkeeper Pat Smith, suspended for the previous season, also returned.

John Proudfoot, Morrison and McDonald were missing for the first game of the season, against Dumbarton at Boghead. Robert Currie deputised at full back, while Gilfillan and Martin, signed from Renton, filled the gaps. Thistle returned from Dumbarton with a 2-2 draw. Match details here.

The next scheduled league game was at Inchview against Morton, but the clubs applied to have the venue changed to Cappielow. West of Scotland cricket club had a vital game in Partick against Drumpellier on the same day, and it was felt this would affect the crowd. However, the league denied permission for the switch – Port Glasgow were at home – and the game went ahead at Inchview – another 2-2 draw with Gilfillan and William Lawson scoring. The cricket match attracted a crowd of 3,000. Match details here.

Concern had been expressed over the form of James Auchincloss, and Thistle supporters were pleased to hear that Jacky Robertson had rejoined the club. Business reasons had prevented him playing for two seasons, but he was now available, and provided cover at full or half-back.

Renton were the next opponents at Inchview, and McKenzie, a recent signing from East Stirlingshire, was tried at outside left. He did well, scoring one of the goals in a 2-1 win, but quickly moved on, signing for Burton Swifts of the English Second Division the following week. Herbert Morrison returned to the team, playing his first game as a professional. Match details here.

The Qualifying Cup first round brought Linthouse to Inchview from just over the river in Govan. As always, the meeting of the local rivals attracted great excitement, and, following the settlement of an industrial dispute by shipyard workers on both sides of the Clyde, a 4,000 crowd turned up for the game. Both teams were unbeaten this far in the league, and it was an even game, the visitors taking the lead and holding it until late when an equaliser was scored to home relief. James Logan returned to the side after McKenzie’s one game, and played well enough to be considered the likely replacement for the departed Campbell.

The replay against Linthouse took place the following week and a good number of Thistle followers travelled across to Govan. The crowd of 3,000 saw Thistle dominant; the defence solid – Morrison was safe as a rock, while Auchincloss was greatly helped by his partner’s return. The Thistle forwards were helped when the home goalkeeper broke his arm, but played on for the remainder of the game thinking it was only a sprain. John Proudfoot’s and Willie Paul’s first goals of the season, along with a Logan hat trick had the game at 5-0 at half time. The home team rallied and came back with three goals in the second period as Thistle relaxed. Pat Smith was guilty of running the ball out of his goal too far, and was penalised by losing a goal, the second such occurrence this season. Match details here. This result left Thistle as the only Glasgow team left in the competition.

The limitations of the Inchview ground were becoming evident again. Following re-alignment of the pitch, the players had taken a dislike to playing at home, much preferring to play away – the five at Govandale in contrast with the one at home against Linthouse was the proof. The location and accommodation available was also being questioned. There were several vantage points around the ground that allowed non-payers a view of the game, while the lack of a stand was also commented upon. The committee’s response was that they were unwilling to spend money on a rented space that they could be forced out of at a month’s notice. Indeed a “ground committee” had been set up to look into the possibilities for a move from Whiteinch, and had been meeting with local businesses, trying to raise funds for the move.

4,000 again turned up at Inchview for the Qualifying Cup’s next hurdle, although many didn’t view the task as a great one. Indeed a record score for the competition was forecast for the visit of Larkhall Royal Albert. John Proudfoot and Logan again supplied the goals, just two for no reply, which took Thistle into the next round, but as importantly, into the Scottish Cup first round. Match details here.

Attention now switched to the Glasgow Cup, and Thistle were teamed with Cameronians. The regiment’s team had come to Inchview the previous season, and left on the wrong end of a 15-0 defeat. This time they performed more creditably, losing just 4-1, Willie Paul getting a hat trick. Thistle took the opportunity of playing four reserves in the game, including goalkeeper Spence. Match details here.

A rare window in the run of Cup games allowed only the fourth league game to be played. Airdrieonians were the visitors, and they were well placed near the top of the league. Jacky Robertson, restless for a game after rejoining the club, had asked to leave, but was given a game in place of the impressive Morrison, and proved an able replacement, looking like he’d never been away. A number of other regulars were rested after the run of cup-ties, but Thistle remained the only league club unbeaten in all competitions, winning 4-3. Robert Currie, moving from his fullback position to replace Willie Paul at centre forward scored twice. Match details here.

Thistle returned to full strength for another visit to Govandale. Linthouse went 1-0 up after just a minute, and didn’t relinquish the lead, despite heavy Thistle pressure at goalkeeper Todd’s goal. “Todd v. the Thistle” summed the game up for one report. Match details here. The 1-3 defeat was Thistle’s first defeat of the season, a proud record that had taken until mid October to fall.

The exodus of players leaving Inchview continued. James Logan, a Thistle player for just a few months, moved to Small Heath for £40. Blackburn Rovers again announced their intention to sign John Proudfoot, and had pursued him over the summer when they had signed John Campbell. This time Proudfoot accepted, and would join Rovers in February for £50. He was immediately in demand – West Bromwich Albion immediately contacted Rovers to ask how much they would re-sell Proudfoot for.

Now installed as favourites to lift the Qualifying Cup, Thistle were paired away to Newton Stewart Athletic. Concern was expressed immediately about the amount of travelling required, and an offer was made to switch the game to Inchview. An inducement of £25 was offered and accepted, although the actual gate was short of that amount. Newton Stewart travelled overnight to reach the game, which they lost 9-2. John Ferguson and James Lamb, recently of Jordanhill, made debuts for the club. Match details here.

A hastily arranged friendly, a 4-1 win over Cambuslang, was played in the run-up to the next Qualifying Cup game. Thistle couldn’t have drawn a tougher game – Kilmarnock were the opposition at Inchview in what was considered “the final before the final”. Thistle promised to play their strongest team in what would be the biggest hurdle between them and the Cup. Willie Paul returned, while Currie showed his versatility by replacing Logan at outside left. However, some bad luck and a sparkling Kilmarnock right wing meant that Thistle went down to their second defeat of the season, the visitors won 5-2. Match details here.

Disappointment on the field in the Qualifying Cup was balanced by the delight of the “ground committee”, headed by Mr. R.W.Mitchell, who announced the conclusion of negotiations for a new field. On a field closer to Partick than Inchview, adjacent to the Meadowside Ferry, it was ambitiously planned to build a ground to house upwards of 20,000, with a grandstand and pavilion.

“PARTICK THISTLE’S NEW GROUND
We are pleased to find that Partick has at last the opportunity of possessing a first class ground, capable of accommodating a first class team. The Partick Thistle, urged no doubt by the encroachments of the avaricious building fiend, have decided to remove to larger fields and pastures more central. They have prevailed upon the proprietors of the nineteen acres of fallow land which lies on the north bank of the Clyde, between almost the mouth of the Kelvin and the Sawmill, to grant them a three year lease – far too short a time if optional – and upon it they are resolved to begin business on a much more ambitious scale … There will be large covered and open stands, and it is proposed to lay down a wooden cycle track – the only one in Scotland.”
(Scottish Sport)

Interest in the Qualifying and Glasgow Cups extinguished, and realism that the Scottish Cup was too lofty a target, work began in earnest to capture the Second Division title. Just four games had been played by the middle of November, and the club were not regarded as potential winners. Leith Athletic and Airdrieonians had opened a lead at the top of the table, and were regarded as the favourites. However, a string of wins till the end of November (Dumbarton 6-1, Linthouse 3-2, Airdrie away 2-1) saw fourth position reached, at a time when all the teams above had played twice as many games, and at least in Partick, confidence began to increase. Five of the seven games had been won, two drawn. 21 goals had been scored, twelve conceded. Match details here. Despite the players’ preference for away games, it was countered that most of the Thistle games had been home ones, and the real test would be if they could win away from home.

As the committee continued to consider the cost of fitting out the Meadowside field, the club again looked south for funds. David Proudfoot agreed to terms of a £10 signing fee and £3 a week wages to sign for Leicester. Partick Thistle received £50 compensation for the loss of the player. This loss added to the departure of Pat Smith. The big goalkeeper also moved south, joining Bolton Wanderers, though no fee was reported. However, the club were reported to have generated £430 in transfer fees in the recent past. Concern was raised that Partick Thistle, as well as selling players, may have sold their chances of success down the river, though the club were confident that the replacements were of high enough quality continue the successful season.

Port Glasgow came to town, and while the defence of Spence (now installed in the first team after Smith’s departure), Auchincloss and Morrison kept the visitors at bay, John Proudfoot scored a hat trick the third of which was a wonderful individual goal that “would have taken something more than human to save”. Match details here.

The test of the league season thus far came next, and Thistle booked a special train to take the players and supporters to Edinburgh to face Leith Athletic, at the top of the table. Although Thistle were regarded as the best opposition seen at Beechwood that season, the first league defeat of the season was sustained as the home side won 3-1. Match details here.

Contrary to previous seasons, the players were given a rest over New Year – no touring this year. Two friendlies were played against Vale of Leven (2-1) and Cartvale (5-1). Unsurprisingly, given his form and the clubs’ need for funds, Herbert Morrison was the next player tipped to be leaving Inchview.

The first round of the Scottish Cup had tied Thistle with old rivals Rangers. Although Thistle had a proud record against Rangers, in recent years the difference had opened as Rangers played in the First Division with the attendant higher gates and more money. Concern was expressed over the suitability of Inchview, and Rangers enquired if Thistle would switch the game to Ibrox, offering a guarantee of £80, more if half the gate exceeded that figure. Thistle asked for £100, a request Rangers promptly rejected. Several Thistle players were disappointed, feeling they had a better chance of winning away that at Inchview. A crowd of 6,000 turned up at Inchview for the game but many couldn’t see the action on the pitch. Many more watched from outside vantage points, while others still didn’t turn up over fears of overcrowding. A room in a house overlooking the field was requisitioned by the club for use as a pressroom. £140 was taken at the gates: Rangers took £70 as their share, and after costs were paid, Thistle had only earned a figure of between £30-£40, as well as a 4-2 defeat, Lawson and John Proudfoot scoring. Match details here.

Back to league action, a point was dropped at Clune Park where Port Glasgow held on to a 2-2 draw, before Tontine Park was visited. Thistle ran rings round Renton in the first half and led 2-0 when John Proudfoot went off, injured, in his last game for the club before moving south to Blackburn. Renton scored once but couldn’t manage an equaliser. When Thistle visited Motherwell, Qualifying Cup finalists, and came away with a 6-0 win, it was conceded that Thistle were in fact suitable challengers to Leith. Match details here. In fact, with Airdrieonians dropping off the pace, Thistle were the only challengers to Leith at the top of the table, and given the four point gap, and three games in hand, perhaps now the favourites to win the title. Thistle could still afford to drop points and still win.

P W L D F A Pts
Leith 15 11 3 1 43 19 23
Partick Thistle 12 8 1 3 36 19 19

After losing six at home to Thistle, Motherwell visited Inchview, and again lost six. Thistle played with ten men in the second half, but still took the points with a 6-2 win. Thistle finally went ahead of Leith, though still with a game in hand, after the league visit to Linthouse. The Govan side had already put Thistle out of the Glasgow Cup, and would dearly have loved to dent the championship aspirations too. Thistle had played better, and indeed were 3-2 down at half time, but rallied, and when Willie Paul scored a brilliant match-winning fifth, there was an immediate and spontaneous collection amongst Thistle supporters to commemorate the goal. Thistle won 5-3. Match details here.

Leith were disappointed – they had been out in front for the whole season and it now looked like they might miss out on the league title.

P W L D F A Pts
Partick Thistle 14 10 1 3 47 24 23
Leith 15 11 3 1 43 19 23

While a couple of friendly matches were being played at Inchview (Airdrieonians 6-2 and Renton 3-0) Leith took their chance at scoring six past Motherwell, and went back to the top of the table. Morrison had missed training sessions, and Anderson of Dunblane replaced him against Renton.

It was not good timing by Morrison – the long awaited home game against Leith was looming. It was virtually a league decider. If Leith won they would surely take the title. Morrison was not given his place back for the Edinburgh club’s visit. Hirst of Arthurlie took the left back position. Although the defence was solid, it was the forwards who had most of the fun. Leith’s backs were disorganised. Thistle dominated the game from start to finish. Andrew Mailer, John Proudfoot’s replacement from Third Lanark, Paul, and Lawson scored as Thistle cruised to an unexpected 5-0 win over their closest rivals. It was a humiliation for the team that had led the competition since the first day. Match details here. Despite the counter-attractions of the Scottish Cup Final and Scotland’s international against Wales, the “decider” was watched by over 4,000 at Inchview.

P W L D F A Pts
Partick Thistle 15 11 1 3 52 24 25
Leith 17 12 4 1 49 27 25

It now no longer mattered what Leith did. Thistle needed three points out of three remaining games – home and away against Kilmarnock, and away at Morton. They could only throw it away.

A visit to Rugby Park was next, and though Thistle could have dropped a point, the Thistle players were offered a bonus. “Partick Thistle players will get their ‘screws’ doubled if they knock two points off the Kilmarnock,” reported the Dundee Telegraph. There was no mistake. Around a thousand travelled to Kilmarnock, and saw Thistle win 3-1 to go to within a point of the league. Match details here. Willie Paul injured his ankle, disappointed that he had to sit out the league deciders and the remainder of the season, but had scored two of the goals which made his teammates’ jobs easier. Kilmarnock had beaten Thistle in the Qualifying Cup and gone on to win the trophy. Revenge was sweet.

P W L D F A Pts
Partick Thistle 16 12 1 3 55 25 27
Leith 17 12 4 1 49 27 25

With just a point needed, Thistle were keen to wrap up the title. However, a series of friendlies had been arranged. With an eye on seeking election to the First Division, Thistle were keen to match themselves with other First Division clubs. To this end a 2-2 draw was played with Third Lanark. Mailor scored against his old club, while Ferguson also netted. A sixth game against Linthouse was also played – a 1-1 draw.

5,000 of a crowd packed into Inchview to see the clinching point won. Both points were taken in a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock, though more should have been scored. Half-backs James Lamont and Robert Currie scored the goals that took the title. Junior internationalist and Kirkintilloch Rob Roy player Robert Gray made his first appearance for Thistle, and would go on to make over 200 appearances for the club. Match details here.

P W L D F A Pts
Partick Thistle 17 13 1 3 57 25 29
Leith 17 12 4 1 49 27 25

Of course, promotion wasn’t automatic in those days – the club had to hope for election at the League meeting alongside a number of other clubs. It would be a fitting bonus for the club’s first season in their new ground.

There seems little doubt that the contributing factor in the season’s success was the ability to play a settled side. Professionalism had not brought the riches to Inchview that it had brought to Celtic, Hibernian or Heart of Midlothian but it had allowed consistency of team selection. From Smith in goals, and latterly Spence, through full backs Auchincloss and Morrison, halfs Lamont, Gray and Proudfoot, with Currie and McDonald deputising, to the forwards. John Proudfoot played most of the season, replaced by Mailer in February, Lawson missed just three games, Paul was always there, while Ferguson and Lamb made the left wing theirs after fine contributions from Logan and Currie. Thistle had lost just one game in the league – at Leith in December.

The championship win was all the more remarkable when the list of departures was considered – James Logan (Small Heath),  John Proudfoot and John Campbell (Blackburn Rovers), David Proudfoot (Leicester) and Pat Smith (Bolton).

The final game of the season was at Cappielow, and two special trains made the journey from Partick. Thistle won 4-3. The game was ended 13 minutes before the end after home supporters invaded the pitch after a foul on Davidson of Morton, the result awarded to Thistle. Despite concerns over more established names being allowed to leave Inchview, it was newcomers Spence, Hirst, Mailor and Gray who caught the eye as the league season was brought to an end. Match details here.

Final league table.

W L D F A Pts
Partick Thistle 14 1 3 61 28 31
Leith Athletic 13 4 1 54 27 27
Kilmarnock 10 7 1 44 35 21
Airdrieonians 10 7 1 48 40 21
Morton 7 9 2 38 40 16
Renton 6 10 2 35 40 14
Linthouse * 8 8 2 44 52 14
Port Glasgow Athletic 4 9 5 39 50 13
Motherwell 6 11 1 40 55 13
Dumbarton 2 14 2 27 63 6

* Linthouse deducted four points for fielding an ineligible player.

At the end of season AGM it was announced that a balance of £260 pounds was at the bank. R.W.Mitchell, who had been a prime mover in getting the new ground organised, replaced Andrew Smith as President. There were reports that Willie Paul had been injured so badly against Kilmarnock that he might not play again, and he was offered a place on the committee, as an acknowledgement of his wonderful contribution to Partick Thistle. He graciously declined, preferring to try to regain his fitness and continue playing.

Despite success, departures to England continued. Pat Gray, who had been injured for the latter part of the season, signed a contract with Liverpool, having the choice of three clubs in England.

A further series of friendlies had been arranged as Thistle continued to lobby for First Division election and show their suitabilty for promotion. With a new ground ready for the start of the season, and the achievement of winning the league while replacing half the team there were felt to be grounds for hope.

FA Cup quarter finalists Blackburn Rovers visited Inchview on tour, bringing back Thistle favourites John Proudfoot, John Wilkie and John Campbell in their forward line. Thistle offered Rovers a guarantee of £15 to play the game. A crowd of 2000 turned out to welcome the old players back, and saw Thistle triumph 4-3 – Proudfoot netted one of Rovers’ goals.

First Division sides Clyde, St Bernards and Dundee all played, and creditable results were recorded. Clyde won 4-3, while St Bernards were beaten 2-0, and Dundee beaten 2-1. All in all the friendlies had served their purpose and Thistle were confident that they would be playing against these sides in the First Division in the folowing season.

The scene had been set – a championship-winning season, a new purpose-built ground ready for play, and commendable results against top teams. Concern had been expressed over whether Glasgow could support five top league teams. The waiting would be answered at the Scottish League meeting on the 1st June.

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