- Another First Division challenge
- Top clubs threaten to break away from Scottish League
- Tragedy befalls top player
The Partick Thistle committee and members were quick to start their preparations for their second attempt to establish themselves as members of Scotland’s top division following their Second Division championship win and subsequent promotion.
Tom Hyslop (who had been with Stoke the previous season) and William Dunlop had moved from Rangers while William Haggart and Tom Gibbons had arrived from Aston Villa and Third Lanark respectively. Gibbons had received several good offers from England, while Haggart’s transfer cost £50. Walter Fairgrieve (from Hibernians), James Henderson (from Annbank after an unsuccessful spell with Liverpool) and Alexander Kay (St Bernards) made up the remainder of the high-profile close-season signings.
Promising junior Tom Harvey was tempted away from Irvine Meadow where he had been since the club’s inauguration in 1895, and had been the mainstay of the team in the previous season. Well regarded in Ayrshire, he was presented with a gift of appreciation from his fellow players as he left for Glasgow. He had received tempting offers from several other important clubs. Tom was to play over 200 times for Thistle.
Milo in the Evening Times felt that the committee had been approaching the new season in the right way. “I am pleased to learn that the PT are fully alive to the supreme importance of entering upon a second essay in first league rivalry with a greatly improved team. It was the utter disregard of that precaution that led to their degradation two years ago. They have already secured Hyslop and Dunlop of Rangers and Gibbons of the Third Lanark and they mean to have more of the same stamp. These, with the addition of several of last year’s players, such as Goudie, should go far to place them in a respectable middle-mark position.” This strategy of signing experienced players was in contrast to the last time they had reached the First Division, when there was a reliance on youngsters and local players.
However, all of Thistle’s pre-season preparations were thrown in disarray when a serious challenge to the structure of the Scottish League was raised by Celtic. A number of First Division clubs were unhappy that the League had been managed in the previous year by a committee made up of representatives of First and Second Division clubs, rather than the previous arrangement where both divisions were effectively autonomous. Seven of the ten First Division clubs threatened to break away from the Scottish League unless the lower division’s influence was removed. There was a concern that the Second Division clubs could impose their will on the First Division teams until Mr Connell of Thistle pointed out that the lower division teams all aspired to join the top teams so would do nothing to seriously jeopardise that. Thistle, Hearts, and curiously Rangers, were the clubs who were happy with the status quo, although Rangers stance may have been affected by allegations that the English League were trying to persuade leading Scottish clubs to join their league.
Threat and counter-threat were issued until an agreement was reached which saw each division being run by the member clubs – effectively the structure which has existed until 1899 when the Management Committee was initiated.
There was one conspicuous change: Queen’s Park, who had previously refused to join the professional league, had applied and been accepted straight into the top division. There were suggestions that they needed the guaranteed income that the league would offer as they had over-extended themselves building the new Hampden.
Eleven clubs was a strange number for a league competition. Clubs would have been aware that at the end of the season moves would be made to increase numbers (the Evening Times suggested that the league should be extended to include teams from Fife, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Dumbarton and Perth) or more likely lose a club. Although there was no automatic relegation, the bottom three clubs would have to re-apply for membership for next season, and there was likelihood that the bottom team would lose their top division status. This was huge pressure before the season started for Thistle.
Meanwhile, back in Partick, preparations continued for the start of the season. Formal training began at the end of July but some players kept themselves fit. To encourage regular attendance gold albert watch chains were awarded to Andrew Wilson, David Proudfoot and William Goudie by trainer John Nutt and assistant William McDonald. Crowds approaching 3000 had been attracted to watch sessions.
Other players and members formed a cricket team inspired by match secretary James Gilchrist. William Freebairn and Tom Hyslop were notable players for the cricket team throughout the summer. Hyslop, Tom Gibbons and David Campbell took part in the professional footballers sprint at the Third Lanark sports day.
At the Partick Police Sports at Meadowside, Thistle won the five-a-side competition, beating Rangers in the final. The day also included ball putting, a ladies bicycle race, hammer throwing, wrestling, piping, dancing, a wheelbarrow race, and a highly competitive tug of war which drew teams from across Scotland.
Tom Atherton, a forward previously with Raith Rovers, was bought from St Bernards. Goalkeeper Daniel Fletcher had caught a chill when camping, and was confined to his house. Tom Wilkie was signed, also from St Bernards, to replace him. Thistle had failed in an audacious bid to sign Scotland goalkeeper Harry Rennie earlier in the summer.
The Evening Times previewed the club’s season.
The Partick Thistle begin the season with brighter and better prospects than they have experienced for many a long day. Having once more earned well-merited promotion to the First Division of the League, the officials are quite determined to make their place there a permanency. If this is not the case, it will not be the blame of the managers, for few clubs, on promotion, have shown the same enterprise in securing class players.
With the well-balanced team that won the Second Division championship some clubs would have been content, but the Thistle, from former experience, recognise that there is a vast gulf between First and Second League football, and they now claim to have the strongest team that has ever represented the club. Whenever their promotion was assured, they set about their work with a method, and it is satisfactory to them that they have secured almost all the men they were in quest of. In this connection , money was not spared in order that they might have the best procurable, and not a few clubs have been surprised at the boldness and importance of the captures made, for which the committee have earned for themselves the highest encomiums of press and public for the ability and tact displayed.
Even the ‘great’ Rennie was angled for, and probably would have been fixed for Meadowside if the Thistle had seen their way to pay close-season wages.
Although in a fairly good financial condition, the club was not prepared to meet the transfer fees demanded, and on this being put to the membership, several gentlemen at once came forward with a guarantee of £400 to procure talent, which was a proof of the confidence placed in the management.
The following is the official list of players signed up to date, with negotiations pending on two others. Goal – Fletcher and Wilkie (late St Bernards); backs – Kay (St Bernards), Haggart (Aston Villa), R.Campbell and Wilson; half-backs – Proudfoot, Bryce, Goudie, Dunlop (Rangers) and Harvey (Irvine Meadow XI); forwards – D.Campbell, Freebairn, McNicoll, Hyslop (Rangers), Gibbons (Third Lanark), Henderson (Annbank), Fairgrieve (Luton) and Atherton (St Bernards).
This is amateur Paul’s twentieth season with the Thistle – surely a record – and he will be at hand when he is required to help the club, of which he is such an old and faithful member. This is a capital list, and if the players enter into their work with the same confidence as was the case last season, success is sure to follow. The only difficulty to be faced is how to use the players to the best advantage.
Ex player John Proudfoot (David’s brother) had returned to Glasgow to get married and he met up with some of his old Thistle friends. His old mates persuaded him that returning to Meadowside was a good idea, and offered to pay the transfer fee themselves. Proudfoot would have been a worthwhile addition but Everton were reluctant to let him go.
By the start of the season Thistle had 19 professional players registered with the SFA. Only Dundee had more: 23, while Rangers made do with 16 and Celtic 15. Celtic and Rangers were unsurprisingly favourites for the championship.
The new players weren’t the only change at Meadowside. The Committee were reported as thinking that an aesthetic change, as well as a sporting change, might bring some good luck, and announced that they had exchanged the dark blue strip for a new jersey of yellow and black hoops. They were quickly christened the Wasps.
The first game of the season was a league game against Celtic at Parkhead and Thistle relied almost entirely on their new players, lining up with eight new men. The team was Wilkie, Kay, Haggart, Harvey, Proudfoot, Goudie, Freebairn, Gibbons, Henderson, Hyslop and Fairgrieve. Hopes were indeed high. Scottish Sport reported that “the [Thistle] brake clubs, bugles, banners and all, were out in full force”.
Thistle started the game well and Tom Gibbons became the first player of the season in Scotland to score a goal when he opened the scoring from a Freebairn pass. ‘Long Tom’ Hyslop scored a second and Thistle held a surprising two nil lead at half time. Celtic came back into the game, and despite Wilkie, Haggart and the half-back’s best efforts, equalised the game. Thistle were dispirited for a time and a Kay mistake allowed Celtic to take the lead but with a few minutes left Walter Fairgrieve levelled the scoring again.
The 3-3 draw was described as “immense” by Scottish Sport, while the Evening Times suggested that “a repetition of this form will see Thistle in a good place in the table”.
The visit to Parkhead was followed the next night with a trip to Ibrox where most of the players who had missed the league match got a game in a friendly match for what was regarded as a 2nd XI, against a powerful Rangers team. Rangers began well and were two up, but Thistle came back to draw the game. It was another hugely impressive performance. The defence played well – “inartistic in clearing but determined and safe,” said the Evening Times, while Hyslop played well in his second game in two days. Team: Mackie, R.Campbell, Wilson, Bryce, Dunlop, McDonald, Freebairn, D.Campbell, Atherton, Hyslop, Wylie.
The first game at Meadowside was a league game against Kilmarnock and the same players that played at Parkhead lined up, with the exception of Kay who was replaced by Andrew Wilson. Mrs Connell, wife of club president George Connell, ran the championship flag up the flag pole in front of 6000 supporters. Gate takings were £129.
Scottish Sport summed up the game. “For the first 15 minutes the Thistle looked like masters, then they drooped and they drooped and they drooped. Partick Thistle were not beaten by superior football – as a matter of fact they showed cleverer manipulation – it was the pace that killed. Kilmarnock romped and roamed and checked and charged with astonishing vigour, and poor Thistle could not follow.” It was a blow to trainer Nutt who had worked hard on the players’ fitness. Willie Freebairn and David Proudfoot both missed penalties before David Hyslop scored a late goal. “It was a wilful waste and the wasters will require to hop about a bit livelier and so prevent further disaster” reported the Sport.
Improvement wasn’t immediate. Following a friendly draw with Abercorn was a trip to play St Mirren. The home team started strongly and were quickly 2-0 up. Thistle, though, kept their heads, and after yet another missed penalty, equalised through Hyslop and Atherton. Thistle continued playing well for much of the second half and looked likely winners until Wilkie let a soft goal in. St Mirren went on to score two more and Thistle left another game with nothing despite good periods of play.
Robert Campbell had been the outstanding Thistle defender, despite playing out of position at right half. There was concern expressed from several of the newspapers that the excess of available players was a problem, and the committee didn’t know the best way of using the talent at the club – 15 players had been used in the first four games. Experimenting should be done cautiously. The Ladderman in the Sport suggested that Thistle shouldn’t panic despite some disappointing results, pick their best eleven and stick with them. One consolation the Ladderman pointed out – the club were making money.
Celtic (A) League 3-3
Rangers (A) Friendly 2-2
Kilmarnock (H) League 1-2
Abercorn (H) Friendly 1-1
St Mirren (A) League 2-5
Clyde (H) Friendly 1-1
With the large number of players available Thistle arranged two friendly matches for the first Saturday in September and the players should have got a boost from the first team’s 5-2 win over Dumbarton and the reserves 4-0 win over Kings Park.
Tom Gibbons didn’t play in either game as he had been hospitalised, to undergo an operation for an ‘internal trouble’. The Evening Times reported that it was a routine operation, though it might be as long as a month until he could play again.
Gibbons’ forward colleague Tom Hyslop’s appearance against Rangers in the next game was raising interest as he lined up against his old team-mates. Thistle began the game strongly, as they had in previous games, and playing “a strong bustling game, their object being to prevent their opponents dropping into their neat passing game” they were successful in holding Rangers to a 0-0 score at half-time. “They have plenty of height and weight, qualities which stood them in good stead at close quarters,” said the Glasgow Herald. The first half was remarkable for excellent play from both goalkeepers. The second half was more open and Rangers were on the attack with many more chances than Thistle, but Wilkie kept most of them at bay. Man of the day Hyslop combined well with left winger Atherton and Thistle scored, but a late mistake by Wilkie let Rangers snatch both points.
“A more spirited or determined opposition than Saturday’s experience at Partick has not been offered the champions for many a day. The Thistle seemed strung up for the occasion and knocked the Rangers completely off their usual game. Not since the opening of the competition have the Thistle forwards wrought so well together, and had they only been able to make use of the opportunities afforded them, they and not their opponents would have secured the points,” reported the Daily Record.
Hopefully the improved performances and results in September would continue, and Thistle had been strong favourites for the next game since the draw, a Glasgow Cup tie. Normal Athletic v Partick Thistle had been drawn to be played at Titwood, but with neighbours Queen’s Park playing at home on the same day, the game was switched to Meadowside. Athletic performed better than expected but Thistle were comfortable 2-0 winners.
The Thistle committee’s ambition of investing in players to stay in the First Division had been widely applauded but after just a month of the season some players were released on cost grounds. James Henderson, David Campbell and James Bryce were let go.
There was a familiar pattern to the next league game, at Kilmarnock. Thistle started the better team, and were all over Kilmarnock, but couldn’t make their dominance count with goals. Hyslop scored Thistle’s goal in the 1-2 defeat, but it was two other team-mates that caught the eye of the Sport. “Atherton and Freebairn played together and pleased Thistle supporters beyond measure with their pretty display. Atherton had the Kilmarnock defence beaten all over, friend and foe voting him the best forward on the field. If Freebairn hadn’t forgotten the way to score, these two little ‘uns would make things hum a bit.” The estimated thousand Thistle fans left the game disappointed again.
After five games, a quarter of the league season, only Hearts were below Thistle. Thistle had managed one draw. Hearts had lost all of their games.
Thistle rarely played games on holidays, but were persuaded to play their league game against Hibs on holiday Monday afternoon. Rangers were also at home that day and the kick-offs were staggered to allow attendance at both games thanks to the cross-river ferries.
It would have been a rough crossing as Glasgow was hit by high winds, and the conditions helped Hibs to take a one goal lead at half time. During the break the wind died down and Thistle didn’t get the same assistance from the weather. Atherton again performed well but Thistle’s inability to score cost them again. “The Partick Thistle forward line could stand improvement. Against the Hibernian their play was individual and disjointed and there were very few instances of combined or concentrated effort. Where goals have to be got individual brilliance must be sacrificed to combination,” said the Sport.
While many of Thistle’s poor results had been attributed to poor forward play, there was a feeling amongst the newspapers that luck hadn’t been on Thistle’s side either – four of the five defeats had been by a single goal. Against Third Lanark at Meadowside the luck seemed to change, although the Daily Record also suggested it was due to “shooting at goal instead of passing … and it paid off”. The forward line included Willie Paul, Willie Freebairn and George McNicoll, who tellingly weren’t new players, and it was McNicoll in particular who caught the eye, scoring Thistle’s third in a 3-1 win, the first in the league.
Dumbarton (H) Friendly 5-2
Rangers (H) League 1-2
Normal Athletic (H) Glasgow Cup 2-0
Kilmarnock (A) League 1-2
Hibernian (H) League 0-1
Third Lanark (H) League 3-1
Had the luck changed? A trip to play fellow strugglers Hearts might be the perfect game to build upon the previous win. Scorer McNicoll was replaced by new signing James Chalmers, who had joined from Beith after spells with Sunderland and Notts County, and he made an instant impact on the left wing. “Chalmers may turn out to be a daisy. His passing against Hearts indicated he will be an acquisition,” said the Sport. However, it was on the right that the goals came from. Tom Atherton scored two goals and Willie Freebairn scored a third.
The following game was a Glasgow Cup tie against Clyde and Thistle were regarded as favourites, and for the first time a newspaper report mentioned Thistle’s superiority in front of goal. Freebairn scored his fourth goal in three games as Thistle came from behind to beat Clyde comfortably and qualify for the semi final.
This boost in form saw a couple of Thistle players suggested for the forthcoming Glasgow v Sheffield challenge match. Alexander Kay had played in every league game since missing the first game of the season, while it was proposed that Willie Freebairn might revive his old partnership with ex Thistle player John Campbell who was now with Rangers. The eventual team didn’t include any Thistle players, and lost 1-3.
The three game winning run came to a juddering halt against Third Lanark and again it was failings of the forwards that was to blame. Atherton was missing, replaced by Willie Paul, and despite a good performance in the first half, the second period was a disaster and Thirds won the game 1-0. It had been another inconsistency performance, made the more frustrating by the previous good results. The Sport reported “There is a slackness about Thistle’s forwards which is accountable, for they know the game, and can play it – sometimes.”
The semi final draw for the Glasgow Cup had given Thistle an easy path to the final, while the two best teams left in the competition, Third Lanark and Rangers, were drawn together. Thistle’s game against Cameronians was played at Maxwell Park and Thistle won comfortably 3-0 to reach the final, which would be played against Rangers at Parkhead. Willie Freebairn scored one of the goals, but received a kick which would prevent him from playing in the final.
Heart of Midlothian (A) League 3-1
Clyde (H) Glasgow Cup 3-1
Third Lanark (A) League 0-1
Cameronians (A) Glasgow Cup 3-0
The Scottish League announced that neutral linesmen would be used in league games in the future. Previously linesmen had been provided by the two competing clubs. The linesmen would be paid 10s 6d and a 3rd class train ticket for each game. Views were mixed – the Daily Record thought that the change should improve general conduct in games and would help referees while the Sport thought it an expensive luxury. Neutral linesmen didn’t last long, and had been dispensed with come 1902 “in the interests of economy rather than impartiality.”
The Glasgow Cup Final against Rangers would be played at Parkhead for the first time and admission prices were reduced to league prices for what was reckoned to be an unappealing and mismatched fixture. The Evening Times were scathing, reckoning the final would be the poorest for seven years and mentioning the “feebleness of the entire Thistle team”. The dismissal of Thistle’s chances was in contrast to the praise they received just two months earlier when they almost held Rangers to a draw at Meadowside.
Prior to the final the Thistle players had a chance to measure themselves against the Rangers players in the return league game at Ibrox. The Daily Record reported that Thistle were keen to play their first choice team against Rangers in both games, but that the preferred forwards might not be available. However, given the weekly changes in the forward line its difficult to imagine that the committee actually knew what their preferred forwards were. George McNicoll replaced Willie Freebairn at inside right – McNicoll’s fifth position of the season. Freebairn hadn’t recovered from a chest complaint after being injured against Cameronians.
Dick Crawford, Dunfermline’s left back, surprised Thistle’s critics by playing at centre forward and opening the scoring but Rangers gradually became the better team, and walked over Thistle in the second half to win comfortably 4-1. The Partick Press thought that Thistle now knew what was needed to win the Glasgow Cup.
“I believe they will make a better show against Rangers. I have no doubt that the Thistle officials will make the necessary changes to strengthen the team, as the defence was rather weak. Not much improvement could be made to the forwards, their only fault being keeping the ball to themselves a little too much, especially in the second half. Each apparently felt anxious to have the honour of scoring, with the result that scoring was an unknown quantity.”
The forward line, praised the previous week, was changed. John Muirhead, an untried junior from Duntocher played, and full back Robert Campbell was tried at centre forward. Perhaps there was nothing to lose after the previous week’s defeat but the changes seem unorthodox. It was a poor game, spoiled by terrible weather, and followed a similar pattern to the previous league game. When the weather improved at the start of the game the crowd increased and Rangers took control in the second half. Rangers were never in any danger of losing, and Thistle, listless and slow, only scored with five minutes remaining through Hyslop.
The 1-3 defeat was a disappointment, though perhaps no surprise. Also unfortunate was the news that Thistle had lost money in the tournament. Games against Normal Athletic and Cameronians hadn’t pulled crowds.
While poor play had undoubtedly contributed to Thistle’s position at the bottom of the division, two points below Hearts and Queen’s Park, but so had injuries to key players. William Haggart had been injured at Ibrox, while Tom Gibbons had been out for a while. Tom Hyslop had been injured at work, while Willie Freebairn was progressing from his injury, but wasn’t quite ready yet. Envious glances might have been made at the Woolwich Arsenal reports in the papers – John Blackwood, who had moved to Arsenal in the close season, was scoring regularly in the English Second Division.
Campbell moved back from the forward line to replace Haggart against Dundee, while John Cameron of Rangers became the ninth centre forward to be tried by Thistle. Cameron played well but there were suggestions that his move was a temporary one. He scored the goal in a 1-1 draw.
Just four days earlier Willie Freebairn was reported as “not quite ready” to return to the team so it was a shock to all his friends when his death was reported, in the Evening Times on 19 November.
DEATH OF A FOOTBALL PLAYER
Willie Freebairn, a member of Partick Thistle FC, died in the Western Infirmary this forenoon. The recently deceased underwent an operation for an inward trouble, but failed to survive the ordeal.
He had been kicked in the chest in the game against Cameronians and underwent an operation from which he didn’t recover. It was doubly tragic news – Willie was engaged and due to be married on 28 December.
Willie Freebairn was 26 and had joined his local club at the age of 19 with his brothers Archie and David, playing 63 games and scoring 27 goals before finishing his apprenticeship as a blacksmith and following his brothers down south, where he signed for Leicester Fosse. He later returned to Scotland for a spell with East Stirlingshire before returning to Partick Thistle, playing 59 times and scoring 36 goals.
“A well known person in football circles in the person of William Freebairn, of the Partick Thistle FC, died on Monday. Freebairn had been suffering from some trouble which necessitated his undergoing an operation, and for this purpose he entered an infirmary [the Western Infirmary]. On Sunday he went under an operation from which he never rallied. As a player Freebairn was a skilful forward and was esteemed by all for his many good qualities.”
On 22 November the funeral was held. The funeral party walked from the Freebairn home in Dumbarton Road near Whiteinch Cross to Byres Rd and was then driven to Western Necropolis. Local shops were closed in respect. Representatives from East Stirlingshire, Rangers and Morton were in attendance.
When William Freebairn died a poem was published in tribute. A copy was retained by his old team-mate John Proudfoot until his death in 1934. Click here for the poem.
Having buried their team-mate two days earlier it’s unlikely that the Thistle players were in the best frame of mind for a relegation battle against Queen’s Park, but that’s what they had to face. Tom Gibbons returned but to little effect. The teams were equally matched, with the only difference being in front of goal – Thistle were terrible and the Queen’s goalie had nothing to do. The Partick Press expressed some of the local disappointment. “Partick Thistle still figure at the bottom of the league, and will remain there for some time to come unless they show great improvement in their play. The team from which so much was expected when they secured such men as Hyslop and Gibbons, is coming far short of their supporters’ ideal.” Thistle were now three points behind at the foot of the table and struggling.
Rangers (A) League 1-4
Rangers (Parkhead) Glasgow Cup Final 1-3
Dundee (H) League 1-1
Queen’s Park (A) League 0-2
An away game against the team top of the league probably isn’t the most likely game to get back to winning, and true to form Thistle lost the game at Parkhead 2-6. However, the game wasn’t as one-sided as you might think. For the first hour Thistle played as well as they had done all season but ultimately they were unable to stay the pace. Goals from Hyslop and Muirhead brought them back after going 0-2 down early on, but when Celtic upped the pace in the second half Thistle couldn’t respond. Not for the first time was the blame pointed at the forwards. “Hyslop never played a worse game than that of Saturday. The front rank of the Thistle was weak and the sooner the committee strengthen the weak spots and build up a strong front rank, the sooner they will pull themselves out of the slough of despond into which the team has fallen.” James Lamont, the old Thistle favourite, who had left the club in 1897 for Bedminster, and then Bristol Rovers, returned to the team.
Three points behind second bottom with only seven games left, things needed to improve. “Unless they secure a few wins now in their remaining matches they will be in a very bad position in the league,” sighed the Partick Press. The next four games were against the teams directly above them in the league. If there was to be a push to move up the table it would need to start now.
Now was an away game against Morton and injuries deprived the team of Haggart and Goudie. Proudfoot had declared himself unfit but was forced to play when Lamont was unable to deputise for Goudie. Hyslop moved to left half to fill the gap. The game was even, Wilkie playing well but unable to stop Morton leading 2-1 at the interval. In the second half Thistle played a ‘rushing game’ and equalised through an own goal before converted defender Campbell, all “pluck, dash and inexperience” scored the winner with just five minutes remaining.
The Partick Press sensed a shift in fortunes as the gap with Queen’s Park was closed to a point. “Now that Thistle are on the upgrade let them go on and conquer in the remaining matches.”
The optimism of Cappielow led to disappointment a week later when Hearts came to town and took away an important victory. The Partick Press had gone from hope to concern over whether Thistle would be wanted by their fellow clubs for next season. “Partick Thistle are now in the slough of despond, as it is now certain that they will have to seek re-election for admission into the select circle of the first leaguers. Whether they will succeed to be re-elected is another question, as there are teams in the second league with extra good claims, and of course a tussle will ensue for admission or re-election, as the case may be.”
The Thistle Second XI had reached the final of the Scottish Cup Final at Powderhall, but lost against Hearts 2-8. The team was Fletcher, Cunningham, Another, McDonald, Currie, Harvey, Wright, Crawford, Paul, Cleland, McNicoll.
If it looked unlikely that Thistle could escape the bottom three, and hence the re-election process, it was still possible to avoid last place. Next game up was a home match against second bottom Queen’s Park with a two point gap. However, it was another poor performance which saw Queens with 4-1. “Their destiny is practically settled, and by their play last Saturday, they would have given their supporters the idea that they had resigned themselves to fate,” groaned the Partick Press disappointedly.
The miserable year concluded at Dundee in a 0-4 defeat. “The glory hath departed from Meadowside. They now hold the lowly position of wooden spoonist of the league and are almost certainly to be regaled to the more suitable fare of the Second league.” The last three teams in the division would have to re-apply and canvas votes to make re-inclusion next season a possibility. Even the most optimistic Thistle fan would struggle to make a case for the club to stay in the division.
The players continued north after the defeat in Dundee and played two friendlies, drawing 1-1 with Aberdeen and losing 3-4 to Inverness Clachnacudin over the New Year holidays. Athletic News described it as “a very unsatisfactory holiday tour.”
Celtic (H) League 2-6
Morton (A) League 3-2
Heart of Midlothian (H) League 0-1
Queen’s Park (H) League 1-4
Dundee (A) League 0-4
Aberdeen (A) Friendly 1-1
January – May
Finishing last in the league had been inevitable for some time, but it became mathematically impossible to avoid when Morton beat Thistle 2-1. “The result seals the doom for the Thistle,” reported Athletic News. The league campaign ended with a defeat at Hibernians and an unexpected 5-3 win over St Mirren. It seemed certain that the relegation was follow – the only thing that might save them from a return to the Second Division would be an increase in the number of clubs to twelve for the top division. Most clubs, though, were keen to return to a ten team division.
The Athletic News had a different take on things, and made the case for the club to stay in the top division:
At the start of the present season when Partick Thistle, by virtue of having won the Second League Championship, had the good fortune to be elected to the First Division, the management set out to do themselves credit in the ‘upper circle,’ and the officials launched out the necessary capital to secure a capable team to uphold the honour of the old club.
In this they were deemed successful by many of the most competent judges, and for a time matters went almost as smoothly as could be desired, the team in their opening game under League auspices taking a point from Celtic at Parkhead. Thereafter they were unlucky to lose by a goal against Kilmarnock at home after which they had a ‘bad day’ against St Mirren at Paisley. Following this they recovered nicely, and were only beaten by a goal against the Champions (Rangers) and by a like score against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and Hibernians the following week. Things took a turn for the better, a victory over Third Lanark by 3-1 at Meadowside being followed by a visit to Tynecastle, when they secured full points off the Hearts by a like score.
Just about this time they lost the services, through illness, of Tom Gibbons, one of their strongest forwards, who was off for about two months and ere he was fit to return they were deprived of the services, through death, of Willie Freebairn, one of the most brilliant forwards Partick has ever produced, while W.Haggart, their left back, was also injured in the knee at the same time. Added to this the failure of Hyslop and Chalmers to fulfil expectations, and the dismal luck of the Meadowside club was complete.
In some quarters I know it is considered inevitable that the Thistle will be sent back to the lower division, but I trust the enterprise of the Thistle committee – although unsuccessful this season – will be more generously recognised, for surely a run of more unparalleled misfortune has never befallen a leading Scottish club, and I trust the League will give a generous consideration.
At any rate, in consideration of the misfortunes that have fallen on the Meadowside club, and the pecuniary sacrifices of the officials who have all along honourably met the club’s liabilities, I trust the League will retain the Thistle in the First Division.
Around the conclusion of the league season there were a number of changes in personnel as the committee perhaps started to look at moving on some of the failures. Tom Hyslop, of whom so much was expected after his transfer from Rangers, was released from his contract just a couple of days before the first round of the Scottish Cup. His form had been a huge disappointment. He was to join the Yeomanry and shipped to the Boer War for a period, before returning and restarting his football career.
Daniel Fletcher had returned to the first team during the New Year tour, replacing Wilkie in goals. The search for a centre forward continued, as it had throughout the season. Leading the forwards had been a problem position and come the end of the season thirteen players had been tried. William Reid was signed from Kilmarnock and John Spence from Partick Athletic juniors. Neither had the desired effect, although Spence’s inclusion as a local boy was met with approval from the supporters, and he scored five goals in his first two games. His success prompted the committee to offer terms to Spence’s inside left partner at Athletic, Andrew Alexander, but Alexander’s success didn’t mirror Spence’s.
Economical approaches to personnel were the order of the day. Geordie McNicoll, long-serving William McDonald and Alex Crawford, the latter was only recently secured from Dunfermline juniors, left the club because of cost.
James Chalmers was another high-profile signing that hadn’t worked out. He had joined Thistle after a fee of £40 was paid to Notts County but had played for Beith for a period prior to joining Thistle while he looked for his next club. Only a couple of months after signing, and after only six appearances, Chalmers agreed with the committee that his play had been unsatisfactory as he was released. After a spell with Preston, Thistle wanted their money back and demanded a £40 fee. Chalmers asserted that his agreement meant that he was a free agent, and also demanded his wages for the remainder of his contract. The SFA found in Chalmers favour – another failed transfer was credited to the Thistle committee.
The season continued at the conclusion of the league games and the first round of the Scottish Cup provided an intriguing tie. Wilkie, Kay and Atherton were returning to their old club as Thistle travelled to Powderhall to play Second Division leaders St Bernards. An away win might persuade the other First Division clubs that St Bernards didn’t merit a place in the top division and save Thistle from relegation. However, as the Glasgow Herald reported:
“Partick Thistle’s overwhelming defeat was the overwhelming surprise of the round, for although it was recognised that St Bernards stood the better chance of winning, no-one expected the downright runaway victory for the Powderhall team. To the friends of the Partick Thistle the score was all the more galling seeing as their football was every bit as good as the Saints up to a certain point, and to their poor show in front of and nearing goal their defeat must be put down.”
In a season of poor performances this was surely one of the poorest.
The West of Scotland League and a series of friendlies would fill Thistle’s calendar until the end of the season and the team that played the games from February until May was almost a completely different team – only Alexander Kay, Tom Harvey, Tom Gibbons and Tom Atherton played consistently from beginning to end. Still though, the poor results continued. In ten West League games only two were won and Thistle finished last in their second league campaign of the season.
Inverness Clachnacuddin (A) Friendly 3-4
Morton (H) League 1-2
St Bernards (A) Scottish Cup 0-5
Hibernians (A) League 0-2
Ayr Parkhouse (A) Friendly 3-0
St Mirren (H) League 5-3
There was one positive note. Tom Atherton had been one of the few good performers throughout the season, and he was selected for the Scottish League’s match against the Irish League at Grosvenor Park, Belfast. Although the selectors’ choices were limited because the game was to be played on the same day as the Scottish Cup third round it was still an honour for the club to have a player represent his country. Scotland won 2-1 and although Atherton didn’t score, he was a favourite with the Belfast crowd with his tricks and speed. He had lived in Belfast for 5 years before moving to Edinburgh.
At the end of the season Thistle were drawn into an international player dispute. After Peter McBride of Preston was injured in the annual Anglo-Scot international trial match in March, Preston negotiated with Thistle to take Tom Wilkie to Deepdale until McBride recovered. However, this type of temporary transfer was not allowed in the English League, and after Wilkie returned to Glasgow in April Preston were fined £5 by the Football League.
If the season had been a disaster for the committee who selected the players, it had strangely been a successful one for treasurer George Easton, despite falling attendances (the takings at game against St Mirren in April barely covered the £10 guarantee to the visitors). The club’s debt had been reduced by £162, which pointed to good management by Easton. The club had contributed positively to the finances of the game, paying £369 to clubs visiting Meadowside as their share of gates, while Thistle received just £292 from the gates at their away games.
|Members subs||£148, 16s, 6d|
|Scottish Cup tie||£26, 14s, 10d|
|Glasgow Cup ties||£184, 11s, 6d||£52, 11s, 9d|
|Scottish League at home||£1197, 9s, 5d||£369, 0s, 5d|
|Scottish League away||£292, 3s, 1d|
|Western League/friendlies home and away||£212, 1s, 9d||£44, 2s, 1d|
|Players wages||£873, 1s, 1d|
At the club’s AGM the following were elected: William Ward (President), Richie Robertson (Vice-President), George Easton (Treasurer), John Gilchrist (General Secretary), James Gilchrist (Match Secretary, 13 Crow Rd). Committee: R.Little, AM.Smith, John McColl, WR.Mitchell, John L Robertson.
The final business of the season was the AGM of the Scottish League, where the vital voting would take place the decide the size and membership of the divisions for the following season. Thistle had all but given up hoping that they would stay in the First Division. Their best opportunity was in the proposal by Dundee, Hamilton Academical and Clyde to expand the division to twelve clubs. However, there was to be no reprieve – the clubs voted to reduce numbers back to a manageable ten which meant that a team would be relegated. Hearts and St Mirren were backed to stay and Thistle were demoted to play in the Second Division. There was no promotion for the Second Division clubs.
A quick exodus began at Firhill. Alexander Kay departed for Sheffield United, but Thistle felt that the full backs that remained, William Haggart and Andrew Wilson (with Robert Campbell in reserve) would be sufficient for the Second Division. Tom Atherton signed for Dundee.
Comings and Goings
Tom Wilkie joined from St Bernards
Alexander Kay joined from St Bernards
William Haggart joined from Aston Villa
William Dunlop joined from Rangers
Tom Harvey joined from Irvine Meadow XI
Thomas Gibbons joined from Third Lanark
James Henderson joined from Annbank
Walter Fairgrieve joined from Luton
Tom Atherton joined from St Bernards
Murray joined from Forres Mechanics to play in two friendlies
James Henderson released
David Campbell released
James Bryce signed for Abercorn
James Chalmers joined from Notts County
Alex Crawford joined from Dunfermline juniors
William Dunlop moved to Annbank
John Muirhead joined from Duntocher
David Cameron joined from Rangers
James Lamont joined from Bristol Rovers
David Cameron returned to Rangers
William Reid joined from Kilmarnock for a £30 fee
James Chalmers left Partick Thistle
Tom Hyslop left Partick Thistle (and later joined the army)
William Reid joined from Kilmarnock
Geordie McNicoll left Partick Thistle (and later joined Port Glasgow Athletic)
William McDonald left Partick Thistle
Alex Crawford left Partick Thistle
John Spence joined from Partick Athletic
Andrew Alexander joined from Partick Athletic
James Lamont joined from Bedminster
Haldane joined from Paisley Academicals
Lang joined from Clydebank juniors
Law joined from Rockbank
McDonald joined from Petershill
Ferguson joined from Jordanhill
Alexander Kay moved to Sheffield United
Tom Atherton moved to Dundee
Evening Times July 1900 – June 1901
Daily Record July 1900 – June 1901
Partick & Maryhill Press July 1900 – June 1901
Scottish Sport July – Nov 2 1900
Glasgow Herald July 1900 – Jun 1901
British Newspaper Archive July 1900 – May 1901
Season by season
- Miscellaneous (16)
- Other clubs (15)
- Players (26)
- Thistle – early years (48)
- Thistle – general (5)
Football history links
- Ayr United archive
- Bill Shankly
- Falkirk Historian
- Gallant Pioneers – Early history of Rangers
- Glasgow Herald archive at Google
- Hibernian Historical Trust
- London Hearts
- Partick Thistle history archive by StuTheJag
- Rangers History
- Scottish Football Historical Archive
- Scottish Football Museum
- Scottish Sports History
- ScottishLeague.net and forum