Hostility between members and committee
Return of old favourites
- League disappointment
Thistle had survived relegation to the Second Division in May 1898 through the votes of the other clubs in the First Division, but a clear message had been sent – improve or pay the consequences.
Scottish Sport’s preview was positive.
Partick Thistle are looking forward to new season being a very successful one. The team should be more solid than last year. Several players have been relegated to the second XI and several players have been promoted to the first XI. W.Paul will play centre forward again, if for no other reason than his generalship. The half back line will be a new one – Thistle feel the necessity for a new one – the new trio are a splendid one. Two or three are still being negotiated and if secured, Partick Thistle should finish higher on the League table than their first effort and with a little help in the absence of misfortune, they should do it.
A number of new players had been added to last season’s team.
Dick Richmond, a small 18 year old centre half from Dumbarton. “His tackling and all-round conception of the game was one of the features of Dumbarton last season. Partick Thistle were particularly weak at centre half last season but they now have a man who should prove to be a pillar.”
Alexander Farquharson from Renfrew Victoria, signed after the last game of 1897-98 – a splendid placing ability that Thistle half backs have been lamentably lacking in.
James Watson from Glasgow Perthshire – a triple junior internationalist, as a junior he had no equal in his half back position.
Peter Thomson from Bute Rangers – Thistle had been looking for new goalkeeper for some time, apparently dissatisfied with John Spence, despite his only mssing four games the previous season.
A number of others had joined over the summer.
- Gourlay, a goalkeeper from Yoker Athletic,
- Buchan, a full back from Alloa Seafield.
- Joseph Baker, a forward from Chryston Athletic
- Drummond, a speedy right-winger from Alloa Seafield
- James Brydson, a forward from 6th GRV
- McNeil, a forward from Ashton
- Crichton of Petershill and in Fullerton and McIntosh, both of Montrose, were said to have been targeted by the Thistle committee.
The Thistle forwards were reckoned to be a speedy lot, and Drummond in particular was reckoned to be the fastest forward in Glasgow.
James Auchencloss hadn’t yet signed, and Scottish Sport alluded to a mystery reason that he wouldn’t re-sign, although he hadn’t fixed up with a new club with a few weeks till the start of the season. James Lamont, William Massie and George Allan had left the club. Willie Freebairn, a former Thistle favourite who had left the club in 1895 had returned to Scotland – freed by Leicester Fosse he joined East Stirlingshire.
Rangers’ best new signing was reckoned to be John Campbell who along with John Wilkie were former Thistle favourites who had moved to Blackburn Rovers before returning to Glasgow. Many Partick people were keen to watch their progress.
Off the pitch the club were keen to ensure competitive games for players in both the first team and the reserves. At the end of the previous season Thistle had helped to form the Western League but were then invited to join the Glasgow League and quickly discarded the likes of Morton, Ayr, Abercorn, Linthouse, Port Glasgow Athletic, St Mirren and Ayr Parkhouse for a competition against the best Glasgow clubs which would start in 1899.
The club also instigated the Federation after a meeting at Meadowside – a league competition to give regular matches to the reserve teams of Thistle, St Mirren and Clyde, and local sides Cartvale, Cameronians, Neilston, Dykehead, Beith and Kilbarchan joined. Vale of Leven, Renton and Dumbarton were invited but declined to join.
Thistle’s move to Partick had inspired some of the local footballers to start a new club. Partick Meadowside’s ground was close to Thistle’s pitch. The new club intended entering the Scottish and Glasgow Junior Cups and promised to try not to arrange games that would clash with Thistle’s First Division matches.
Scottish Sport reported:
During the close season the ground committee have laid a cycle track at considerable cost (an acquisition to cyclists in the west end who had no such facilities), the banking has been improved so that spectators have a good view from anywhere in the ground and the pitch has been improved on last season.
Thistle would face the new season with a new strip, as well as a number of new players, and a resolve to improve results. A white collar had been added to their outfit of blue jerseys, shorts and socks (image courtesy of historicalkits.co.uk). “It may not help then win matches but it will make them more pleasing to the eye,” said the Sport.
The practice game in early August was a great success – more players turned up than had been expected so several of the potential signings that the match committee had invited couldn’t get a game. Another two practice matches were quickly arranged.
The season loomed large and the abilities of players old and new would be fully tested in the opening week – friendlies had been arranged against Linthouse and Celtic and then Rangers would host Thistle in the opening league game.
In time for the first game, against Linthouse, James Auchencloss and George Allan signed up for the season. Auchencloss had been the target of other clubs, reported to “be close to Partick”, but he decided to resume his full back partnership with Andrew Wilson. Allan had travelled from Fife to play a number of games towards the end of the previous season, but had decided to move to the west coast. The evergreen Willie Paul “seems to renew his youth as every season comes round” according to the Sport, and all three were ready for the start of the season.
Only Paul and Auchencloss faced Linthouse at Govandale in a reserve side that lost 0-8. A poor performance from the Thistle players, together with an unusually high number of injuries contributed to the score. Thistle ended the game with nine men, and only two players ended the game not complaining of being injured. John Ferguson, besides a serious injury to his leg, had two ribs broken which proved dangerous as they pressed on his lung. He would miss the start of the league season, as would Fred McDiarmid. Bob Duncan and Paul were also still suffering and would also miss the next game against Celtic. The Thistle committee were very concerned about the abuse the players suffered against a team that had a long history of friendly matches against Thistle. “The present feeling at Meadowside is that the Thistle have played their last friendly match at Govandale. Partickonians are under the impression that an infirmary instead of a theatre behind Linthouse’s field would be more suitable,” reported the Sport.
Team: Thompson, Auchencloss, Buchan, Faulds, Currie, Duncan, McDiarmid, Brydson, Paul, Ferguson, Comrie (Falkirk Amateurs).
One of the main issues troubling Scottish football was the increasing wages paid by some clubs – “extravagant money to secure the best players” – and the inability of other clubs to match them. Partick Thistle club secretary Mr J.L. Robertson agreed that wages were far too high and if reductions were not made then some clubs would go to the wall. Robertson was in favour of a maximum wage although he couldn’t see how it could be enforced – some clubs would always find loopholes and pay whatever sum they chose. All Thistle players worked away from football, and were encouraged to do so.
Ironically, Celtic were Thistle’s next opponents, and Celtic were one of the clubs oft-suspected of finding creative ways to reward players.
The Celtic game would be Meadowside’s opener for the season, Celtic’s selection was strong, hoping to find their selection for the first league game, just a few days away. Thistle’s, on the other hand, was experimental because of the Linthouse-inflicted injuries. Little Dick Richmond was the only player to get pass marks, although William Hill and Andrew Wilson the full backs were all right. Celtic won 4-0.
The Sport’s description “The play of forwards was without any of the qualities which make for success or get goals, and the hearts of their followers, with their feeble attempts at combination” was worrying but the Daily Record pointed out that Thistle had been experimenting so playing strength should not be too criticised.
League season begins … Internationalist signs
Whether there were mitigating circumstances in the performances so far was irrelevant when it came to facing Rangers in the league at Ibrox. What was evident was a lack of confidence. The Sport reported that Thistle didn’t have much hope and were prepared for a slogging. Thistle were forced to field a weakened team, but started well, and pinned Rangers back in the early stages until the home team took control, and were 4-0 up at half time, although that score flattered Rangers. The score ended 2-6 – Robert Currie and Joseph Baker scored for Thistle. It was a determined performance that looked unlikely from the pre-match matches.
A year ago, the PT signalised their appearance for the first time in the senior competition by a series of performances that maintained interest in the club’s operations for the rest of the season. This season they have begun very badly. Their team in a light looking one, and is not yet set by any means. [Daily Record]
Thistle had hoped that their well-publicised search for a good new goalkeeper had ended with the signing of Peter Thomson from Bute Rangers, but he had lost 18 goals in his three games, and another solution was needed. President Mr W.H. Mitchell crossed to Belfast on Thursday and returned with Tom Scott (left, photo courtesy of Northern Ireland’s Footballing Greats) of Cliftonville. Scott was Ireland’s first choice goalkeeper, having played twelve times for his country, and had played against Thistle on Hogmanay 1892 in a friendly which Cliftonville lost 3-5. He signed for Thistle as an amateur.
Scott would line up against Third Lanark (and become the fourth goalie of the season, as did forward Robert Gray making his first appearance of the season, but still players were missing through injury. The Sport reminded Thistle of their good start to last season, and suggested “if they have similar spirit they need to show it now.”
It was a better performance from Thistle. Over and over again they created good chances but couldn’t score, through over-anxiety or lack of ability from the forwards, Willie Paul excepted. Scott did well with a “get-it-away-at-any-risk style”. Richmond played well again and was reckoned to have the potential to be one of best centre halves in game. If Thistle had won it wouldn’t have been undeserved. As it was the failings of the forwards meant the game ended in a 0-1 defeat.
Spectators watching the game from the grandstand also had the opportunity to watch an Australian liner being launched from the nearby Fairfield shipyard.
League results had been disappointing, but the Sport made allowances – the opponents had been good quality. Thistle were confident approaching Hibs after the improvement shown against Third Lanark, “if the forwards decide to put in some vigour and skill.” It was reckoned that the addition of Scott should make Thistle’s defence one of the strongest in the country, and it was hoped to introduce a few men into forward line who can score goals.
Down south, ex Thistle favourite John Proudfoot had already begun his scoring season, netting Everton’s first goal of the season.
Thistle could have done with their old player against Hibs. Rather than improve, the forwards had got worse. Lindsay scored with a beautiful curling shot but otherwise Hibs dominated the game and won 4-1. “The Committee need to do something,” demanded the Sport.
September – Discontent amongst fans … Glasgow Cup disappointment … Match committee attacked
This tempered criticism was nothing compared to the venom a week later. “They’ll niver get anither tanner oot o’ me” said one fan, while another declared his intention to sell his season ticket after an unexpected 0-3 defeat in the next game against St Bernards. The week had begun with extra training as the players were warned that unless they began to win they would have no chance of retaining the interest and enthusiasm of their fickle supporters. St Bernards had finished below Thistle the previous season and should have been beatable but the almost-new half-back and forward lines didn’t play well together. “If Auchencloss and Wilson [the full backs] become infested with the aimlessness of their colleagues, Thistle’s last hopes will be gone,” warned the Sport.
Some Partick Thistle fans, fed up with the poor performance, ironically applauded St Bernards’ goals in the first half. The Sport described the tension that Thistle’s poor form was causing around Meadowside. “One disgusted spectator even went to the length of inviting them [St Bernards] to ‘breeze up an’ gie them nine naething’ for which disloyal remark [to Thistle] he was he was promptly called to account. Incidents of this kind, by the way, appeared to be happening in other parts of the ground, and the policemen, instead of indulging in their usual leisurely perambulation, were kept hopping round to subdue the pugilistic proclivities of the more ardent spirits.”
Poor Partick Thistle! They have fallen on hard times, and their glory has departed. Last year they were on everyone’s lips because of their brilliant doings; to-day all are bemoaning the fact that there has been a sad falling away. [Dundee Evening Telegraph]
Opinions were split on the cause of the team’s problems. The players were criticised after the defeats to Hibs and Third Lanark, but the committee were blamed for making too many changes for the St Bernards game. “The men never get chance to become acquainted with each other. Another says not enough sprinting, another says too much sprinting.”
Further tinkering was tried for a Glasgow Cup tie against Queen’s Park and a league game against St Mirren and in the early stages of each game things seemed to be improving. Against St Mirren Thistle tool the lead but in both games the players had a lack of belief, and when the opponents fought back Thistle crumbled, losing six goals to Queens and four to St Mirren. Scottish Sport reported that referee Adams was poor, and he “had to be smuggled out of a back door to save him from Partick roughs,” after the St Mirren game. Thistle lodged a protest over his poor performance.
The Queen’s Park defeat was especially disappointing for Tom Scott: after showing good form he suffered from a knee injury just after half time and was replaced by James Auchencloss. Scott watched the St Mirren game from the sidelines with a mystery man rumoured to be a Glentoran forward who would sign for Thistle. The rumour didn’t come true. Robert Currie was asked to play at inside left but refused, having previously indicated to the committee that he wanted only to play at half back. John Ferguson replaced him in the toothless forward line.
Thistle were losing games, and losing them heavily; starting to get stranded at the bottom of the league. Crowds were unhappy, and dwindling to a level where money was short to pay for a large squad of players – the gate against St Mirren was just £43, less than some Second Division games. Animosity was rife at Meadowside and supporters and members were robustly blaming the match committee. The committee responded by starting to cut costs. Players were told that the club couldn’t afford to pay them their full wages, and they would be paid as soon as the club could afford to. Donald McNeil, Joseph Baker and Herbert Morrison were released and allowed to look for new clubs. Rumours circulated that Robert Currie had also been released.
Scottish Sport took the opportunity to sum up the season so far, and to suggest that the club needed to come together if they were to avoid being consigned to the lower division.
INDIGNANT MEMBERS ASSAIL THE COMMITTEE
Surely there is something seriously amiss with Partick Thistle. Since the opening of the season they have lost every match, and to all appearances seem likely to lose a great many more. They rest at the bottom of the League table, and unless a strong effort is made to improve their position it needs no prophet to predict that they will qualify for the Second Division, for without moderate playing ability and sound financial support they cannot hope to retain their position in the upper ten.
A glance at the work of the last six weeks will convince any one of the seriousness of Partick Thistle’s position. In all eight matches have been played, and all lost. Passing over the first two, which were friendlies, and to which no great importance needs be attached, let us scrutinise the League results. They began by losing to the Rangers (6-2), not such a bad performance, after the Celtic 4-0, and followed this up by losing to 3rd Lanark, although by a single goal only (1-0), after a game in which they did not drop in estimation.
The rot seems to have set in with the game against Hibernian, which was lost 4-1, and they have never held up their heads since. It was hoped that the first two points would be gained at the expense of St Bernards on the following Saturday, but the Edinburgh team won easily by 3-0. Next St Mirren were expected to fall at Meadowside, and again the Partick Thistle were disappointed, the Saints beating them 4-1. Between the last two matches a weak team of the Queens Park beat Partick Thistle in a Glasgow tie by 6-1. Thus the Thistle have dropped ten League points, and been put out of the competition for the Glasgow Cup. In the league games only 4 goals have been scored, while 18 have been lost; in other matches they have scored 1 and lost 18 – 36 goals dropped in eight games. Truly an amazing record!
It is time to stem this tide of retrogression, and the way to do this is to find the weakness. Primarily, of course, the weekly whackings are due to a weak team. Still, looking at the players, better work might be expected of them, and their ineffectiveness suggests the enquiry, Are the players properly handled? Members of the club say ‘No’ and lay the whole responsibility on the committee, who are usually blamed in such cases. Doubtless the team committee are doing their best, and perhaps no-one could do more, but their best is very unproductive, and has not only led to disaster on the field, but has created great disgust amongst the membership.
Meadowside was almost aflame with indignation on Saturday. It was asserted that the committee were incompetent, that they were divided amongst themselves, and that too many experiments were made. Now it is easy to criticise. There may be some truth in the allegations, and there may not, yet the members should recollect that they themselves appointed the committee, and must share the responsibility. All the same, to prevent further disagreement, the committee might do well to take the members into their confidence, and give them an idea of the ever-recurring difficulties encountered in the management of a First Division club, before a special meeting of the members is summoned, as some of the malcontents threaten to do. A straight talk all round might enable the committee to vindicate themselves, pacify the members, and devise ways and means for strengthen the team.
One change the committee had made was to appoint James McIntosh, formerly trainer at Montrose, to train the players at Meadowside. A few weeks into his new job he confessed that it was difficult getting the players “ worked up to the proper pitch .” The Sport suggested “ It is lack of skill rather than want of training that seems to be the chief disease out Meadowside way.”
October – crowd trouble against Clyde … the President resigns … fund raising from members … a win at last
Trainer McIntosh would have hoped that his methods would lift the players. Dundee had been just above Thistle in the league and also hadn’t won a game but, despite an improved performance by the Thistle players, Dundee triumphed 5-1. The score wasn’t representative of the game, thought the Sport. The players were individually good enough but collectively the game produced was unsatisfactory, and that was causing the poor results. Early in the game Thistle had the ball in the net three times, and eventually took the lead through “the apostle Paul”. With the score at 2-1 Cameron, the Dundee goalie, caught the ball on the line as Thistle pressed for a goal. In danger of being shoulder-charged over the line Cameron fell on top of the ball and was joined by a number of other players causing a delay in play until the referee blew for half-time.
The following week Clyde visited Meadowside and triumphed 1-0, although the visitors were lucky with their win, and the home team at last showed an improvement. Part of improvement was attributed to the return of Robert Currie, at an unfavoured centre forward position. His “go-aheadedness was what was needed. Paul was also daring and combined well. McDiarmid was either timid or lazy – fit and well he will trouble any goalkeeper.”
After the game there was an unruly scene as the Sport described.
More than once this season some reckless supporters of Partick Thistle have shown disposition to endanger the good name of the club, and if the brake is not applied the PT may find themselves in a very awkward position. On Saturday, what might have developed into a serious row was only checked by the prompt action of the police. At the close of the game, a group of players belonging to the two teams, Clyde and Partick Thistle, appeared to be having a heated argument, if blows were not actually struck, and instantly the crowd broke in on all sides, and swarmed round the players. The policemen at once dashed into the mob, but they were so few in number that their influence was scarcely felt, until Captain Cameron worked his way into the centre, and, by vigorously wielding a substantial stick, quickly cleared a path to the pavilion, into which the players were quickly escorted. The referee, against whom the crowd also seemed to have a grudge, was conveyed by the Partick Thistle officials, who did their best to check the disorder. It is lucky for the Partick Thistle that nothing serious happened, as a call to the Scottish Association, not to mention the League, would have been inevitable.
Press reports suggested that if results didn’t improve the future of the club was in jeopardy.
Frustration was being shown, not just by supporters invading the pitch, but also by members towards the match committee. President Mitchell and match secretary Robertson both resigned their posts but that didn’t placate members furious about the poor showings of the team. The Daily Record reported that a crisis meeting would be held with the purpose of taking the committee to task. Ructions were fully expected, and there was a considerable attendance, but the meeting passed without any great unpleasantness. Explanations were demanded and provided with the result that the management secured a vote of confidence by a small majority.
The Sport reported on the outcome of the meeting that could have ripped the club apart:
An official of Partick Thistle expressed his annoyance at the unsympathetic attitude from press and public in general at the trying ordeal his club are passing through. There is always a storm before a calm – after the entente cordiale of the members meeting he has confidence that if members stick with management, and players make effort, all will eventually come right. Financial difficulties prevent securing new players but the present XI should improve before end of season.
There is not a player in Scotland that will not sympathise with the plight of Partick Thistle. This at one time promising club finds itself almost half way through the league season with not a single victory to its credit, not even a solitary draw, burdened with debt and with dissention in the team and membership. There is time yet for both (club & team) to retrieve their reputations and the members have given evidence of a desire to assist by agreeing to subscribe £1. If the money is carefully expended the Thistle should begin to rise again.
The détente between ordinary and committee members didn’t bring immediate success to the team. James Kirkland had been signed from Stewarton prior to the visit to Tynecastle, and his debut goal was the only highlight of another disappointing defeat 1-5 against Hearts.
Eight league games had now been played, with no points for Thistle. Only six goals had been scored and 29 conceded. The Thistle players were given little chance to reverse the bad run of form in the next game, another visit to Edinburgh, to play St Bernards. “Poor Partick Thistle” the Dundee Courier called them before the game. Saints had already won 3-0 at Meadowside and were expected to win again, despite being in third bottom position, above Thistle and Dundee. Thistle, it was reported, only wanted to avoid as poor a result as their visit to Logie Green – a 1-9 defeat the previous season.
In reality Thistle raced into a 3-0 lead. John Ferguson opened the scoring with a header from a Willie Paul cross before Robert Gray ran clear of the defence (who stopped chasing to appeal for offside) scored the second. A long shot from centre half Dick Richmond completed Thistle’s goals, and although the home team pulled two goals back Thistle held on for their first win of the season, halfway through the league season. Thistle were now just one point behind Dundee in second bottom place, despite the appalling results. Dundee’s solitary win had been against Thistle. As the players and supporters returned from Edinburgh Partick didn’t get to sleep till Sunday morning, such was the relief and celebrations.
The result lifted everyone, and despite the win being the first in three months, the newspapers expected Thistle to beat Clyde at Shawfield, even though Clyde were unbeaten at home since August. The team had a stronger look to it: Andrew Wilson returned to partner James Auchencloss for the first time since the start of October, while Robert Currie, at his preferred half-back position, replaced Dick Richardson who had been demoted to the reserves. James Watson also returned to the half back line, while the surprise pick was Duncan Brodie, replacing Walter Lindsay at outside left, despite Lindsay having combined well with Kirkland in the previous game.
The good Thistle support saw their players start well and create chances, but it was Clyde who opened the scoring. James Kirkland equalised (although some reports credited Brodie) before Clyde took the lead again before half time. In the second half Thistle were twice awarded penalties, but John Ferguson missed both, even when the first kick was retaken. Clyde scored again to make the final score 1-3 and dispatch Thistle to another defeat.
One of the few positives to come out of the Clyde game was the partnership between Kirkland and Brodie, so it was a surprise when the Sport printed a letter from ‘a Partick correspondent.’
The question of the hour in Partick is, Which of the match committee are insisting on Brodie’s inclusion in the team? This will form one of the principal questions at the forthcoming quarterly meeting. Brodie has played about 6 times, and in each game has been completely a passenger. No wonder the rest of the team are so disheartened, and that the club should occupy such a position in the table.
The purpose of singling Brodie out for criticism, particularly after a good performance, was puzzling, but it did indicate that not all the rifts in internal politics at the club had been soothed. Whatever the background, Brodie didn’t play for the club again, eventually signing for Cumnock.
November – Thistle face SFA discipline … big defeat at Cetic Park … Thistle player suspended for refusing to play
Brodie was replaced by another new man – Allan Alexander – for the visit of league leaders Rangers. The visit of Rangers across the river to Partick was always highly anticipated, even though results recently hadn’t been kind to Thistle. However, Thistle had had notable successes in the past and older supporters still remembered great wins at Inchview. The best gate of the season was expected – there was always hope, despite the fact that Rangers had won every game since August.
The attendance was a good one – £130 was taken at the gates – and again Thistle looked good in the first half, and looked more likely to score. However, the forwards didn’t accept the good build-up play from midfield. The Daily Record described Thistle’s goal efforts as “ridiculously soft and ill-directed.” Thistle’s best chance came when the Rangers goalkeeper appeared to catch the ball over the goal line but the referee didn’t give the goal. The visitors took advantage of the let off and got to half time a goal up. The second half saw Thistle’s customary slump and Rangers were rarely threatened. James Auchencloss missed a penalty but the remainder of the game was hopelessly one-sided. Rangers won 5-0.
The pattern of the game was a familiar one to anyone who had watched previous games – a fairly strong first half display without being able to score, before a second half slump, unable to keep up with the opponents. Scottish Sport summed up:
There’s a big brush up to be done at Meadowside, and its not yet too late to begin that operation. That the men are capable of improvement has been shown over and over again. So long as the team continue to display the excellent spirit which animated them on Saturday the followers of the club should never lose heart. In the open the forwards did well but were ineffective at the goalmouth.
Partick is a grand centre, and if the team could only discover the way to take goals, and so rise in the league table, there would be money in the game and the Partick Thistle would soon be able to erect a covered stand, which is badly wanted. Given this necessary accommodation the club would then be in a position to bid for the Glasgow final and other important games.
The final point was an interesting one. Rumours had circulated that Meadowside had been favourite as the venue for the Glasgow Cup final until the Glasgow Association had inspected the stand facilities.
George Morrison had been put on the transfer list in mid September, having been unable to claim a first team game since joining at the start of the season. Thistle wanted a transfer fee for the player. At that time it was normal for players to have agreements that they would still be paid until they were released, but Morrison didn’t have such an agreement. In November he took a claim against Partick Thistle to an SFA committee meeting for wages. The SFA found that the club’s agreement with Morrison was unethical, and determined that he should be paid 15 shillings for each week until he was released. Thistle, through club secretary A.M. Smith, immediately released Morrison, waving their hopes of a transfer fee.
15 shillings was the weekly wage for a player playing for the reserves. Wages were increased for first team players to £2 for a win, 35s for a draw and 30s for a defeat.
The left wing continued to be a problem for Thistle. James Kirkland had joined the team from Stewarton just a few weeks earlier and had established himself in the team, but finding him a partner was a problem. The Sport published a letter from a supporter on the subject:
Kirkland has played well but has been badly partnered with exception of Lindsay. Alexander didn’t play well against Rangers, and was no improvement on Brodie. The club should play Kirkland with Russell of the A team. The players played together at Stewarton and know each other’s style. Kirkland should always be played at outside left.
Kirkland remained at inside left for the visit to Love Street, and he was partnered with Walter Lindsay as suggested, for the first time since the win over St Bernards. Willie Paul, who had moved to the right wing earlier in the season, scored his second goal of the season, a shot from distance that the St Mirren goalie ‘foozled’ over the line. Although St Mirren regained the lead before half time, it was a much improved performance from Thistle, particularly in the first half, which prompted the Daily Record to question just why Thistle were in such a lowly position. The only criticism was a weakness in front of goal, which was already widely recognised by all at the club. However, Bob Duncan scored an equaliser with 15 minutes remaining to give Thistle their third point of the season with a 2-2 draw and lifted the club off the bottom of the table.
The St Mirren game had made an impression on the Daily Record, who suggested in their match preview for the next game, against Hearts at Meadowside, that Thistle were over their poor form and should challenge the visitors. Hearts had climbed the table to second place (and lost only two games), so that expectation might have been misplaced, and indeed Hearts were 3-0 up early in the game. The goals were disputed; spectators suggested that referee McIntyre was biased. “Vengeance dire and terrible was muttered from all sides,” reported the Sport. However, in contrast to the pattern of previous games, Thistle got stronger as the game progressed. The players appeared to have taken inspiration from previous results and showed a determination that had been missing. There was lots of effort from the forwards again – “dashing and daring in the open, erratic and excitable in front of goal.” Willie Paul again scored – two this time – and was Thistle’s best forward; it was unlikely that Thistle would have scored without his composure. Back in the game, there was a great chance – a penalty kick for Thistle. Auchencloss missed it (although the Daily Record reported the villain was Kirkland). With the score at 4-2 to Hearts, and with just six minutes left, a thick fog descended on Partick, and the referee, previously the target of abuse, abandoned the game . “When Mr McIntyre prematurely stopped the game, and visions of a replay were manifest, the mind of the crowd took a wonderful turn, and cries of ‘Good old McIntyre’ were heard all around the field.”
Hearts had only themselves to blame as the game had started 23 minutes late because the visitors were late in arriving in Partick, blaming the misplacing of the kit hamper. Whatever the reason, a replay would be a bonus for the bare Meadowside coffers.
It is good to be enthusiastic, but it is very bad to carry enthusiasm to excess, and if the Partick Thistle supporters don’t tone down a bit they will get the club into a fine mess. On Saturday, in the reserved enclosure, the place resembled pandemonium, and although the cheering could be excused – it is, in fact, desirable – there is no shadow of excuse for foul language, and the incitements to the players to go for so-and-so. Mr McIntyre, the referee, was freely and frequently abused, and if it had not been for a careful escort of the players and officials he might have been treated to a hostile reception at the close. In the interests of the club we appeal to the supporters not to do anything that would further embarrass the already over-worked committee. [Scottish Sport]
Next up was a visit to Celtic, and in response to the criticism of the forwards, Thistle signed centre forward Caldwell from Johnstone. Unfortunately Caldwell took ill on the eve of his debut and was unable to play. Robert Currie was asked to lead the forward line in his absence but refused to change from his preferred half back role. George Allan was pressed into playing the forward pivot role but the whole team struggled to a 0-4 defeat.
The absence of a forward capable of balancing the Thistle play was painfully evident in the match at Celtic Park. The deficiency caused the defence to bear the brunt of the play, for the forwards couldn’t keep the ball sufficiently long in Celtic quarters to relieve the over-taxed defence. The attack was individual and easily check-mated by a strong Celtic rear division. Paul and Kirkwood were the best of the visiting forwards, but as a whole, they failed as a combination. [Daily Record]
This latest poor performance magnified the problems Thistle had up front. Willie Paul had earlier in the season stated that he didn’t feel able to play the centre forward position as it should be – after 14 years in the position he felt a younger man was needed. Willie had been playing on the right wing for most of the season, and was top scorer, along with James Kirkland, with two goals, with three quarters of the league season complete. A rumour was circulating that Robert (RS) McColl of Queen’s Park would play for Thistle, but not till the following season, but McColl was an established internationalist and it seemed unlikely that he would take a step down to Thistle. The refusal of Robert Currie to change positions was the last straw for a frustrated committee and they suspended Currie for a month.
December – off the bottom … Dundee head towards liquidation … Thistle head off the bottom of the table … first home win against the ghost team
Caldwell was ready for the next game, but the club were frustrated that the fixture list paired them with Celtic for a second week. After the defeat at Celtic Park getting a decent crowd at Meadowside would be difficult. Indeed, only 2000 watched the match.
The game followed a familiar pattern. A good first half saw Thistle equalise twice and give the fans hope that a result might be possible. Willie Paul was sprightly and scored twice, but in the second half Celtic stepped up and Thistle had no answer. The game ended 8-3 to Celtic, although Thistle might have pulled another goal back – with five minutes remaining, and with Thistle on the attack, the referee blew for time. After realising his mistake he restarted the game, but the chance was gone. It wasn’t the first time that Thistle club members thought they had been badly treated by a referee this season.
However, outside the club, the Partick Thistle name was taking a battering. The new Partick Meadowside junior club played a game against Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and were keen to emphasise that they had nothing to do with Partick Thistle. When a junior club wanted nothing to do with you, things were definitely bad.
Thistle were above Dundee on goal average, but both teams were at the bottom of the league with three points. On December 9 Dundee announced that they would be unable to fulfil their remaining fixtures as the club was “totally and irretrievably wrecked”. The club had a record of financial mismanagement over the past few years and the news wasn’t a surprise to keen watchers of the game. The Scottish League offered to guarantee Dundee’s players’ wages for the remaining four games but the offer was rejected by the Dundee directors who had decided that first class football in Dundee was an impossibility – liquidation was their preferred route.
Dundee’s stormy clouds had a possible silver lining over Partick. If Dundee were to fold it seemed unlikely that the First Division clubs would want to lose two of their member clubs and Thistle might dodge the possibility of being relegated.
Thistle celebrated Dundee’s misfortune by taking an unexpected point at Easter Road. From the reserves Robert Campbell replaced the injured Andrew Wilson at left back and the youngster performed well, repelling the Hibs right wing: “A stout defender is Campbell, who took Wilson’s place at left-back in the PT team. No doubt he is a rusher, but he came off on Saturday anyhow, and burst up the Hibs forwards repeatedly.” Hibs were in third place but it was the Thistle forwards that looked more likely to score. James Kirkland scored after an hour, but Hibs equalised a few minutes later. With the 1-1 draw Thistle went a point ahead of the hapless Dundee club and off the bottom of the table.
Willie Paul had missed the game against Hibs. He was a late call-up to the Glasgow team who faced Sheffield, and suffered an injury after a clash with Sheffield keeper Fattie Foulkes. Sheffield won 2-1, their winner scored while Paul was off the field getting treatment.
Paul missed the next game – yet another home defeat, the seventh in seven games – against Third Lanark. Again the loss was blamed on the inability to score – “not an effective shot in the team, lack of skill aggravated by timidity and carelessness.” Willie Paul levelled the game at 1-1 but Thirds finished the game leading 3-1. Caldwell played in his third game and was one of the few positives in the forward line.
The last scheduled league game had been the visit of Dundee to Meadowside on the last day of the year, but a few days before the game the match was in grave doubt. On 17 December the Dundee Football & Athletic Club went into liquidation, but within a couple of days a group of Dundee businessmen and past committee men had proposed to form a new club, Dundee Football Club, announcing their intention to buy the assets of the old club, including the ground at Carolina Port, and continuing membership of the league. The Scottish League again offered to underwrite the players’ wages in the remaining three games of the season.
By the time Dundee, pretty much a new team, arrived at Meadowside on Hogmanay 1898 they had picked up a point against St Bernards to join Thistle on four points at the bottom of the table, but both were well behind third bottom Clyde – the loser would certainly take the wooden spoon, though both teams would need to apply to member clubs for continued membership of the league.
The Dundee team were 40 minutes in arriving due to their train being delayed and they found a pitch that was almost unplayable due to mud. Ex Rangers inside right George McNicoll was added to the Thistle team, having joined the club from Falkirk. When the delayed game got going Thistle were the better in the first half and went a goal up when Bob Duncan hit a shot which the keeper was unable to react to as his feet were stuck in the mud. The second half was more even and Duncan scored again, with a header from a Lindsay corner, and Thistle celebrated their first home points of the season. It was little surprise against a problem-ridden Dundee team.
January – Scottish League season completed … Glasgow League begins … more players in dispute
The final league game came against Hearts at home – re-arranged after the abandoned fixture in November when the visitors were leading 4-2. Thistle were unlucky to lose 0-1, although Hearts were the better team in the first half, reaching half time a goal up. Thistle had the better of the second period, creating lots of chances but frustratingly not managing to take any of them. “The forwards excelled their former displays, but their repeated failures to take advantage of the many openings presented to them was tantalising. The ground was hard as flint, slippery, and here and there were miniature lakes, while blinding sleet fell in the course of the game,” reported the Sport.
With that 0-1 reverse the league season ended. In the following days it was confirmed that both Thistle and Dundee would have to re-apply for league membership, along with clubs who were still contesting the Second Division and were ambitious for a chance in the top division. Kilmarnock, Leith Athletic and Port Glasgow Athletic were contesting the Second Division title. It hadn’t been a season to remember on (or off) the field for either club. Thistle were the team who had most frequently failed to score, and had scored the least amount of goals. Dundee had lost most games overall, while Thistle had lost most home games – eight. Neither team could really complain if they lost membership of the First Division.
Thistle had been unable to field a consistent team through the season. Only Auchencloss, Duncan, Gray, Kirkland and Caldwell could regard themselves as regulars in the last few games of the season, and that inconsistency, coupled with the inability to score, had been the team’s downfall. Scottish Sport summed up:
Partick Thistle have had a brief but not particularly happy League connection. Last season, as new members, a great deal was expected of them, and although they landed in the bottom three after a test game with Dundee, still they were reckoned to have done fairly well for beginners. But they have gone back on that performance, and are one step lower on the ladder, but with a much poorer record, and must again stand the test of a vote. Somehow the Partick people do not appear to have been pulling so well together all season as is desirable and rumours of divisions in the camp now and then found publicity. A house divided against itself is bound to fall, and thus it seems to have been with the unfortunate Thistle. Still, they have one consolation left. They are not entirely at the bottom; they have escaped the wooden spoon for which they have to thank St Bernards and Dundee. Their two most notable performances were drawing with the Hibs and St Mirren, and for this they deserve a word of encouragement; while the fright they gave Hearts in the last game of the competition should cheer them up a bit.
With the Scottish League season ending in early January, and the uncertainly of regular games in the Scottish Cup, Thistle began their membership of the Glasgow League with the promise of games against the rest of the top Glasgow teams. The first game was against Rangers at Meadowside the week before the last league game against Hearts, and with the memory of the Dundee victory fresh the Sport thought that the result should be closer than the 2-6 and 0-5 defeats already recorded. After the game the Sport reported “Partick did well; Rangers did a thundering sight better.” Thistle fought well but couldn’t cope with Rangers and the game ended 8-2 to Rangers, showing Thistle just how far behind the leading club they were. The game attracted a decent crowd of Partick Thistle ‘friends’. The Sport were quick to point out that if these ‘friends’ turned up every week the club would not be in the poor predicament that they found themselves in.
After the mauling from the best team in Scotland Thistle were paired against non-leaguers Irvine in the Scottish Cup. Thistle, superior in speed and tactics, didn’t underestimate their opponents but in the end won easily 5-0 – a “playful bound” was the Partick Press’s description. The Thistle players still hadn’t got to grips with taking penalty kicks – another two were missed taking the missed total to seven for the season.
Thistle had begun the season looking for a new goalkeeper and had ‘auditioned’ John Thomson and Tom Scott before bringing back John Spence, the man they tried to replace. Spence had played regularly through the league campaign but had caught a heavy cold, which had developed complications, against Rangers at the start of the month which had caused his business to suffer. He decided to retire from football and Thistle were again faced with goalkeeping problems. Scott, the Irish international, had an undisclosed dispute with the club and had returned to Ireland. Thistle, he claimed, owed him wages, and he had applied to the SFA for reinstatement as an amateur, which was refused, so he remained in dispute. In Spence’s absence the committee promoted Gourlay, who had signed from Yoker, from the reserves.
An exciting Glasgow League game came before the next round of the Cup. Thistle visited Shawfield, and although the pitch was poor the fans were entertained. Clyde had a 3-0 lead at half time but the second half was all Thistle. The score was tied at 3-3 when a penalty was awarded to Thistle. With their record on penalty kicks it seemed likely that the game would end tied, but James Bryce converted the kick to give Thistle a 4-3 win. “The collapse of the Clyde in the second half was as complete as it was sensational,” reported the Athletic News.
Willie Paul had moved back to centre forward and his replacement at outside right was Walter Collier who had been signed from Leven Thistle. “Collier is a capital player. He has fine speed, possesses sound judgement and is a pot shot,” reported the Sport.
Collier was the 32nd player signed by Thistle for the 1898-99 season – more players than any other club in Scotland. Although four had been given transfers, 28 were still registered.
February – Scottish Cup elimination … Robert Currie and Walter Lindsay kicked out
February was taken up by the Scottish Cup, and Thistle’s first task was to beat Morton. Morton were languishing near the foot of the Second Division and there was an air of optimism at Meadowside after two good wins over Irvine and Clyde. However Morton gave Thistle a fright and were unlucky not to win. The visitors were the better team in the first half despite a Willie Paul goal. The second half was more even and a 2-2 draw and a replay in Greenock was the result.
A few days before the replay the Partick Press announced that Thistle had “got rid of their two malcontents.” While there had been a number of players in dispute – George Morrison and Tom Scott particularly – these malcontents were Walter Lindsay and Robert Currie.
Lindsay’s problems began when he failed to return from holiday to play against Rangers in January. The match committee then suspended him for a month for insubordination, after supposedly missing his train back to Glasgow from his holiday in Comrie. The excuse of missing a train was a common one among footballers who wanted an extra few days holiday. His absence was a loss to the team as he had developed a good relationship with James Kirkland on the left wing. After his month’s suspension he was released and subsequently signed for Third Lanark.
Robert Currie was also a loss to the team but his impasse had been a longer-term one and was a disappointing end to an impressive career. He had first appeared in 1892 for the club after signing from local club Minerva, playing as a forward though as the years passed he preferred to play as a half back. He was one of the few players who had played for the club before they joined the Scottish League, along with Willie Paul, and had won a Second Division championship medal in 1897. He refused to play centre forward against Celtic in November. It was his second refusal to move positions since August, but this time he was suspended by the match committee firstly for a month, and when he didn’t answering a letter from committee he was suspended sine die.
Currie’s supporters rallied and protests were presented at committee meetings. A letter was published in the Scottish Sport detailing reasons why Currie should be reinstated.
- Anyone who has seen him play knows he is not a forward. A player should not be played out of position where he will spoil his reputation.
- He has played consistently and is one of the few who got Partick Thistle promotion.
- Except Paul he is the only local player in team and should have got some special consideration.
- He is a steady respectable young man who shouldn’t have the stigma of suspension.
- He is best centre half at the club and is sadly required at the moment.
Nonetheless Currie was released by the club and was immediately signed by East Stirlingshire, ending a seven-year spell at Thistle that saw him play 128 games.
The cup replay saw 600 Thistle fans pay one shilling to travel by train to Greenock, and were welcomed by the sight of mounted police around the pitch perimeter. Cappielow had seen some crowd disorder in recent weeks. The Thistle supporters were rewarded with a 2-1 Thistle win. Again it wasn’t an assured performance from Thistle and Morton were the better team for most of the game. Apart from a penalty save, the Morton goalie didn’t have a shot to save until, with eight minutes to go, a Walter Collier shot hit a defender and rolled in. In contrast Gourlay in the Thistle goal had his best game. James Paul, Willie’s brother, made his debut at centre forward and scored the opening goal.
Port Glasgow Athletic were the next Scottish Cup opponents and they were performing better that their neighbours in the Second Division. Reports in the paper suggested that Athletic thought they would score at least three goals, based on Thistle’s poor Greenock performance. However, it was Thistle, through James Paul who opened the scoring. In the end Thistle lost 3-7, despite having led the game 2-1 after five minutes. It was a disappointing end to the Scottish Cup for Thistle.
Season ends disappointingly … relegation fears come true … an old hero returns
Early in March James Auchencloss was selected to play in the international trial matches that would take place at Meadowside. The ‘A’ team was the team of the recognised internationalists while the ‘B’ team was filled with hopefuls. The ‘C’ and ‘D’ teams that played before the ‘A’ v ‘B’ game contained players who could be said to have little chance of selection for the forthcoming international games. Auchencloss played right back in the ‘D’ team and unsurprisingly wasn’t selected for the internationals.
Meadowside had impressed many who hadn’t previously visited. “There is not a cheerier ground anywhere,” reported the Sport.
Members and supporters received the sad news of the death of ex trainer John Hunter who died in Govan Fever Hospital of enteric fever (typhoid).
The remainder of the season saw ten games played, the majority in the Glasgow League, but with just one win (a 5-1 win over Clyde) and just four goals scored in the remaining nine matches.
Glasgow League table
The member clubs of the First Division voted at the end of the season over whether Thistle should retain their place in the division or not, and such a poor run of results did nothing to enhance the argument that Thistle would mount. When the clubs met at the League AGM Kilmarnock, Second Division champions, were elected to take Thistle’s place while Dundee retained their place in the top division. Thistle would have to rejoin the lower league despite finishing above Dundee but it would have been difficult for anyone to complain – Thistle had experienced two dismal seasons and had contributed little to the league competition. Of course, had Dundee not received assistance to complete their fixtures Thistle might have survived. Many on the committee were keen to ensure League football continued in Dundee.
Throughout the season players and members had criticised and been in dispute with the match committee, and as the season crawled to a disappointing close, the unpopular committee was finally ousted. Just two members remained after the special meeting that elected James Gilchrist of 13 Crow Road as the new match secretary, replacing Mr McIntyre.
Gilchrist’s first action as match secretary was to arrange the visit of Derby County to Meadowside, complete with England international Steve Bloomer. Derby had visited Hearts the night before and attracted a big crowd. With a fee paid to Derby, the home team made a good profit on the night. The same couldn’t be said at Meadowside. “Partick Thistle had a beggarly array of empty benches at Meadowside, and I understand they have dropped more than they can afford on the venture,” said Jonathan Oldbuck of the Athletic News. An inauspicious ‘debut’ for the new match secretary. A Thistle side made up mostly of reserves were beaten narrowly 2-3.
The new committee would have a big job ahead for the following season. The team had lacked consistency throughout the season and the same set of players hadn’t played two successive games together. The committee would have to improve things greatly if the club wanted to return to the First Division.
The committee didn’t waste time and began to make arrangements to strengthen the team immediately, arranging to bring William Freebairn back to the club. Freebairn had left in 1894 and had a spell with Leicester Fosse before returning to play with East Stirlingshire. He was a popular forward and his return was warmly anticipated and applauded by Thistle fans. The committee then began to target some other Scots currently playing in England to strengthen the team.
The season was one that players, members and supporters would want to forget quickly – terrible results and bad blood between those who had the best of intentions for the club had removed the opportunity to play against the best clubs in Scotland. Whether things could be improved in time for the next season starting in a few months remained to be seen.
Evening Times June 1898 – July 1899
Daily Record Aug 1898 – May 1899
Scottish Sport July 1898 – June 1899
Partick & Maryhill Press Jan 1899 – May 1899
Athletic News Jan 1899 – May 1899
British Newspaper Archive Aug 1898 – May 1899
Season by season