- Financial problems at the club
- Willie Paul benefit match
- Chasing Port Glasgow all the way to the title
- League reconstruction secures promotion at the end of the season
Editorial Note: Similar problems were faced in writing this account of Thistle’s Second Division campaign as might be faced by someone in 100 years attempting to write an account of 2010-11 season. News and reports of the lower elements of the Scottish League were limited, compared to the upper division and teams.
The playing squad from the disastrous relegation campaign the previous season was dismantled quickly. Six of the regular first team left the club immediately – Alexander Kay, Daniel Fletcher, William Haggart, David Proudfoot, Tom Atherton and Tom Gibbons – as the repercussions of spending relatively big to sign players, and the corresponding poor form and poor attendances, became clear.
Last year £380 was paid in transfer fees, so that money was not spared in securing men whom the executive thought were the best procurable; and with the biggest wages bill in the club’s history, nothing but disappointment and disgust, instead of success and satisfaction, rewarded the executive for their enterprise.
A further signal of the financial problems the previous season didn’t become evident until August 1901 when William Haggart took a claim for £30 of unpaid wages to the SFA from the end of January. His contracted pay was 50 shillings a week for the season, whether he played or not. In fact, he played only one game in the second half of the season. In January the club were unable to pay the full wages bill and all players (with exception of Haggart and another un-named player) agreed to an adjusted arrangement that half of the gate money would be split between players, and the remainder would go to the club. Despite his stance, Haggart had accepted 8 shillings a week as his share of available money for several weeks and the club had assumed that he had accepted the reduced wage and did not intend holding them to contracted agreement. The SFA’s view was that Haggart was in the right and the matter was referred back to Partick Thistle and the player. Haggart reduced his claim to £10 and the club and player settled amicably.
Last season’s goalkeeper Dan Fletcher was yet to resign. The player was wanting “more spondulicks than the Second Leaguers can afford to pay,” said the Dundee Evening Post.
For the forthcoming season the committee were forced into prudent measures. The new men had failed at their previous clubs, or were signed from junior and amateur sides like Clydeside Wanderers, Irvine Meadow XI, Vale of Leven and Lanemark rather than top English and Scottish clubs, and on much lower wages.
Fifteen players have been signed on up to date, but one or two additions may yet be made. The following is the list: Goal, Wilkie; backs Campbell and A.Wilson; half-backs Harvey, Gailey (Clydeside Wanderers), and Lamont; forwards Wilson (Rangers), Kerr (Clydesdale Wanderers), Spence, Reid, Muirhead, Cousar (Irvine Meadow XI), Fairbairn (Celtic), and Conner (late Vale of even and Hearts). Walker, of Lanemark, a clever half back, has been signed as an amateur, whilst the club will also have the services, when required, of amateurs Paul and Kirkland. This is a good list, and the only difficulty to be faced is how to utilise the players to the best advantage. The left wing forwards are in the majority, but several of these, such as Reid and Muirhead, are quite capable of adapting themselves to other positions. Practice has been going on for the last two weeks, under the directions of the trainer, John Nutt, who has the playing pitch in bowling green order.
As well as practice at Meadowside the club entered five-a-side teams in the Clyde, Third Lanark and Rangers Sports Days. To start the season a friendly against St Bernards was arranged – a 1-1 draw. The Daily Record reckoned this was better attraction for the fans than the usual 1st team versus the reserve team game, but it may be that it was forced on the club due to lack of players to take part.
Willie Paul was rewarded for his 21 years service to Thistle with a benefit match against Queen’s Park, who he appeared for a number of times. Willie’s amateur status allowed him to turn out as a guest for a number of clubs, but it was as a Thistle player that he was best known. The Daily Record paid tribute:
In early days of professionalism few players were more pestered to cross the border than Paul, who was regarded at the time as one of the cleverest centre forwards playing the game. Paul’s devotion to Partick Thistle gained him many friends…always noted for his dribbling qualities and robust play.
The Athletic News, too, were keen to support his benefit match.
William Paul, of Partick Thistle, is to have a benefit. The date is August 27, and the Queen’s Park will provide the opposition. Next to John McPherson, of the Rangers, about whom there is a perennial youth, Paul, if I am not mistaken, is the oldest forward in harness. His is a most interesting career, heightened greatly by the fact that he has always remained loyal to the amateur creed, though he happens to have few of the social advantages of those with whom we usually associate that cult. Paul played either one or two seasons for the Queen’s Park when they were not too well off for a centre. Ever since the Hampden club and Paul have been the warmest friends, and when it was suggested to the former that they might give the benefit game their patronage and personal support, they readily consented. No one has done more for the Partick Thistle than Willie Paul, whose loyalty and splendid services all these year should result in a bumper gate on the 27th inst. The Queen’s will place their best team against the Thistle as a compliment to Paul, and also by way of insuring a quick and ready response on the part of the lovers of the game in Partick.
Sadly, Willie’s profile was already waning at Meadowside. He had played only six times the previous season (and wouldn’t appear in 1901-02) and a disappointing crowd of only 2000 watched a 0-2 defeat. Thistle had selection problems on the night and were forced to play two unsigned players – Smillie and Sinclair of Scottish Amateurs.
The League season started unremarkably with a 1-2 defeat to Airdrie and continued in an inconsistent manner which nevertheless saw Thistle in second place to Port Glasgow Athletic come October. The inconsistency stemmed from difficulties in deciding on a regular centre forward. In seven games five players had been tried with little success, and that had disrupted the rest of the forward line. The Daily Record reckoned “On current form Partick Thistle are as strong as any other in the Second Division and if they can get a settled forward line they should be a good look-in for championship.”
Against Port Glasgow Thistle ran a specially discounted train service from Partick to the Port for the top-of-the-table clash. If Thistle won they would go top. Half back James Lamont had been promoted to centre forward the previous week and after scoring against Abercorn he retained his place. It was James Muirhead who scored Thistle’s goal in the 1-1 draw.
James Walker, who had signed as an amateur at the start of the season, had gone pro early in the season and had become a regular at half back since the start of the season, particularly after Lamont had moved to the forward line. Thistle had also signed D.Wilson, the ex Dunfermline Juniors & Rangers outside right and had re-signed goalkeeper Daniel Fletcher for one game when Tom Wilkie was injured. Willie Howden, who would go on to play almost 250 times for Thistle, also signed, as an amateur, to give more permanent goalkeeping cover.
Wilkie had been injured against Glasgow University in the Glasgow Cup but returned for the next round against Rangers at Ibrox. Rangers were dominating the First Division but despite this the Daily Record suggested that if Thistle showed one of their “occasional flashes of brilliance” they might match the home team. This was wishful thinking and Rangers ran out 4-1 winners to end Glasgow Cup interest for the season.
Inconsistency in the League continued – home form was good and Thistle were unbeaten at Meadowside for the remainder of the year, although only one win away from home meant that they still trailed Port Glasgow.
The Second Division wasn’t much of a jovial place. Hamilton protested about Thistle’s 3-1 win being concluded in darkness, but the protest was thrown out. Thistle then protested about their players being assaulted by home supporters after a defeat at Motherwell. Motherwell’s response was to report that Thistle fans had formed themselves into “a howling mob … wanted to fight with the spectators.” The protest may have been sour grapes after another away defeat that further reduced the chances of catching Port Glasgow and Thistle later dropped their complaint.
When Thistle were 1-0 up on Clyde in November and the game was abandoned because of poor light, Thistle heaped the blame on the visitors, who had been late in arriving, and claimed the points. However, the referee said that it was doubtful that the game would have been finished had the game started at the scheduled time, and the claim was rejected.
John Spence, who had played at centre forward as often as anyone in the constantly-changing forward line was censured by the match committee for “lack of attention to training” and never played for the club again. Experiments continued in the forward line, and amateur Alexander McAllister of Bearsden was tried as defensive injuries meant that James Lamont was needed further back. William Beveridge arrived, signed from Dunfermline Athletic, but he played just one game, as did Tommy Gibbons, released at the end of the previous season and brought back for a few matches as the committee tried to find a selection that worked.
While the constant changes in the forward line frustrated players and fans alike, the defence had been strong, conceding just 17 goals in 14 games. Andy Wilson and Robert Campbell at full back, and Tom Harvey and his half back mates had been solid and had been instrumental in Thistle remaining in the chase for the Second Division championship.
A derby game against Clyde was once an attractive fixture in Glasgow but in recent years both teams had fallen from their positions as top clubs. The Daily Record painted a unpleasant picture of Thistle’s 0-1 defeat.
Winter’s bitter cold snap intensified the dreariness of Shawfield Park on Saturday. Last week’s tempest unroofed the grand stand and the old clock tower lay embedded in the ruin. The cheerless aspect of the environment, the meagre attendance and the poverty of the play had a most depressing influence on the spectator. The football evoked little or no enthusiasm and the man in the crowd seemed afraid of the sound of his own voice. Like their opponents, Partick Thistle have also fallen from their high estate and the change is also reflected in their team. Second League football does not pay the clubs. Years back the two extremes of the city would have been roused by a match between the pair. Nowadays the fixture excites little or no interest. Partick, however, has the more enthusiastic support as was evidenced by the following that followed the Thistle to Bridgeton.
Of the game, little that is flattering can be said and from what I have seen of Second Division football I am convinced that the disparity between the best of the Second Division and the worst of the senior is more marked than form would lead one to expect.
It wasn’t just in Glasgow that Second Division clubs were struggling. Just a week into the new season Leith Athletic agreed to liquidate the company and start a new club. It took just a couple of weeks for the new Leith to resume fixtures.
It seemed likely that the league would be won by either Thistle or Port Glasgow, and Port were leading at the turn of the year with a four point gap, although Thistle had a game in hand. Thistle would need to turn the tables on their rivals.
That game against the Port was the first of the new year, and would be followed by the Scottish Cup first round match against Kilmarnock. Both games would be vital to the success of the season, and Thistle cancelled their plans to play some exhibition friendlies over the holidays, as the normally would have done, to concentrate on what was being billed as a championship decider.
The biggest crowd of the season so far, including an estimated 1500 from down the Clyde, greeted Port Glasgow Athletic at Meadowside in early January. The Port were at full strength, but Thistle were missing Andy Wilson who had been involved in an accident at work. Thistle’s bare-bones squad had no full back cover and the absence disorganised the Thistle team. James Lamont, the most effective centre forward of the season, dropped back to take Wilson’s place. Alex Morton, newly signed from Cambuslang Rangers, played at inside left and William Reid played at centre forward. Thistle won the toss and played with the strong wind coming down the Clyde, dominating the first half. However, it was the away team that opened the scoring before Reid and Massie combined for Reid to equalise.
In the second half the lineup changed. Lamont went to centre forward, James Gailey to left back and Reid to centre half. Port Glasgow played well with wind and scored again. Further changes showed that Thistle were struggling in this important game. Reid now moved to left back and Gailey went back to centre half but to no avail. Port Glasgow deserved the win and would have scored more but for Willie Howden in goals. “This win gives Port Glasgow Athletic a comfortable lead and almost assures the championship,” reported the Daily Record.
With the Second Division title drifting out of reach, Thistle quickly had to focus on next week’s cup tie as a source of much-needed finance. A cup run would help make up for the poor league gates and Thistle were enthusiastic about their chances. A special train and a reduced fare was organised for the game at First Division Kilmarnock. Rumours circulated that Thomas Cochrane, the well-known Queen’s Park centre forward would guest for Thistle, but James Lamont took the role. It was a tall order to beat Kilmarnock, and the home side played their best football to win the game 4-0.
There was little left now for the season, but to chase Port Glasgow and hope they slipped up. And ironically, that’s what Thistle did. Following the Scottish Cup and league defeats they went on a run of nine victories, five in the Second Division and the rest in the Western League, scoring 30 goals and beating three First Division teams in the process. Alex McAllister was given another chance at centre forward and he took it, missing just one game in the remainder of the season. At last the team had a settled forward line, with Robert Connor and William Massie on the right and William Reid and John Muirhead on the left.
Massie in particular was impressing the critics, and was the only member of the forwards who hadn’t suffered from inconsistent selection, retaining his inside right position all season. “Massie is said to have developed into one of the best forwards PT have had for several seasons,” said the Daily Record. Rangers had spotted his potential, and requested permission to play Massie and John Muirhead against Third Lanark as a trial. Thistle had a game the same day, against St Mirren, and permission was denied.
The defence, too, remained solid, and contained some remarkable players. Willie Howden was establishing himself as club goalkeeper and would play almost 250 times, while in front Robert Campbell would also play over 200 times before moving to Bradford City and winning an FA Cup medal. His full back partner Andy Wilson was also catching the eye. “Wilson is considered by many to be the finest back in Glasgow and district this season. He has been of immense value to Partick Thistle and it is whispered that ‘ere long he will be rewarded with a benefit match,” said the Evening Times. Wilson and Campbell were known as “the old reliables”. In March Wilson was unfit again, and rather than re-jig the entire team again to replace him for one game, Thistle turned to John Gillespie, the former Scotland internationalist who had played with distinction for Queen’s Park. In front at right half was Tom Harvey who would also play over 200 times. Howden, Wilson, Campbell and Harvey were the rock that Thistle would build on for the next few years.
Tom Wilkie joined Rangers on a short-term basis after their goalkeeper Dickie was injured.
Unfortunately, Port Glasgow didn’t slip up and clinched the championship in mid February while Thistle still had three games left to play. Thistle took five points from those three games and ended the season just a point behind. It was certainly a season of two halves, and one wonders what the effect of having the settled side earlier in the season would have been. Every win in that run of victories must have frustrated the team who hadn’t taken a point from Port Glasgow in the two games. Those nine wins would mean nothing as only one team would be promoted to the top division.
|1||Port Glasgow Athletic||22||14||4||4||71||31||32|
The good league form had continued in the Western League, with wins over First Division St Mirren, Kilmarnock and Morton, and Thistle were again chasing the title with Port Glasgow Athletic. The teams met at Clune Park. “Keen antagonism exists between the teams, and they are fully aware that the abasement of one means the exaltation of the other. After a neck-and-neck race for the Second League championship the clubs are heading the West of Scotland league, with the Thistle a point in advance,” reported the Evening Times.
Almost inevitably, Thistle’s run ended at Port Glasgow. Despite scoring three, Thistle lost 3-5 as the Port hoodoo continued.
The season ended with Port Glasgow already awarded the Western League title, but the last game offered Thistle one last chance to beat their rivals in the final match of the Western League, and the last match of the season. Play was described as “over-robust” and William Reid was sent off. With nothing at stake but pride Robert Connor scored the only goal to give Thistle a win at last over Port Glasgow, albeit a meaningless one.
|1||Port Glasgow Athletic||10||7||1||2||29||17||15|
The Partick Thistle annual meeting was held on 8 April 1902.
The financial statement announced that income for the 1901-02 season had been £1400, 4s, 9d, while expenditure was £1474, 15s, 2d. The loss was explained by a disappointing season and postponements.
|Members subscriptions||£92, 0s, 6d|
|Scottish cup tie v Kilmarnock||£33, 8s, 9d|
|Glasgow Cup ties||£78, 10s, 10d|
|Scottish League matches at home||£476, 12s, 11d|
|Scottish League matches away||£129, 5s, 4d|
|Western League and friendlies home and away||£203, 0s, 2d|
|Transfer of players||£135|
|Players wages||£611, 15s, 6d|
|To Scottish League clubs for matches at Meadowside||£152, 2s, 0d|
|To Cameronians for Glasgow Cup tie at Meadowside||£10, 7s, 11d|
|To clubs for Western League/friendlies at Meadowside||£93, 11s, 4d|
The biggest gate of the season at Meadowside was for the game against fellow title challengers Port Glasgow Athletic in January – a game that was described as the title decider seven games before the end of the season. However, that attendance was not reported in the newspapers.
The meeting was described by the Daily Record as “… of the most harmonious nature. All the old officials were re-elected which was a very wise proceding considering how capably matters have been managed this season at Meadowside.”
The Evening Times reported that the important business of the evening – a proposal to form the club into a limited liability company – wasn’t entertained by the members.
The following office bearers were elected:
President William Ward
Vice-President: Ritchie Robertson
Hon. Treasurer: George Easton
Hon. Secretary: John Gilchrist
Match Secretary: Robert Little, 48 Hayburn St, Partick
Committee: W.Reid, W.L.Kirkwood, AM.Smith, James Gilchrist, John McColl.
Although interest in the close of Thistle’s season had been nominal, Meadowside had been selected as venue for the Junior Cup semis and final.
The biggest gate of the season at Meadowside – 6000 – saw Maryhill beat Dunipace 3-0 to reach the final against Glencairn at the end of April. Although both Celtic and Rangers had games in Glasgow, the crowd at Meadowside was the biggest in Scotland on final day. With 30 minutes to kick-off Meadowside was “besieged as it has never been before.” All gates were open but they were insufficient for the crowd. Kick-off was delayed 30 minutes to let the 12000 crowd in. £269, 17, 9 + £16 in stand was taken at the gate. The Thistle treasurer would have been delighted that the game ended in a 2-2 draw – he would have received a share of the gate as rental for the ground.
The replay saw an even bigger crowd – 15000 – as Glencairn eventually won 1-0.
Off the playing field President Ward and Secretary Reid had been lobbying First Division clubs with the suggestion that the top division would benefit from being extended to twelve clubs, and at the Scottish League meeting in May the proposal to increase the number of clubs was unanimously passed. Thistle were chosen, along with Port Glasgow, from a number of applications to join the elite clubs in August.
Rather than sign lots of high-profile replacements the committee focused on re-signing the important players who had won promotion before the players took their summer holidays. The backs and half backs signed en-bloc, as did goalie Tom Wilkie, but the forwards were slow to re-sign.
The juniors were again a source of new talent, and John Polland (Craigbank Thistle), Matthew Duncanson (Duntocher Hibs) and James Baird (Benburb) signed for the new season. There was one high-profile signing, though. Fans favourite Robert Gray, who had left Thistle for Everton in 1899, returned to the club.
Since joining the Scottish League Thistle had been a yo-yo club, spending four years in the First Division and five in the Second, winning promotion three times. However, if the club had ambitions to be one of the top clubs in the country they needed to consistently stay in the top division where they could generate income from games against the elite. Although there was considerable work still to be done to prepare for the challenge of the First Division, there was confidence and excitement at Meadowside for the season ahead.
Season by season