1902-03

  • The most successful season yet
  • Partick Thistle become a Limited Company

View season’s statistics

August 1902 saw the Partick Thistle players preparing for another stab at establishing the club in the First Division following success the previous season – runners-up to Port Glasgow Athletic. Traditionally, this would not have been enough for promotion – normally the winners of the Second Division had to be invited to join the First, but expansion of the league meant that Thistle were also promoted along with Port Glasgow. No relegation meant that the division expanded to twelve clubs. Clyde, Abercorn, Raith Rovers and Falkirk were elected to make up the numbers in the Second Division.

Since joining the Scottish League in 1893 Thistle had been a yo-yo club, spending four years in the First Division and five in the Second, winning promotion three times. 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.

However, the club were determined not to overspend in the way that they did in their last season in the First, in 1900. That year the £360 (£38,400 in 2012’s money) spent on players who didn’t deliver results was a mistake, and the club was relegated with a big dent in their finances.

They have been modest about their team, and the players engaged are, with the exception of Gray, who comes back again from Everton, either last season’s men, or juniors. How this works out remains to be seen. [Dundee Evening Telegraph 11/8]

There will not be many changes to last season, and no expensive transfer fees have been incurred, as was the case when last promoted, on which occasion £360 was expended on players, 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. This year a quite different plan has been followed, and the committee has worked hard to get a strong team compatible with a due regard to economy. A.McAllister is a certain starter and he will have two capital understudies in Kennedy (Ayr) and Duncanson (Duntocher Hibs). The playing pitch has received due attention, and the terracing on the south side of the enclosure has been largely increased.  [Evening Times  9/8]

In addition to Sam Kennedy and Matt Duncanson, Thistle had also signed former player Robert Gray from Everton, left-back John Polland from Craigbank Thistle in Ayrshire and Walter James Baird, reportedly a “crack outside right” from Benburb.

Thistle (and Celtic) were both reported to be keen to sign Graham of Rangers who was released, but then re-signed by the Ibrox club.

Robert Campbell

Robert Campbell

Of last season’s players Tom Wilkie, Robert Campbell, Andrew Wilson, Tom Harvey, James Gailey, David Walker, Alex Morton, William Massie, Robert Connor and John Muirhead have been retained – the core of the team who had been promoted. Campbell had been interesting Middlesbrough.

The following amateurs had also announced their intentions to play for the club if required: Alex McAllister, Walter Lindsay, John Gillespie, William Howden, John Spence, John Law, and the veteran Willie Paul. Paul had been listed as “ex-Partick Thistle” in the line-up for an Ibrox disaster benefit match at Meadowside in the close season but had been persuaded to make himself available once again.

A good start to the season would be a boost to the chances of a successful season, and the Daily Record reported that Thistle would be making “a big effort … to celebrate the club’s return to the First League with a win over the Ayrshire champions”. A defeat against Kilmarnock at Meadowside, however, would make survival difficult.

Thistle had to line up without Andrew Wilson at left-back, who was suspended for a month after using abusive language to the referee in a friendly the previous season. Newcomer Polland took his place. The Thistle fans witnessed a new look forward line. Duncanson, Kennedy and Gray made their debuts, and McAllister lined up in a unfamiliar outside left position. Only William Massie remained in position from the last league game of last season.

The players looked like strangers in the first half, at sixes and sevens, while Kilmarnock took a one goal lead to the break. It could have been a wider margin. Tom Wilkie kept the visitors at bay. However, in the second half Thistle were much better, “the judicious placing of the half backs and dashing combined work of the forwards soon brought the opening goal, Kennedy shooting the ball past Craig. A few minutes later Massie gave his side the lead, the cheering which greeted this being quite of the cup-tie order.”

Matt Duncanson’s debut was regarded a “success and if he can keep up this form his place should be assured. Polland looked nervous on his debut but once settled played well. He gave the impression of a lad that will come considerably. Partick Thistle experimented with McAllister at outside left but his play emphasised again that he is no use on the wing. However, Thistle have a useful reserve centre forward in this amateur,” said the Daily Record.

The opening league game was quickly followed up with a friendly against Third Lanark. The Thistle team was made up of players who didn’t face Kilmarnock and a sprinkling of juniors on trial. The easy 4-0 win spoke volumes for Thistle’s strength in reserve, reckoned the Daily Record. “The Thistle fairly revelled in the ‘rubbing in’ process, which it must be admitted they administered with marked success.” The crowd was also impressive – 1500 for effectively a bounce game.

The football community had come together in April 1902 after a disaster at Ibrox saw 25 Scotland fans die during a match against England. In August a benefit tournament was instigated, “the proceeds (of the final) go to assist the Rangers out of their difficulties”. Rangers had “extra financial obligations resulting from the disaster” and £900 was raised. Thistle beat Queen’s Park at Ibrox in the first round before losing to Celtic on corners.

Thistle returned to Ibrox a few days later for a league game against Scottish champions Rangers, and while the newly promoted challengers weren’t expected to win, the 0-9 defeat was unexpected given Thistle’s good start to the season. Thistle were very poor, and the unfortunate William Gray, newly signed from Inverness Thistle, was singled out. Tom Harvey was the only player who came out of the game with any credit.

An unremarkable 1-1 home draw with Morton ended August. Partick Athletic’s David Forsyth, who had played well against Celtic, again played, alongside Robert Campbell at full-back. Campbell, one of a few Thistle players injured during the game, had to play with both arms bandaged for most of the game.

Robert Connor was also injured against Morton, and he was unavailable for the next game, against Dundee at home. Dundee had started the season well: top of the league, unbeaten in three games and no goals conceded, but the first half was even. The visitors eventually opened the scoring from a corner at which Tom Wilkie injured his knee and had to leave the pitch. Matt Duncanson replaced him and the Thistle defence played well, keeping the Dundee forwards out until the last few minutes, when they scored again. The attendance, at least, was pleasing – £175 was taken at the gate.

The increased attendances, allied with the prudent spending on new players, meant that the treasurer’s report at the quarterly members’ meeting showed the club to be in a good financial position.  The club had started the season with £600 of debt, £400 of which had been wiped off after 5 weeks of the season.

Mr W.Reid resigned from committee due to pressure of work. Reid had been responsible for the design of Meadowside when it opened in 1897. He was replaced by John Waddell, a member of the local Minerva club.

Thistle had drawn Normal Athletic in the Glasgow Cup. Athletic were a team made up of teachers and trainee teachers from the Normal School in Cowcaddens and were not expected to give Thistle a big challenge. The game was drawn as a home game for Athletic at Glasgow Green, but they quickly negotiated a switch of ground and likely a bigger gate. The forward line got a shake-up and Baird of Benburb played at outside right. Tom Wilkie and Robert Campbell, both injured in recent games, were replaced by Willie Howden and David Forsyth. Thistle won comfortably 3-0.

Wilkie’s absence was particularly concerning in view of his brilliant form, but his replacement, Howden, had been fancied to start the season as the first choice goalie, and was expected to be a more than adequate replacement.

Andy Wilson’s season had begun on the sidelines with a month’s suspension, but he had been keeping himself in good condition and was available for the trip to Port Glasgow to play last season’s rivals Port Glasgow Athletic. There was a lot of interest in the game and tickets for the special train to leave from Partick Central for the port were in great demand.

The Daily Record described Thistle’s 3-0 win as the ‘Surprise of the Day’, but given Thistle’s reasonable start to the season and Athletic’s position at the bottom of the league table perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Wilson’s presence may have given his forwards confidence in their defence (although both Wilson and Campbell had to leave the field for treatment but were able to carry on) as the team started steadily before at the start of the second half “some sensational play on the part of the visitors who rattled off three goals in the space of ten minutes.” The result, reported the Record, was “… fully merited on play and was not the result of abnormal luck”. Sam Kennedy was hero of the day – his best performance since signing was capped with two goals.

Kennedy was regularly identified as one of the main reasons for Thistle’s impressive form, (along with the ability to field a settled team) becoming known for his “battering ram bursts” through opposition defences and his combination with Robert Gray who was responsible for the passes that allowed Sam to terrorise opposition defences. “The marked improvement of their forwards has restored the Thistle to the good graces of the Partick folks. Howden has the confidence of his team mates and with Wilson and Campbell in front there is no cause for anxiety”, reported the Daily Record at the end of September.

Kennedy almost scored his fifth goal in the last minute of the following game, against Hearts at Meadowside. Sam broke through the Hearts defence and only had the goalkeeper to beat, when Buick “dropped to the ground”. “The Thistle people, not bad sportsmen, were chagrined, not only at losing the goal, but at the trick employed by the player”, said the Record. Robert Connor had started the scoring with a goal in the first minute, the fourth time since the start of the season that Thistle had scored in the first minute. The game ended 2-2 and kept Thistle in seventh place.

A 1-1 draw against Third Lanark in the league was followed by the semi-final of the Glasgow Cup against the same team. Thistle had the best of the league match and were confident of beating Thirds. The game was described as “one of most important events to take place in Partick district for some years” and Thistle were the better team in the first half but when the visitors opened the  scoring Thistle collapsed, lost all confidence and in the place of bright and plucky play, were listless in the extreme. The game ended 0-3.

Tom Harvey was having a good season, and he was selected for the Glasgow team who travelled to play at Owlerton in Sheffield against a city select. Glasgow won 2-0 and Harvey was partnered by the veteran Barney Battles. Battles was enthusiastic over Tom’s display who “played a remarkably good game, keeping the ball well down when he passed, and always heading excellently.” One Sheffield newspaper announced that both Sheffield teams were interested in signing Harvey.

Come the end of October Thistle had averaged a point a game – a much better return than in their disastrous last First Division season in 1900-01. The Record warned Thistle that they would struggle to keep the average in November as they were to face Hibs, Rangers, Celtic and Hearts during the month.

The Record’s concern was well-founded, with defeats at the hands of Rangers (“perpetuating their almost historic superiority,” said Athletic News), Celtic and Hearts. It wasn’t all doom and gloom in November though. A 4-2 home win over Queen’s Park was recorded (and a hat-trick in 18 minutes for Conner), and a creditable performance in the first game of the month at Easter Road which raised hopes for the remainder of the month and suggested that the team performed better away from home.

Thistle were reckoned to be the better team in the game, as Sam Kennedy scored twice before half time to cancel an early Hibs goal. In the second half Thistle had two further goals disallowed while Hibs scored one that counted, and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

Partick Thistle were so uniformly good that to particularise would not be proper. However, Campbell, not only on account of his fine kicking and fearless tackling, was liked for the cheerful way he went about his work.

It was the gladsome experience of the Partick Thistle officials to hear higher encomiums passed upon their team at Easter Road than perhaps in any match this season. In the grand stand, the private stand, the committee room, and no doubt forth of those shady retreats, the people formed but one opinion of Partick Thistle – that they are the most under-rated team in the League.

The men from Meadowside had plenty of weight, which they used freely and at all times legitimately as to earn an early and most wholesome respect from the lighter Hibs; their football was vigorous, robust, and thoroughly class, and one left with the conviction that long before the end of the season, by which time they will have gained, it may be hoped, some more encouraging experiences such as Saturday’s, they will have to be reckoned with.” [Daily Record]

Despite a couple of poor results in early December the Daily Record’s mid-season review was positive.

“The performances of the Partick Thistle this season have given unbounded satisfaction locally. The success of the team is reflected by the remarkably good attendances at Meadowside, and it is encouraging to hear that the Thistle have never had as good a financial year in the history of the club.”

Tom Wilkie had been in great form at the start of the season, and he had returned to the side in November after Willie Howden was involved in an accident at work. However, Wilkie’s return coincided with a run of defeats – five and 19 goals conceded in seven games.  Luckily, the poor results of the teams below them ensured that Thistle remained in mid-table and away from the relegation zone despite those poor results.

As Howden returned to fitness he guested for Rangers in a New Year 3-1 win against Newcastle United.

Four points gained against Port Glasgow Athletic and St Mirren in early January ensured continued First Division football the following season and made it mathematically impossible for Thistle to end the season in the bottom three which would have meant re-applying for First Division membership again.

P Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Hibernian 22 16 5 1 48 18 30 37
2 Dundee 22 13 5 4 31 12 19 31
3 Rangers 22 12 5 5 56 24 32 29
4 Hearts 22 11 6 5 46 27 19 28
5 Celtic 22 8 10 4 36 30 6 26
6 St. Mirren 22 7 8 7 39 40 -1 22
7 Third Lanark 22 8 5 9 34 27 7 21
8 Partick Thistle 22 6 7 9 34 50 -16 19
9 Kilmarnock 22 6 4 12 24 43 -11 16
10 Queen’s Park 22 5 5 12 33 48 -15 15
11 Port Glasgow Athletic 22 3 5 14 26 49 -23 11
12 Morton 22 2 5 15 22 55 -33 9

 

In January Thistle had another go at progressing through the Scottish Cup. In previous seasons Thistle had struggled to make an impression on the Cup but the first round draw was kind, and a comfortable 4-0 win over Vale of Leven was achieved. In the second round Thistle faced Qualifying Cup winners Motherwell who were having a good season, but were dispatched 2-0. The game at Fir Park attracted a record gate for a Motherwell match at the ground.

The quarter finals were the furthest Thistle had progressed in the competition, and they received another kind draw – non-league Stenhousemuir, who had been beaten by Motherwell in the Qualifying Cup final earlier in the season. A semi-final against either Celtic or Rangers, and a bumper purse, waited for the winners. The draw was kind in theory, but at Ochilview the home team triumphed 3-0 to set up a semi-final with Rangers, while Thistle’s interest in the competition ended disappointingly. It was a bitter disappointment; ex Thistle player Law scoring added to the frustration.

Generally speaking, though, it had been a successful season for Thistle. Eighth in the league was creditable for a newly-promoted team, particularly as their co-promotees, Port Glasgow, finished eleventh. Willie Howden and Sam Kennedy had established themselves in a settled team which would be the backbone of the team for years to come. Robert Campbell had also had a good season, and in February was selected to play for the Scottish League side against the Irish League.

It was a weakened Scottish team which was missing Celtic, Hearts and Rangers players, as their clubs refused to release them. The clubs were still involved in the Scottish Cup and deemed progress more important than international recognition. Thus Campbell missed Thistle’s ill-fated Scottish Cup exit to Stenhousemuir to represent his country. Who knows whether the influential defender could have affected the Cup result? The international result was scarcely better – a 0-1 defeat at Grosvenor Park, Belfast.

A problem in past seasons had been arranging enough games once the league season ended in January, particularly given the normal early exit in the Scottish Cup. Local league competitions were arranged to fill the void, such as the Western League, which were glorified friendlies. However, Thistle’s improving reputation meant that they were invited to join the Inter-City League which the top clubs had been playing in since 1899.

Competition was tough but home wins over both Celtic and Rangers helped Thistle finish the competitive season creditably in early May.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Pts

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Heart of Midlothian

St Mirren

Third Lanark

Rangers

Hibernian

Dundee

Partick Thistle

Celtic

Queen’s Park

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

5

4

4

3

3

2

2

1

1

2

3

3

3

3

3

2

3

0

1

1

1

2

2

3

4

4

7

19

11

8

17

9

11

7

7

11

9

4

3

15

10

10

16

16

23

12

11

11

9

9

7

6

5

2

 

belshill

From the Bellshill Speaker

As a testament to the respect that the football community now had for Thistle’s performances the club was asked to play a number of benefit matches to raise money for worthy causes  (although raising money for a Masonic lodge raises eyebrows in the 21st century). The Partick & Whiteinch Masonic Lodges (against a Scottish Amateur XI), the Belshill Town Brass Band (advertised as being against an International Junior team but actually a Lanarkshire Junior select), Milngave FC and the Partick Nurses Benevolent Fund (against Rangers) benefited from games involving Thistle teams of varying strengths.

Since the Scottish League was instigated in 1890 with one division of ten teams, the structure of the competition had been changed five times to accommodate the desires and favoured clubs of the top teams. In 1903 the make-up of the division changed again, increasing to 14 clubs.

The first proposal to be passed was that there would be no clubs relegated. Thistle would have been safe from any relegation vote, having finished eighth of twelve clubs, the first time they had ended as season outwith the ‘relegation zone’. Queen’s Park, Morton and Port Glasgow were also saved the unpleasant task of having to re-apply for membership.

Aberdeen had friends in high places, and lobbying began to include them in the top division, despite their only having been founded in 1903, but it was Motherwell and Airdrie that were invited to join from the Second Division.

1902-03 had been a successful season for Thistle – the best in the club’s history with income of £3461 (triple last season), the £600 debt at start of season wiped out and a surplus generated. The wages bill was £824. The committee were looking to the future and felt that the football-club-as-members-organisation model was outdated. The club AGM would receive a proposal to convert the club to a Limited Company with capital of £2000.

At the Partick Thistle AGM the limited liability scheme did not meet with the opposition anticipated, and the proposal was carried unanimously. The capital has been fixed at £2000, in £1 shares. Members will receive one £1 share, fully paid up, which makes them eligible for the directorate, entitled to vote, and they also have the option of ground and stand ticket at 7s 6d per annum. All other shareholders must hold £10 worth of shares before being eligible for the directorate. The present officials, with five additional members of committee, were re-elected until the formation of the company.

Becoming a Limited Company was commonplace in 1903. Three other First Division clubs also took the same step of moving from what was effectively a members’ club with subscriptions being paid to fund the club to a more business-like structure. Partick Thistle had grown from being a local club set up by young men who wanted to play football, to a business attracting thousands of spectators, requiring facilities to accommodate the crowds.

The terrible incident at Ibrox the previous year when 25 people died and many more were injured no doubt worried many club members and the opportunity to protect members from the liabilities of wages, ground development and personal injury may well have been a factor why Partick Thistle became a limited company.

The change from members’ club to business didn’t immediately encourage entrepreneurs – local men looking to ‘own’ a football club. Partick Thistle shares were purchased by the same members and committee men who had been running the club for years.

The committee and office bearers of 1902-03 were elected as the first board of directors of The Partick Thistle Football Club Limited.

The ordinary fans – those who had bought a share and those who hadn’t – could be forgiven for wondering if the changes would make any difference on the pitch. The club had finished the season as the eighth best team in the country – the best performance in the club’s history.

Could further improvements be made in 1903-04?

Wilkie, Campbell, Wilson, Harvey, Gailey, Walker, William and Robert Gray, Crawford, Muirhead, Kennedy, Connor and Hastie had re-signed by the end of April – almost the entire team. Efforts were being made to sign up promising youngsters and juniors for the reserve team.

However, only time would tell.

 

Player news

Pre-season

Robert Campbell was wanted by Middlesbrough.

John Spence was re-instated to non-professional status and he will assist as amateur when needed.

Graham, just released by Rangers, was a signing target, but re-signed for Rangers.

John Polland, a full-back, of Craigbank Thistle in Ayrshire is signed.

Robert Gray, once of Lenzie and Partick Thistle, signed from Everton. Everton write to Thistle about Gray’s signing – they are unhappy. However, no reason was given in the newspapers, and Gray didn’t appear on Everton’s signed list in June 1902.

Falkirk sign William Goudie.

Matthew Duncanson, centre-forward, is signed from Duntocher Hibs.

James Baird, crack outside-right, is signed from Benburb.

Daniel Fletcher appealed to the Scottish League to have the transfer fee placed on him by Partick Thistle reduced. His appeal was rejected.

Tom Hyslop, ex Thistle forward, was reported as having been killed in the Boer War. He went out to South Africa with the Scottish Imperial Yeomanry in 1901. However, he watched Rangers play Hibs the following week.

William Gray, a half-back, signs from Inverness Thistle.

September

Tom Hyslop signs for Dundee Wanderers.

October

Rumours circulated that James Gailey will move to an English club. Thistle deny the rumour – no intention of losing players.

Dan Fletcher plays a game for Motherwell .

Alex McAllister has agreed to return to play for Bearsden Rugby Club. “He was unable to maintain the good form that he began with, and did not shine as a wing player. Kennedy took his place.”

December

John Hastie, an outside left, signs from from Carluke Milton Rovers

Alex Crawford, the ex Clyde outside right, and the owner of a drapery business in Glasgow is signed from Celtic.

January

Arthurlie sign David Forsyth from Thistle.

March

Blackburn were reported to be watching Thsitle players.

Kerr of Cambuslang Rangers played against Queen’s Park.

April

“Maughan of Duntocher Hibs, who helped Thistle against Rangers, has signed.” (This appearance is attributed to Murdoch in the 2002 book). The Glasgow Herald’s team in the match report included “Wilson” (in inverted commas – understood this was a false name to protect the unsigned player) at left back and Murdoch at centre half.

“Hugh Murdoch (Rob Roy) played a great game for Partick Thistle against Rangers on Saturday and is reported to have signed on at the close. Mochan (Duntocher Hibs), who also played for the Thistle, is also reported to have been signed on.” [Kilsyth Chronicle – Friday 10 April 1903]

May

Graham (Rockbank), Wilson (Petershill) and Wills (Cleland Rangers) played in a friendly against Rangers for the Partick Nurses Benevolent Fund.

Thistle signed Horn of Yoker Athletic (a half back who had played in the junior international) as an amateur.

June

Joe Leiper, ex of Partick Minerva, Derby, Grimsby & Chesterfield, and Partick Thistle in the early 1890s signed for the club.


View season’s statistics

 

References/Sources

Evening Times Jul – Jun 1903
Daily Record Jul – Jun 1903
Glasgow Herald Aug 1902 – Jun 1903 (match reports/team lines but no news)
Partick & Maryhill Press Jul 1902 – Apr 1903 (no football content in 1902)
British Newspaper Archive Aug 1902 – May 1903
http://scottish-football-historical-archive.com
http://scottishleague.net
http://www.statto.com
http://paulrobertlloyd.com

 

 

 

 

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