willie paulThis article was first introduced via the WeAreThistle fans forum on 31st January 2016 and was concluded there on Thistle’s 140th “birthday”, 19th February 2016. Some notes and statistics were revised for Partick Thistle Early Years in November 2016. Thanks largely to newly researched information from fellow Thistle historians Jack Little, William Sheridan and Stuart Deans, I’m delighted to make this re-presentation in November, 2017.

My thanks to author William Sheridan for allowing me to publish it here.

A foreword

From what little we know of them, we can tell there were some great loyal men who played big roles in helping to establish and develop the Partick Thistle Football Club.

We might consider Andrew Duff, perhaps the first Thistle maverick. Regarded as one of the best ‘keepers in the land, but would just as soon play centre forward as the fancy took him. We should certainly acknowledge John Hendry, a back of some mettle who gave a decade and a half of service from the late 1870s. Both of these players led Thistle to their first Cup success in 1879. And how about the versatile powerhouse Bob Robertson, 10 years of service from 1883, and almost certainly through the 200 appearances barrier? Not only did these aforementioned Corinthians render their services for free on the field, they did likewise by taking up various roles on the committee.

Respect is due to all of these men (and others), but when we gaze back through the mists of time, there’s one name which positively towers above them all, for many different reasons, in Partick Thistle’s 19th century story. That man is Willie Paul – Thistle’s first-ever internationalist.

Writing in the “Legends” book in 2007, Niall Kennedy wrote of Willie: “We know he played in at least 396 games for the club scoring at least 186 goals, but in reality almost certainly more than 200.”

He certainly got that right. With more and more old press becoming digitized, some of history’s best-kept secrets are slowly starting to reveal themselves. Those of you who follow my statto meanderings will know that, early in 2015, I was demonstrably able to show Niall’s forecast to be true. By my current reckoning (and you should know it remains an ever-restless figure) Willie Paul now sits on 228 legitimate goals (I don’t include abandonments or voided matches).

We Thistle fans can make a special toast on February 19th – for want of an actual date of birth it will be our adopted birthday; the 140th anniversary of our first-ever reported match.

What better time, therefore, to celebrate Willie’s phenomenal career / scoring record as a Partick Thistle player? As we lead up to our “birthday” celebration, I will be taking a look back at the life and times of Willie Paul – the ups, the downs, and even more ups!

Serialised by season to give you a chance to, hopefully, enjoy the Willie Paul story properly. I know that dusty old tales from more than 100 years ago are not everyone’s cup of Bovril, but I promise I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will join me in the waving of hats, handkerchiefs, umbrellas and what-not in a manner befitting Partick Thistle’s first double centurion…

The Stats: Might Willie Paul be THEE All-Time highest Thistle scorer?

Note: In keeping with the make-up of the friendly-heavy nature of the fixture card in Willie’s era, I will refer here in this section to “all-games” totals i.e. competitive and friendly matches combined.

Over the course of his 17 active seasons he scored in (at least) 154 different matches with (at least) 228 goals in (at least) 412 appearances.

I say at least. There are an incredible 467 goals unaccredited during the 17 seasons in which Willie Paul was active in the first team, i.e. between 1884-85 and 1900-01.

Compare that with our known all-time top goal-scorer, Willie Sharp, whose first team activity stretches 18 seasons between 1939-40 and 1956-57. Each and every goal is accounted for in Sharp’s era, friendlies and all.

By my reckoning, Willie Paul is now on 228 – and rising. Willie Sharp is on 238 – and static.

The All-Time Top 12 Goalscorers

Goals Total – Player (first goal to last goal) [competitive + friendly]

238 – Willie Sharp (26.09.1939 to 10.11.1956) [227 + 11]
228 – Willie Paul (31.01.1885 to 15.09.1900) [127 + 101]
131 – George Smith (21.08.1954 to 30.09.1963) [125 + 6]
122 – Jimmy Walker (26.04.1947 to 21.11.1953) [118 + 4]
115 – John Torbet (29.09.1924 to 22.04.1933) [109 + 6]
114 – Kris Doolan (24.01.2009 to 19.09.2017) [108 + 6]
114 – Peter McKennan (04.09.1935 to 25.10.1947) [112 + 2]
111 – Davie McParland (06.03.1954 to 04.11.1967) [107 + 4]
106 – Willie Newall (16.09.1939 to 03.03.1945) [101 + 5]
100 – Dougie Somner (14.12.1974 to 07.05.1979) [83 + 17]
100 – John Wallace (09.05.1936 to 17.11.1945) [97 + 3]
100 – Sandy Hair (01.09.1923 to 20.10.1928) [97 + 3]

Note: The above is compiled to the very best of my current knowledge (11 October 2017) and I retain at all times an open-minded policy of applying improved information.

Putting a bit of logic to it, Willie Paul bagged 228 out of 1313 known goals for his 17 season period (17.4% of Thistle’s goals). It would be OTT to speculate that he may have 17.4% of those 467 missing goals (that would give him another 81!) as he may only have appeared in around half of the games in question. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that he may yet have another 20 to 25 or so to add to his tally. This would actually place him as THEE all-time highest Thistle scorer. Will this ever be ably demonstrated? Who knows – I wouldn’t rule it out. The answers may yet lie undiscovered on some old Microfilm fiche, or in some dusty old annuals. Time will tell.

What can be told from the information currently known is that Willie Paul was our “All Games” Top or Joint-Top Scorer in NINE different seasons; 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89, 1889-90, 1892-93, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98 and 1898-99. This alone stands him apart from any player in Partick Thistle’s history. Sam Kennedy and Kris Doolan (so far) achieved this feat on FIVE occasions, whilst Willie Sharp, Jimmy Bone, and Dougie Somner were “All Games” Top Scorers in FOUR seasons each.


The major stats highlights of Willie’s career

  • Became Thistle’s first internationalist in 1888.
  • Scored FOUR goals for Scotland in one game in 1890 – a feat which still stands jointly as a national record, almost 130 years later.
  • Was overall top scorer in NINE different seasons, a feat matched by no other player in Thistle’s history.
  • Became the first Thistle player to break through the TWO HUNDRED GOALS barrier – only Willie Sharp has matched this.
  • Scored THIRTEEN hat-tricks – only Willie Sharp (15) went further.
  • Scored in SIXTEEN different seasons – only Willie Sharp (18) went further.
  • Appeared in SEVENTEEN different seasons – only Willie Sharp (18) and Jackie Campbell (19) went further.

As we can see purely from his stats, Willie’s achievements at Partick Thistle were exceptional enough for any man in any era, but given that he grafted for his money down the dockyards and played fitba’ for no financial reward in his spare time, they could more fairly be described as phenomenal.

Quite simply, Willie Paul powered his way into becoming the first Partick Thistle giant in the best possible way – by sticking the ball in the back of the net.

10 Years BT (Before Thistle)

David Paul (a joiner to trade) and his wife Margaret hailed from the Lesmahagow area, and were married in Lanark in 1863. By the mid-1860s, presumably on the account of work, they had set up home in the rapidly expanding des-res that was Partick at that time. Janet was their first-born in 1865 – she’d be the first of TEN young Paul’s, a figure which wasn’t quite as ridiculous then as it seems now.

In that era, home births were the norm rather than the exception, and the next arrival at the family home would prove to be a significant one in the famous story of the Partick Thistle Football Club.

On the 7th February 1866 at 2 Merkland Street, Janet became a big sister when William Paul entered the world. Little could David and Margaret have known what a huge impact that young boy would have…

It was during his school years when he developed a strong passion for the fitba’ and “he spent the spring-time of his youth in hunting the leather”. His appetite for the beautiful game would stay with him throughout his entire life.

By the time William was 15, the family were living at 17, Cross Street, Govan, and had fairly blossomed; by now, the gangly teenager with the big feet was competing for sleeping space with 4 sisters and 2 brothers – Janet (16), Margaret (11), Elizabeth (9), David (6), Isabella (3) and James (1). Attentive Thistle history boffins will note there were two future Jags in that one household!

By this time, faither of the house, David, was running his own small building and repairs company, and it was only natural that young Willie came on-board from an early age; by 15 he was serving his apprenticeship as a house-joiner.

For recreation, the young man, together some of his old school pals, decided to form their own team. As the Scottish Referee would later report: “In the revelry of their young imagination they styled this embryo Queen’s Park The Elm.” We get a good sense that the Partick Elm were a useful lot; often the team’s results would be posted in the prominent local newspapers.

By 1883, the family were living at 5, Beaconsfield Street, Partick. There was to be a blow for the Paul household in September of that year when Isabella contracted Scarlet Fever and lost her young life, aged just 5. Wee lamb. x

Life wasn’t easy in the 1880s – folks had to work harder to survive, and life itself was much more of a fragile proposition, especially within the working class.

Willie certainly seems to have been a grafter – he worked all of his days and, unlike his father, never knew the simple joys of retirement. Clearly as handy with his hands as he was with his head and feet, Willie’s skillset developed and he became a shipwright to trade.

For some 20 years, Willie’s life was a juggling act, his time split between plying his trade in the dockyards, performing as a high-profile footballer of international renown, and his private life as a family man. He and his wife Jeanie raised three of their own; Jessie, Margaret and William.

I wonder if it ever crossed his mind during his busy life how his achievements might stack up more than 100 years down the line?

Willie arrives at Muir Park

When you read and learn about Willie, it’s hard to conclude that he was anything other than a Thistle supporter who had the added bonus of being able to pull on the jersey on any given Saturday. His club loyalty was exceptional for the time, and it’s well reported that he turned down many lucrative offers from clubs North and South of the border. His finances secure by the joinery, he remained as an amateur throughout his footballing days and seems to have nobly resisted the lure of the professional game in keeping with the Corinthian spirit of his Victorian age. When his playing career was over he maintained an involvement with the club and when that was over he was at the matches cheering on the team.

He became a real local hero, much loved by the Partick Thistle fans, but his fame stretched far and wide, beyond Scotland and around the British Isles. Down South and up North, local newspaper reports of the 19th century would invariably refer to the out of town visiting team as “the strangers” often never referring to individuals at all. Willie Paul was the stand out in many instances, with typical reports making exceptional mentions such as “the well-known internationalist, Paul” or “star player, Wm. Paul”.

So how did it all start for Willie and Thistle?

The Partick Elm, formed by Willie and his pals circa 1881, seemed to be going from strength to strength. On 5th April 1884, one result in particular stood out – a 2-1 win over Burnbank in the Partick Junior Cup semi-final played at Jordanvale, less than a year earlier the home of the burgh’s best club, Partick Thistle. We don’t know for sure if the 17-year-old Willie Paul was playing that day, but it seems very likely.

His reputation grew in line with his footballing ability, and it was only natural that he would get a try with the Thistle. His former Elm teammate, Bob Robertson, had joined the club in September, 1883, and would, undoubtedly, have played some part in the communications between Willie and the Thistle officials. I also have no doubt that Willie would have been harbouring ambitions to join up again with Bob, and to test himself on the bigger platform.

As we now know, Partick Thistle were the lucky ones; Bob and Willie both turned out to be great servants.

From Willie’s point of view, he was joining the best team in the burgh, a team with a growing reputation amongst commentators. They had a timber pavilion at Muir Park, where you could get changed in a reasonable degree of comfort. The ground was roped, and there were hundreds of loyal supporters who came to see them play. This was a chance to get his name in the papers!

Reportedly 6’2, it’s hard not to imagine him as a gangly teenager when he arrives at Muir Park from Partick Elm in 1884. Furthermore, it’s commonly reported that he was a bit of a mazy dribbler. Painting a mental picture, I rather like to think of him as a bit of a Denis McQuade type stylistically, but perhaps a little stronger physically.

It’s fair to say, the Thistle of Partick landed themselves a gem when Willie Paul joined the ranks. From Willie’s point of view, he was joining the best team in the burgh, a team with a growing reputation amongst commentators. They had a timber pavilion where you got changed in a reasonable degree of comfort. The ground was roped, and there were hundreds of loyal supporters who came to see them play. This was a chance to get his name in the papers!

In 1884, whether anyone knew it or not, one of the burgh’s, and indeed Scotland’s, brightest young prospects had found his way to his spiritual home – at the Partick Thistle Football Club. It was only the tenth season of the club’s existence – and from here, Willie would play a huge part in establishing the Jags as one of the country’s first class outfits.

Season 1884-85 – A non-scoring debut – but a winning start for the team

The 18-year-old made his first-team Thistle debut on the 27th December 1884 in a friendly fixture at Muir Park against Kilmarnock Athletic. It was Scottish Cup day in Scotland – but not for Thistle. We had already been eliminated by Third Lanark by 3 goals to 2 in what turned out to be our sole competitive fixture in the whole of season 1884-85. Never again, would Thistle play in so few competitive games in a season. Willie never got on the score sheet in his first match – but it was a winning start for his team nonetheless, the match ending in favour of the home side by 2 goals to 1.

No Thistle players were identified by local press reports in the New Year tour at Dundee, so we cannot tell whether Willie immediately retained his place. For sure, from his debut onwards he played for seven games in a row where team lines were reported.

Willie opens his scoring account – and makes it a double

In his third known appearance, the first of his many goals is reported. As fate would have it, it’s a repeat fixture from his debut a month earlier – vs. Kilmarnock Athletic at Muir Park. This time, it’s a rout, as Thistle stroll to a 5-0 victory. This match was played on Saturday 31st January 1885. Willie was joined up front by Andrew Duff that day, the regular Thistle goalie fancying another game at the other end of the pitch. Quite right too – it was the bold Andrew who put Thistle ahead in the first half – a mental picture which always makes me smile! Such were the days of the free-spirited amateurs! Willie got the third, securing a 3-0 half-time lead for Thistle, and completed the scoring with the fifth, just before the end of the game.

Thistle defeat the Scottish Cup holders for the first time ever

Up until this point there had been four winners of the Scottish Cup – Queen’s Park, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton and Renton. A certain degree of inherent class snobbery existed in the 1870s and 1880s – teams who regarded themselves as “first class” would often turn their nose up at Grand Challenge matches with the likes of ourselves. Certainly the aforementioned four would come into this category, as well as the likes of 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (Third Lanark to you and me) and (to a much lesser extent as far as Thistle were concerned) Rangers. Thistle, much to the frustration of the committee, could never persuade the organisers of the Glasgow Charity Cup to extend an invitation to participate. This, despite the fact that, in March 1884, we had actually defeated Dumbarton (Glasgow Charity Cup invitees), who, although not holders at that time, had won the Scottish Cup in April 1883.

Renton (also Glasgow Charity Cup invitees) arrived at Muir Park in March 1885, just three weeks after having been crowned Scottish “champions” by virtue of having won the national cup. This was a real glamour match for Partick – and a rare coup for the match secretary and the treasurer. Thistle, trailing 1-0 at half-time, came from behind to secure an infamous victory by 2 goals to 1. It’s said that the winning goal was a real team effort in a move that involved Willie Paul, Bob Robertson and James Miller, the latter doing the needful with his head.  Brilliantly, the Scottish Umpire was moved to comment: “The scene that ensued almost baffles description – men, women and children giving vent to one exultant yell.”

Willie played again the following week as Thistle recorded another fine victory, this time defeating Heart of Midlothian by 2 goals to 1.

Three months summary

After three complete months, Willie had featured in (at least) seven wins and two losses. During this early period, he has only failed to appear once on a known team sheet. It looks like a fairly successful start on paper – but Willie himself has reportedly only scored in one match thus far.

The lack of goals must have been causing some concern for the selectors; from hereon, there are no further reported appearances (with 5 out of 7 team lines known) in his debut season. Had he fallen out of favour?

Willie who? (They’ll soon know)

Season 1885-86 – Second team captaincy

Thistle’s move to Inchview for the start of this season did not kick-start the notion of Willie Paul, auto-choice centre forward.

Rather, those in charge thought it best that the young man, struggling for goals in the first-team, should spend more time playing in the second eleven, whilst at the same time doing him the great compliment of appointing him team captain. Under Paul’s captaincy the seconds were reportedly very successful although very few actual match results were printed in the press.

Occasionally, Willie would gain some first-team experience here and there; an appearance in September, two in December, one in February and one in May sums up his reported first-team activity during this period. No goals were registered to the player in these games – although I can’t help but wonder whether he may have saw some goal action in the 11-0 victory in the Scottish Cup 1st Round tie vs. Granton on Saturday 12th September. No team line-ups or goal-scorers have been unearthed for that one so far – but I note that Willie did play the previous week in a match at St Bernard’s.

After the season was over, Willie kept himself fit by taking part in a sports meeting organised by Cambuslang FC, the 300 yards run being his event of choice. This seems to have been another recurring feature of his sporting life; there are a few instances where he was quoted as representing the Clydesdale Harriers, both as an athlete and as a footballer.

Season 1886-87

The club executives had been keeping a watchful eye on Willie’s progress and now, at 20-years-old, they deemed him ready to command a regular start in the first eleven. He featured in every game up until Christmas, and would eventually repay the committee’s faith by finishing as this season’s top scorer. In footballing terms, this was the season when the boy became a man.

Thistle started the season with three straight victories against Cowlairs [h] 4-0, Vale of Leven [h] 1-0 and Abercorn [a] 3-0. This augured well for a campaign in which the feel-good factor was conspicuous by its regularity, with Willie Paul at the forefront of the action.

Willie plays his first competitive game in front of Thistle’s record attendance

Until such times as we can establish a team line up for the previous season’s Cup tie vs. Granton, we must presume that Willie plays his first competitive game against Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup on 11th September 1886. Depending on which paper’s team line up you believe, Willie could either have featured as a half-back or as a left sided attacker in this one. In these earlier seasons, it was not unknown for Willie to drop back occasionally, playing the link role in the classic 2-3-5 formation. Match reports are inconclusive as they praise both defensive and attacking aspects of his play! There must have been quite some atmosphere at Inchview; a temporary stand was erected for the occasion and a crowd of between 5,500 and 6,000 was estimated – easily Thistle’s record attendance so far. They were treated to a five goal thriller, with all the goals coming in an action-packed first half. Thistle pressed hard for a second half equaliser but it was not to be. We were, however, getting closer to the finest side in the country.

A long goal drought? Will this boy ever come good?

Whilst Willie may have been playing a lot of his football in the reserves, twenty long months have now passed since his initial brace, with no further reported goals – it’s a long time in anybody’s book. Whether it’s true in actuality, we can only speculate, but what is absolutely certain is that his first-team appearances have been few and far between – only sixteen reported starts since he scored away back in January 1885 – and he hasn’t netted in any of those.

O ye of little faith! The goals come flooding in from Willie

It is clearly reported that Willie was playing in the half-back position on Saturday 25th September 1886, as Thistle entertained Cambuslang at Inchview. Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great day for the Partick boys who were dead and buried by half-time, trailing by 3 goals to 0. However, the one bright spot was the next, long overdue, notch on the scoring charts for Willie, who pulled one back with “a long shot which caught J. Dunn napping”.

This set Willie off on a confidence building run, scoring in every game in October. There was a double vs. Battlefield [h] 6-4, one vs. Morton [h] 2-3, and another one vs. Airdrieonians [a] 2-0.

Willie goes goal crazy in the FA Cup

This set things up nicely for Thistle’s first ever competitive game outside of Scotland. In the FA Cup, Thistle had been handed a real toughie – an away trip to face Blackburn Olympic, actual FA Cup Winners in 1883. A brace from the in-form Willie ensured that Thistle sensationally triumphed, defeating Olympic by 3 goals to 1 on their own patch.

Partick was euphoric at this headline-making result – and those who followed the team’s fortunes closest would have been especially thrilled to note that, from out of the blue, Willie Paul had just scored seven goals, netting in five consecutive matches. If there was a drought, it was now well and truly over.

In November, Thistle hammered Rangers (of the Fleetwood variety) 7-0 in the Second Round of the FA Cup. It was another FA Cup brace for Willie.

Willie’s first hat-trick – he just loves the FA Cup

In December, the Third Round brought a visit to Belfast to play the “Ulster cracks” Cliftonville. We certainly found a few cracks in their set up, that’s for sure. Spurred on by “an immense concourse of people”, the home side had much of the play in the first half, although it was Partick Thistle who led by three to nil at the break. In the second half, Thistle dominated and – according to the very detailed match account in the Belfast Newsletter which I find to be the most compelling – Willie Paul’s final tally amounted to five goals and Jerry Suter got three. Not only had Willie secured his first-ever senior hat-trick, he became the first Thistle player to be reported as scoring 5 in one game. Cliftonville scored when Andrew Duff left his goal towards the end of the game, “tired of having nothing to do”. Final score; Cliftonville 1, Partick Thistle 11!

A Fourth Round bye led Thistle into the last 16 of the famous old competition, but, in January, we lost out after an extremely tough battle in London which resulted in a final score-line; Old Westminsters 1, Partick Thistle 0.

Our attempt at reaching an improbable English Cup Final at Kennington Oval was over – but we had dared to dream, Partick Thistle’s reputation had soared, and Willie Paul had made his mark in three different countries, with an amazing nine FA Cup goals to his credit.

Willie’s second hat-trick

So far as is known to me, Willie has bagged 13 hat-tricks for Thistle in his time (9 x 3’s, 3 x 4 and 2 x 5’s). He’s only one of two men to have achieved this feat for the club (the other being Willie Sharp). His second hat-trick was a “foursome” and it came just 8 weeks after his record-making exploits in Belfast. It occurred on the 12th February 1887 as Jags hammered St Mirren by 8 goals to 0 in a friendly at Inchview.

Thistle unbeaten in six games against Rangers this season

Ok, only 3 were against the Govan lot but, still, what a pleasing run 

Sat-20-Nov-1886 Fleetwood Rangers [h] 7-0 (FA Cup 2nd Round)
Sat-11-Dec-1886 Rangers [a] 0-0 (Friendly)
Tue-04-Jan-1887 Fleetwood Rangers [a] 5-4 (Friendly)
Sat-09-Apr-1887 Greenock Rangers [n] 7-1 (Greenock Charity Cup 1st Round)
Sat-23-Apr-1887 Rangers [h] 1-1 (Friendly)
Sat-30-Apr-1887 Rangers [n] 5-1 (Friendly)

Willie played in 4 of these for sure – the team line ups for 4th Jan 1887 & 9th Apr 1887 are not known to me.

Thistle had a lot of success over Rangers at this time. You’ll note that there were two draws against them in this season – one at Ibrox and one at Inchview. Although there was nothing at stake other than bragging rights, the “Grand Challenge” was therefore quaintly concluded with a specially arranged “Final”, even going as far as to be played at neutral Hampden Park. 5-1 to the good guys completed a great season against all forms of ‘Gers!

By the end of his third season, Willie Paul had well and truly arrived. For the first-time, he tops the known scorers chart – and by quite some distance too. It’s a sensational turn around after a long, barren period:

Partick Thistle scorers 1886-87

25 – Willie Paul
14 – Jerry Suter
12 – Andrew Johnston
11 – John Marshall
6 – Bob Robertson
4 – o.g.
3 – Bob Marshall
3 – John Young
3 – McLucas
1 – D. Hyslop
1 – John Hendry
1 – R. Middleton
1 – W. Flannelly

Note: There are 43 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1887-88 – Scotland calling!

This proved to be an exceptionally busy season for Willie Paul – his exploits of last season didn’t go un-noticed, and he suddenly became a man in demand for all sorts of causes and reasons.

There were rumours that he was to join Queen’s Park. As the Scottish Referee put it in a retrospective article (November 1888): “The Queen’s Park, in want of a centre forward, cast a longing, loving look toward Mr. Paul, but the bond between him and his Partick friends was too strong to be severed even at their call.”

Most importantly, he secured his place at the top of our scoring chart for the second season in a row.

Thistle knock Rangers out of the Scottish Cup in front of another record attendance

Willie Paul’s hoodoo over the Rangers continued in September 1887 at Inchview, “the Thistle playing grandly and completely nonplussing the light blues by their superior combination”. A quick second half double from Bob Marshall was enough to secure this great Scottish Cup victory, despite a late fight back from our old rivals. Two-one to the Jags in front of 8,000 – these progressive record crowds were a sign of the times. The local hatter had promised a new hat for each of the winning team – no doubt Willie was looking dapper on his next night out!

Willie Paul on hand as “The Jags” are born

Niall Kennedy notes that the first November Scottish Cup Tie vs. Kilmarnock (2-2 at Inchview) was historic in that it was the first time that match reports referred to Partick Thistle as “The Jags”. Willie played a big part in the tie, and his double in the replay at Old Rugby Park paved the way for a great 4-1 victory for “The Jags” prompting commentators to note “…the Partick eleven are an unassuming lot of youths; but there is a smartness, a neatness, about them which is very prepossessing.”

Alas, it would be those pesky “Spiders” that ended our young team’s Scottish Cup dreams yet again. 

Willie Paul represents Glasgow

Willie’s longest unbroken appearances run to date (18 games in a row) came to a halt on the 28th January 1888 – but only because he was called up to represent Glasgow against Sheffield. His trip down to Brammall Lane was a success – Glasgow won 3-2 and he managed to avoid the smallpox scare. Jags missed him though – we lost to QP by the same 3-2 score-line. We lost Willie again a month later as he was again called to represent Glasgow in an Inter Association challenge match at Ibrox vs. Edinburgh. Willie was partnered with his Thistle team-mate, Andrew Johnston, and it was our Andrew who scored for Glasgow in the 1-1 draw. All of this did no favours for Thistle – we missed them both as we lost 3-2 at home to Battlefield.

Willie gets the Scotland telegram!

Willie’s performances for Thistle and Glasgow were clearly impressing the selectors and they duly sent for our man. Scotland were getting set to kick off their British Home Championship campaign for the season, and Willie was chosen for our forthcoming opening match at home to Wales.

On Saturday 3rd March 1888, Willie celebrated news of his first international call up in fine style, with a haul of four against Morton in a thumping 6-2 victory at Inchview, although the Scottish Umpire reckoned he got five of them. For sure, our man was fired up!

Willie gets capped and brings great honour to Partick Thistle

One week later, at Hibernian Park on the 10th March 1888, Willie Paul absolutely cemented his building legendary status when he became the club’s first ever full internationalist, opening the scoring and helping Scotland to a 5-1 win against Wales to kick off the British Home Championship campaign. This was the first Scotland match ever to be played in the capital, and kick-off was delayed until 4.15pm to allow for the assemblage of 8,000 persons to settle. By 4.21pm Willie Paul had fired Scotland into an early lead!

Match details:

10th March 1888 (British Home Championship)
Scotland 5 Wales 1
Venue: Hibernian Park
Att: 8,000
Scorers (Scotland): Willie Paul (6), Neil Munro (30), Alexander Latta (33, 75), William Groves (65)
Scorer (Wales): John Doughty (41)

SCOTLAND: James Wilson (Vale of Leven), Andrew Hannah (Renton), Robert Smellie (Queen’s Park), James Johnston (Abercorn), James Gourlay (Cambuslang), James McLaren (Hibernian), Alexander Latta (Dumbarton Athletic), William Groves (Hibernian), Willie Paul (Partick Thistle), John McPherson (Kilmarnock), Neil Munro (Abercorn)

WALES: James Trainer (Wrexham & Preston North End), David Jones (Chirk), John Powell (Druids & Newton Heath), Thomas Burke (Wrexham & Newton Heath), Joseph Davies (Druids & Newton Heath), Robert Roberts (Druids & Bolton Wanderers), William Ernest Pryce-Jones (Newton & Cambridge University), Job Wilding (Wrexham), John Doughty (Druids & Newton Heath), George Owen (Chirk), Roger Doughty (Druids); Referee: John Charles Clegg (England)

Niall Kennedy notes that there was a chance Willie might be required for the following week’s game: “At this time SFA policy was to play players only once a season in internationals to allow others the chance to play international football. However, there appeared to be a chance that Paul might be called up to play against England due to injuries. Paul would have become the first player ever to play in two internationals in one year. Injuries cleared up and Paul remained with Partick Thistle for the rest of the season.”

Willie Paul – a man very much in demand

Throughout this campaign Willie had been attracting attention from envious club committees, but continually stated that he was not interested in moving from Partick Thistle. In order to appease admirers, Willie occasionally used the guest system whilst remaining a Partick Thistle player. Resolutely amateur, Willie seemed to have a “thing” for Queen’s Park in particular, as they did for him.

On Saturday 28th April, Willie turned out for the Queen’s Park at Hampden Park, helping them to a 2-1 win over Preston North End, a team who would, in the very next season, be dubbed “The Invincibles” after their commanding performances had attained England’s first League and Cup double. Just 2 days after that, he was in action for the Clydesdale Harriers team at Ibrox Park, scoring twice as the touring “Invincibles” were heavily defeated by 4 goals to nil.

This sort of arrangement was a recurring feature throughout Willie’s career – as it was for hundreds of amateur players of the day – but it doesn’t seem to have interfered with his Thistle career any. In this instance, the important business of the season had been concluded after all. I would speculate that the cultivation of an amiable understanding in these matters may have been good man-management by the Partick Thistle committee.

Partick Thistle scorers 1887-88

17 – Willie Paul
15 – Andrew Johnston
12 – Bob Marshall
11 – Jim Buchanan
11 – Jerry Suter
5 – Bob Robertson
3 – J. Smith
2 – James Miller
2 – John Stewart
1 – Galt
1 – Matthew Ferguson
1 – McEwan
1 – William Proudfoot

Note: There are 31 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1888-89 – Great cheer on the home front

There was close-season interest from Everton and West Bromwich, whilst The Scottish Umpire reported the rumour that Willie would be playing with a Lanarkshire club. These distractions almost seemed to be omnipresent at this time but Willie, thankfully, remained loyal to Partick Thistle.

There was great cheer on the home front. The Paul household now totalled 11, with the arrival of the lass who would aye be the bairn, Isabella. No doubt this would have helped heal the grief of losing the first-born Isabella who had died 5 years earlier. Willie’s thoughts at this time must surely have turned to the courtin’ – eleven on a fitba’ pitch is one thing but livin’ in a hoose wi’ eleven is quite another!

One of the most interesting aspects of Willie Paul’s Thistle career is how so much history was being created season by season – in many ways his career time span mirrors the consolidation and evolution of the Jags themselves and he witnesses first hand all the important developments of the day. Thistle played their first ever game against Celtic on Wednesday 29th August 1888 – and Willie was right there in the thick of the action. It was only Celtic’s 13th football match, and it came in the Semi-Finals of the Exhibition Cup. Sadly, Jags were reduced to ten men due to an injury to Matthew Ferguson midway through the second half, and Celtic ended up winning one-nil with a goal right at the death. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. Groan.

Willie was in great form in September and October with several goals to his credit.

One was scored in a bad-tempered friendly at (the original) Cathkin Park, in which Thistle players walked off in disgust at a disputable Third Lanark equaliser. Chaos ensued as the crowd invaded the pitch and the referee called time early!

Partick Thistle 2 Rangers 0; Rangers 2 Partick Thistle 4

A week after the craziness at Cathkin, Willie notched his first goals against the Rangers, the striker netting both in a fine 2-0 victory at Inchview on 13th October 1888.

He repeated his double dosage in the return at Ibrox on 9th February 1889 as Jags ran out 4-2 winners.

Sam Kennedy (in 1904-05) is the only other Thistle player to have matched this “double brace season” feat against our old rivals from Govan.

Later in the season, Thistle would complete an awesome treble against Rangers with a crushing 6-2 victory at Inchview – alas Willie didn’t play that day or, who knows, he may well have grabbed an historic treble brace for himself!

The second cap won as Scotland become British champions

In February, Willie was invited to Ibrox to play in an international trial match and duly scored 2 goals for Scotland ‘B’ team against the Scotland ‘A’ team. In March, he appeared for trial again, promoted to the Scotland ‘A’ and, again, scored.

These trial matches garnered much comment for all players. Reactions in regards to Willie’s contributions were mixed. The Scottish Sport felt that his performances showed that “he has few superiors at centre”. The Scottish Referee was rather more critical and spoke in more general terms:

When Mr Paul emerged from the obscurity of Partick Elm and took his place in the Partick Thistle the critics recognised him as a gem and cracked him up accordingly. The Paul of those days, however, is not the Paul of the present time. He has not blossomed into the football god which many expected him to become, yet in many respects he is a great player. He is a brilliant individual dribbler and had he a knowledge of combination commensurate with his dodging powers he would be our centre forward par excellence.”

The Scottish match committee were pleased enough with what they saw however, and Willie was duly selected to play for Scotland against Wales on the 15th April 1889. Scotland travelled to Wrexham knowing that a single point would be enough to secure the Home Championship title. This was the only one of Willie’s 3 Scotland games in which he never scored, but there were no complaints – the 0-0 score-line was enough to see us crowned champions of Britain for the fifth time.

Partick Thistle scorers 1888-89

18 – Willie Paul
15 – Andrew Johnston
13 – David Hislop
7 – McBride
5 – Jerry Suter
5 – Bob Marshall
4 – J. Bennett
3 – J. Kelly
3 – Matthew Ferguson
3 – Andrew MacKay
1 – Bob Robertson
1 – Galt
1 – George Ward
1 – Walter McLean

Note: There are 53goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1889-90 – Willie Paul, Scottish record-maker

A gold medal for Willie

It had been a lively pre-season for Willie. In early July, both the Athletic News and the Evening Post carried reports that the mighty Preston North End were the latest club to join his long list of suitors. Even to the great invincibles, our man was resistant.

At the Kincardineshire Games, Willie guested once again for Queen’s Park, and so began the usual rumours that he would play regularly for Queens for the rest of the season. The Scottish Referee suggested this was unlikely – “he refused to do so before.”

In late July, Willie Paul appeared in the final of the Sir William Cunningham Cup against Rangers at Ibrox (as a favour to Cowlairs whose regular centre forward was unavailable) and scored two goals in a 4-0 win. Rangers lodged a protest about our man playing for the Springburn club (as well as Mitchell of Kilmarnock), but this was not upheld. Willie’s gold medal, as provided by Sir William Cunningham himself, was safely in his collection!

Thistle snubbed in Scottish League talks

Willie continued to score steadily in 1889-90 but there was no joy in the Scottish or the Glasgow Cup, with Third Lanark and Queen’s Park putting an end to our ambitions.

By the turn of the year there was much talk about cutting down on these “Grand Challenge Matches” which continued to make up the vast majority of the clubs’ fixture lists.

Thistle had made it known that they would be very keen to be involved in an organised League set up.

In March 1890, taking cues from the newly established Football League, the secretary of Renton wrote to thirteen other clubs inviting them to discuss the organisation of a Scottish League.

To the great consternation of all at Inchview, Thistle were not invited, despite having beaten the majority of would-be participants over the course of the last year.

Willie wins his third cap – and creates a Scottish scoring record

Following another two successful trials for Scottish XIs in which Willie scored thrice in two games, our man was selected to play for his country for the third year in a row.

In these days, it was potentially an expensive business having an internationalist in your ranks, albeit a great honour. With national interest in our star striker, this meant that we lost his services for no less than three Saturdays in March. We needn’t have worried too much this time around though. Without Willie, the first team managed three victories and fifteen goals – Ayr FC [h] 5-2; St Bernard’s [h] 5-3 and Morton [h] 5-3. To complete these joyous and uncanny groups of 5, Scotland too matched up!

On 22nd March 1890, Scotland opened their British Home Championship title defence in Paisley with a convincing 5-0 victory over the Welsh, at Underwood Park, the home of Abercorn FC. The trusty shot of Willie Paul earned him the joint-share of an all-time Scottish scoring record when he scored four for his country. Willie was the second Scotsman to achieve this feat which has subsequently been matched by nine others. Over 120 years later, the haul of four remains intact as the official record for a Scottish internationalist.

Match details:

Saturday 22nd March 1890 (British Home Championship)
Scotland 5 Wales 0
Venue: Underwood Park, Paisley
Att: 7,000
Scorers: Hugh Wilson (1-0, 20 mins); Willie Paul (2-0, 36 mins); Willie Paul (3-0, 43 mins); Willie Paul (4-0, 60 mins); Willie Paul (5-0, 70 mins)

SCOTLAND: George Gillespie (Rangers), Andrew Whitelaw (Vale of Leven), John Murray (Vale of Leven), Matthew McQueen (Leith Athletic), Andrew Brown (St Mirren), Hugh Wilson (Newmilns), Francis Watt (Kilbirnie), Robert Brown (Cambuslang), Willie Paul (Partick Thistle), James Dunlop (St Mirren), Daniel Bruce (Vale of Leven)

WALES: James Trainer (Wrexham & Preston North End), William P. Jones (Wynnstay), Samuel Jones (Cnergwrle & Chester), Peter Griffiths (Chirk), Humphrey Jones (Bangor & Blair Lodge), Robert Roberts (Druids & Bolton Wanderers), David Lewis (Bangor), Oswald Davies (Wrexham), William Owen (Chirk), Richard Jarrett (Ruthin), William Turner (Wrexham)

Umpires: Mr. Park (Scotland), Mr. J. Taylor (Wales)

Referee:   William Finlay (Belfast)

“The international match between teams representative of these countries took place at Underwood Park, Paisley, the ground of the Abercorn, in presence of fully 7,000 spectators. The weather was dull and showery but the ground was in very fair condition. Scotland kicked off against a slight breeze, and at once carried the ball into their opponents territory. It was soon returned however, and the Welsh looked as if they meant a determined fight. Whitelaw, in trying to return it missed his kick, but Murray did not lose the opportunity, and the leather was sent back to midfield, where for the next five minutes play was confined. Dunlop and Bruce on the left wing then essayed a run, which ended in a corner being given against Wales. It was well kicked, and Wilson getting possession, sent it between the posts amidst great cheering. The Welshmen attempted to retaliate, and made a dash on the Scotland stranglehold, but Roberts, miscalculating his kick, lost the ball, which at the feet of Dunlop and Bruce was returned to the Welsh end, where Wilson narrowly missed a second goal. Another effort was made from a foul against Wales, but nothing came of it. It was now apparent that Scotland had the strongest team, as they continued to force the play against their opponents, the left wing being conspicuous for the brilliancy of their play, Wilson frequently distinguishing himself by his clever shooting at goal. Again the strangers endeavoured to assume the aggressive, and managed to reach the other end of the field, where the ball went out. From the throw in it was kicked into goal, but Murray and Whitelaw so well defended that Gillespie did not touch the ball, which was returned to Welsh territory, followed by the Scotsmen who hemmed in their opponents, and compelled Trainer to use his hands to save his charge. A well-combined attack, which ended successfully, was made a few minutes later and Trainer, after repeatedly fisting out, was forced to concede a second goal.; The right wing of the Scottish team now began to show better form, and the Welshmen had a hard time of it. It was not long before the leather was again put between their posts, but the goal was disallowed. This was soon followed, however, by a neat shot from Paul, who thus registered the third point. The whistle was blown as the Scotsmen were just about to kick a “foul” which was granted near the Welsh goal. After changing ends, Scotland at once returned to the attack, and to the finish of the match practically maintained their aggressive position. Getting round Trainer, Paul shot in, but the former knocked the ball out. Brown, however, returned it, and before the keeper could act Paul was at him, still another goal was added. For a time thereafter the leather was kept bobbing around the goal posts, and but for the extraordinary dexterity of Trainer the Welshmen must have suffered severely. Only once did Gillespie enjoy a kick at the ball, and his act was received with laughter and applause. A low shot from Paul placed the fifth goal to the credit of the Scotsmen, and after this there was no more scoring. The finish of the match was extremely uninteresting, being fought out round the Welsh goal. The strength of the strangers play was in their back play, but even that was far from brilliant.”

This victory was the foundation for a successful campaign which ended with Scotland sharing the British title with England, both securing 5 points in these pre goal-average days.

Despite Willie’s fantastic scoring feat and successful campaign he was never again picked to play for his country. 5 goals in 3 matches suggest an injustice here.

More guest appearances

Further to his pre-season exploits with Queen’s Park and Cowlairs, Willie continued to squeeze in extracurricular activities with a range of clubs. Back in December he lined up again for the Clydesdale Harriers in a 2-1 defeat against Rangers at Ibrox, missing a good chance to equalise in the second-half. Just one week after his 4 goal haul with Scotland, he was in action for Queen’s Park again, in a 1-1 draw at Ibrox.

Four weeks later (Saturday 26 April) Willie headed eastwards to play for Mossend Swifts in the Rosebery Charity Cup Semi Final against Leith Athletic, both teams taking advantage of the rule allowing them to play three outsiders. Perhaps his pre-season gold had given him a hunger for medal glory? Several thousand witnessed this one at Tynecastle. Willie, who was at centre and all in white for the Swifts, headed home an equaliser in 25 minutes. The Leith side were too strong in the second half however, and ran out comfortable winners by 4 goals to 2.

SFL? You’re Having A Laugh!

On the 12th April 1890, Willie netted as Jags ran riot at Inchview, defeating Scottish League invitees St Mirren by 5 goals to 2.

A week later, the SFL’s chief instigators, Renton FC, arrived at Inchview. They too left with their tail between their legs. Two goals from Willie Paul showed them what’s what, leading Thistle to an extremely satisfying victory by 4 goals to 0.

The Scottish Football League (SFL) was inaugurated on the 30th April 1890 – an 11 club set up without Partick Thistle.

The very following day Thistle travelled to Ibrox to take on possibly the best that the new Scottish League had to offer. Final score? Rangers 3 Partick Thistle 6.

By the start of Rangers first League campaign they had poached so many ex-Jags (including one of our top scorers David Hislop) that one commentator was moved to note: “Rangers should say if they would like Partick Thistle to play their league matches for them.

One has mixed feelings about this – as an old favourite goes “you’ve got to laugh or else you’ll cry

Partick Thistle scorers 1889-90

16 – David Hislop
16 – John Drummond
16 – Willie Paul
12 – Andrew Johnston
9 – Matthew Ferguson
9 – Roddy McLeod
5 – o.g.
5 – Sam Clark
4 – Archie Freebairn
4 – William Proudfoot
2 – J. Bennett
1 – Bob Robertson
1 – George Gorham
1 – H. Hill
1 – John Stewart
1 – William McDonald
1 – Thorburn

Note: There are 63 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1890-91 – Willie leaves the Thistle!

In the pre-season, the ever-active Willie was the star attraction at the Falkirk Iron Works Band Concert and Promenade, guesting for Glasgow Crusaders in the 4-a-sides event. On the 9th August, he was in place as normal for a 6-1 win over Newmilns at West End Park. The first sign of some trouble came the following week. Reporting on the somewhat bizarre 9-6 win over Port Glasgow, the Greenock Telegraph said that Kerr had been more than an able deputy for the missing Paul “being responsible for scoring not a few of the many points scored by his club”. Why was he missing we wonder? According to the Official History book he was listed at inside right the following week, as Thistle defeated Methlan Park by 4 goals to 2 at Inchview.

However, the mysterious comment from the Greenock Telegraph came back to haunt us just days later. The Scottish Referee (25/8/1890) reported the devastating news that “Paul has severed his connection with Patrick Thistle and will now be seen out Hampden way where he will do duty for the Queen’s”. Sure enough, on Wednesday, 27th August, previewing that night’s friendly between Hibs and Queen’s Park, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that changes in the Queens team included Paul at number 9 who was “late of Partick Thistle”. With a “well-directed shot” Willie had them in the lead after 20 minutes. The Scotsman’s report delivered the hammer-blows that Thistle fans will have been dreading: “Two other goals fell to the old Partick Thistle player, who was displaying rare judgement and shooting powers.”

By half-time Willie Paul had scored a hat-trick for his new club, putting them into a 3-0 lead. They went on to win 9-0 in this well-advertised exhibition match which drew almost 10,000 fans in the capital. And so began a surreal run of 7 games from August to October featuring Willie Paul as a confirmed member of Scotland’s premier football team of the day. This was how the Spiders shaped up with Willie Paul at centre:

27/08/1890 Hibernians 0-9 Queen’s Park (Friendly) (at least) 3 goals for Willie
06/09/1890 Glasgow Thistle 3-5 Queen’s Park (Scottish Cup 1st Round)
13/09/1890 St Bernard’s 2-2 Queen’s Park (Friendly) 2 goals for Willie
20/09/1890 Queen’s Park 13-1 Maryhill (Glasgow Cup 1st Round)
27/09/1890 Queen’s Park 5-1 Northern (Scottish Cup 2nd Round)
11/10/1890 Queen’s Park 2-4 Third Lanark (Glasgow Cup 2nd Round)
18/10/1890 Queen’s Park 6-0 Uddingston (Scottish Cup 3rd Round) 1 goal for Willie

With no found explanations or editorial, we can only speculate as to what had brought about this change of heart for Willie who, up until now, had almost been resolute in his commitment to the Partick Thistle, resisting England’s finest, never mind the local rivals. I fancy that perhaps he hankered after Cup Winners medals in the Glasgow Cup and the Scottish Cup, although the possibility exists there was some sort of disenchantment with the Thistle committee.

Perhaps it was a combination of both? Several players had been lost in the pre-season, including the 3 men who sat atop the scoring charts with Willie in the previous season; John Drummond (to Preston North End), David Hislop (to Rangers) and Andrew Johnston (to Third Lanark).

Combine this turmoil with the fact that we were playing in the shadow of the great new Scottish League and it was perhaps understandable that 1890-91 was all rather low key.

There was to be no joy in any of the 4 Cup campaigns, with defeats to Wishaw Thistle (Scottish), Celtic (Glasgow), Dumbarton (Greenock Charity) and Queen’s Park (Glasgow Charity).

Willie comes home – League Champions-elect defeated

Returning as suddenly as he had abruptly departed, Willie Paul was back at Inchview without explanation by late-October. Of QP’s friendly with Leith Athletic on 25th October the Scotsman simply said: “Queen’s Park were without Paul, Arnott and Sellar”. The reason for that was simple – Willie was in back action for Thistle in a 3-2 win at Ibrox!

Willie featured in the season’s two bright spot games against Rangers, as we more than held our own against the side who would be the first (joint) League champions. In October, our former striker David Hislop scored against us at Ibrox – but his last-minute effort was merely a consolation as Thistle recorded an oh-so-sweet victory by 3 goals to 2.

In the return fixture at Inchview in December, Willie Paul netted a second half equaliser “amidst great cheers”, the 1-1 draw ensuring that Thistle held the upper hand over the champions-elect for yet another season.

On Valentine’s Day in February, there was some further turbulence for the Willie Paul and Partick Thistle love affair, when our man was again coaxed into action for the Queen’s Park, featuring in the annual high-profile challenge match with their English counterparts, the Corinthians, played in front of 6,000 fans at Kennington Oval. Once again putting his name in the papers all over Britain, Willie scored the winner as the Scots emerged victorious in the English capital.

Willie again featured as a Spider the following week in a 2-0 win over Northern at Hampden Park. The faithful needn’t have worried though; these turned out to be regular “guest appearance” affairs. This was business-as-usual, and Willie was soon back in action for the Thistle.

The big news for Thistle, however, was happening off the park this season. The Scottish League was proving to be a big success, getting all the press coverage and drawing the largest gate receipts. It was inevitable that the next group of clubs would act to maintain a certain status within the game.

This time, Thistle were right at the heart of the action, our John Boag presiding over meetings between the plotting clubs of the supposed second class variety. A statement was issued in the Scottish Sport in February:

The natural outcome of the Scottish League is the Scottish Alliance, which was formed last Thursday evening (26th February). The League had pursued such a selfish policy, and had shown such utter disregard for the considerations of the clubs outside their own immediate circle, even for those who for many years stood on the most friendly of relations to these clubs, that, for their own protection, these latter concluded that they were duty bound to protect themselves. The League clubs, when they had an open date, with remarkable condescension, gave the date to one of their old friends, but as a matter of fact, these engagements have not always been fulfilled, but have been thrown over in favour of a delayed League fixture. This sort of thing naturally created friction, and it soon became evident that it was unbecoming the dignity of any club to be treated this way. This Alliance has long been talked of, and is now an established fact; one too which the League clubs may find will have much influence in Scottish football, because it’s object is not to create friction by a selfish disregard for the feelings of others, but to endeavour to exist in harmony with the powers that be, and kindred clubs.

The clubs forming the Alliance are Partick Thistle, Glasgow Thistle, Northern, Clyde, Linthouse, East Stirlingshire, Port Glasgow Athletic, Greenock Morton, Kilmarnock, Airdrieonians, and Leith Athletic…..The Alliance has invited Queen’s Park to join…..It is improbable that the Queen’s Park will depart from the position it has taken with regard to the League…..Applications have been received from Kings Park, Glasgow Wanderers, Pollokshaws, Royal Albert etc, and one of these will be selected…..for the twelfth place…..The Alliance is also determined to give unqualified support to the Scottish Association…..and also with provincial Associations. In this it has acted with wisdom, and has removed what was and still is the great objection to the Scottish League, namely that it has never shown any consideration for the parent or other bodies…..The Scottish Alliance, to mark its opinion of the League…..has resolved to play no matches, except of course, compulsory cup ties, with league clubs.”

This was great news for everyone connected with the club. However, 11 defeats in the final 12 games  suggests a camp that was rather un-motivated with the season’s card as was – they would need to buck their ideas up for the new League season ahead.

Partick Thistle scorers 1890-91

12 – Sam Clark
11 – John Gilchrist
11 – Walter Keay
8 – Roddy McLeod
3 – Billy Fleming
5 – o.g.
3 – Willie Paul
3 – Bob Robertson
2 – Andrew Johnston
2 – Kerr
2 – James Henry Davie
1 – Hope Robertson
1 – John Cameron
1 – Langlands
1 – Lawrence Proudfoot
1 – William Proudfoot

Note: There are 38 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1891-92 – League football arrives at Inchview – guess who scored on day one?

Thistle play League football for the first time – Willie Paul scores twice

And so it was that in Thistle’s seventeenth (and Willie Paul’s eighth) season, League football begun for the club, as we started our campaign in the inaugural Scottish Alliance. It was straight into competitive action with no build-ups, and Ayr FC were our first visitors. On the 8th August 1891 the big kick off, scheduled for 4.15pm, was delayed by 45 minutes – not, alas, on account of the massive crowd (there were only around 1,000 there), but due to the fact that the train from Ayr was running late!

The historic occasion was reported in the Glasgow Herald thus:

Played at Inchview Park, Whiteinch before 1,000 spectators. Losing the toss, the Thistle started the game against the wind. At the start, the Ayr pressed for a short time. Then the Thistle took up the running, and pressed. They had four corners in succession, but all were fruitless. Ultimately, Keay, by a splendid effort, scored the first goal for them amidst cheers. Five minutes later Loudon equalised. At half time the score was:- Partick Thistle, 1 goal; Ayr, 1 goal. The second half was started with great energy. Aided by the wind the Thistle pressed severely; Paul headed through a second goal for them. Nettled at this reverse the Ayr put on a spurt, and, through a mistake by Campbell, Cunningham scored, thus equalising the game once more. From then till close both teams strove hard for the winning point. Just before time the Thistle added a third goal from a scrimmage, Paul doing the needful. Result:- Partick Thistle, 3 goals; Ayr, 2 goals.”

One week later, following a 2-1 victory over East Stirlingshire at Merchiston Park, Thistle were out on their own at the very top of this new League. The heady joy was short lived however, as five League defeats on the bounce soon underlined our current position in the grand scheme of things.

A barren spell for Willie

A barren run from our centre forward was followed by a period in December and January when he failed to appear at all in the team-lines. When he re-appeared in February, he was, once again, listed in the half-back position.

This was not a strong Thistle side this season, and our lack of quality was brutally exposed on an Easter Holiday tour down South, with consecutive 9-1 defeats at Bootle and at Sheffield Wednesday staining our history in the space of 3 horrific days. Willie played only the latter, again in the half-back role. In the corresponding fixtures 12 months previously, Thistle had drawn 2-2 at Bootle and lost only 2-3 at Wednesday!

Field Sports magazine of Liverpool was moved to comment:

The Partick Thistle are not the team they were by a long chalk. Most of them are strangers, there being only two – Gilchrist and Smith – who played against Bootle last season. Their secretary was wonderfully confident on Saturday, and pointed out how easy it was to get players in the land of the “amateur”. It may be so, but Partick Thistle have not got them, and a more ragged lot never left Scotland. Head and shoulders above his colleagues stood Bruce, the left half-back, who was second to no man on the field.

Partick Thistle scorers 1891-92

8 – John Gilchrist
7 – Willie Paul
6 – James Henry Davie
6 – Walter Keay
4 – J. Woods
4 – James Miller
4 – Lawrence Proudfoot
3 – Billy Fleming
3 – J. Bennett
2 – Friel
2 – o.g.
2 – Robert Murray
2 – W. McCombie
1 – David Bruce
1 – Maurice White

Note: There are 17 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1892-93 – A return to form

After a couple of mediocre seasons this was a real bounce-back for Willie as he shot back to the top of the scoring charts for the fourth time in his career – a marvellous achievement. Willie’s (and Thistle’s) season got off to the best possible start…

Thistle defeat Celtic for the first time

Having regularly been a thorn in the side of the Rangers, Willie’s ‘legend status’ credentials were not harmed when he netted a second half counter against our tough rivals from the East end. Thistle had been trailing by 2 goals to 1 at half-time and the second half turn around was truly astonishing. The Scotsman were succinct with their report:

“The Partick Thistle had their ground opened for the season by the Celtic, who journeyed thither to favour them with their presence. The sun shone brightly. The Thistle proved victorious by five goals to two.”

Thistle didn’t kick-on from there, unfortunately. There were plenty chip-ins from Willie, but these were completely undone by the leakiest defence in the Alliance – Thistle conceded a frightening 60 goals in the 18 games played.

Willie dislocates shoulder – misses Cup success

Against Vale of Leven on 4th March 1893, Willie dislocated his shoulder, and this mishap proved to be costly as he missed the last 12 games of the season. In this time, John Gilchrist closed the gap in the scoring charts, but Willie’s total proved to be enough in the end (as far as is known), which seems all the more remarkable in the circumstances.

The season ended with silverware as Thistle defeated Morton 7-4 at Cappielow in the Greenock Charity Cup Final. It was Thistle’s first trophy success in ten years – what a shame that Willie had to sit it out.

Who’d run a football club?

A motion was passed to approach the League regarding amalgamation. Andrew Smith of Partick Thistle, elected President of the Alliance, was to lead the discussions.

I don’t suppose running a football club has ever been easy – the weight of expectation from supporters has aye been constant. It has to be said that, despite the many and varied obstacles before them, the nineteenth century Partick Thistle committee played a blinder. As other clubs folded all around, ours strove tirelessly to make progress. Here they were, trying to re-shape the game for the good of all, whilst on the home front, disgruntled players were thwarting ambitions. In the close season that followed, the committee was described as “…. at their wits end for a team. Most of last year’s recruits have deserted, dissatisfied with their treatment at Inchview.”

Partick Thistle scorers 1892-93

18 – Willie Paul
15 – John Gilchrist
9 – Robert Currie
6 – Robert Murray
5 – Andrew Stewart
3 – James Miller
3 – o.g.
2 – David Bruce
2 – George Hurry
2 – James Ingram
2 – Tom McInnes
2 – Maurice White
1 – Hugh Osborne
1 – J. Hislop
1 – Jacky Robertson
1 – John A. Harvey
1 – Thomas Donnelly
1 – Walter Edgar
1 – Willie Freebairn

Note: There are 23 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1893-94 – Thistle join the Scottish Football League – milestone man strikes again!

Thistle join the Scottish Football League

Summertime politics, with Andrew Smith of Thistle at the very forefront, had resulted in the expansion of the Scottish Football League which now consisted of a ten club First Division and a ten club Second Division. Our committee were doing us proud – but they were having a hard time of it trying to keep the players happy, with many having deserted at the tail end of last season.

The newly structured League set up also marked the start of professionalism in the Scottish game, with players now being able to legitimately receive hard cash as opposed to the surreptitiously received inducements that were prevalent hitherto. All of this was of little consequence to Willie Paul who reportedly remained as an amateur for all of his days.

Milestone man strikes again

We began our great Scottish Football League adventure at Cappielow with a 3-2 victory over Morton on Saturday 19th August, 1893. Willie Paul, almost inevitably, scored Partick Thistle’s first-ever goal in this competition. He seems to have a special talent for being in the right place at the right time, that boy. With only 10 minutes on the clock he had notched a second. The sun was shining, and we were off to a flyer in our Second Division campaign with these two early goals and a third from Hope Robertson just before half-time giving us a 3 goal interval cushion. The travelling Partickonians were having a party, having a ball! The Greenock Morton… well, you know the rest 😉

Willie bags his eighth hat-trick

His first hat-trick in the SFL was bagged on Saturday 10th February 1894 at Underwood Park in Paisley. It was one of those spectacular headline-grabbing performances (not that the Victorian press were susceptible to hyperbole) as Jags, twice behind, tenaciously battled their way to a 3-2 victory over Abercorn, with Willie’s ultimate match winner coming in the 87th minute.


Thistle create a Scottish Football League record score – Willie bags yet another hat-trick

Never mind one team in Glasgow, at this time we had another Thistle to contend with as well as all thon usual suspects. Our Jaggy rivals from Braehead were on the ropes at this stage and thee Thistle showed them no mercy when they came to Inchview on 10th March 1894; Partick Thistle 13, Glasgow Thistle, 1. To think they had knocked us out of the Glasgow Cup earlier in the season – the shame of it! There were three Thistle hat-tricks on the day from the three Williams – messrs. Freebairn, Paul and Proudfoot – quite possibly some oddball little record in its’ own right? Certainly, this is the only instance of triple hat-tricks in Thistle’s League history, never mind from three Williams! As for Glasgow Thistle, this result was virtually the death of them. Finishing bottom of the league, the club folded before the post-season re-election meeting.

The annihilation of the Thistle created a new Scottish Football League record but, somewhat annoyingly, it only lasted several months, as Airdrieonians slayed Dundee Wanderers by 15 goals to 1 the following season, a record which has stood ever since.

As mentioned, the Cups were all really disappointing. As well as the Glasgow there were first round exits in the Scottish and the Greenock Charity to Airdrieonians and Battlefield respectively.

We couldn’t have too many complaints about this season however – Thistle had fared reasonably well in their first SFL season, finishing in the Top half and winning more games than they lost.

More importantly, we were in the mix as serious players in the Scottish football scene – these were great foundation stones for a long and steady future.

Partick Thistle scorers 1893-94

27 – Willie Freebairn
25 – Willie Paul
11 – Robert Murray
8 – John A. Harvey
5 – John Gilchrist
5 – William Proudfoot
4 – J. Galloway
3 – Peter Findlay
2 – David Bruce
2 – Hope Robertson
2 – Jacky Robertson
1 – Jack Angus
1 – James Cleland
1 – o.g.
1 – R. Melrose
1 – Smith

Note: There are 28 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1894-95 – Church bells for Willie – alarm bells for Thistle

Willie had a really settled season this time out – with no injury worries he maintained a regular place and continued to show the great consistency which had been in evidence over the last couple of campaigns. Results were steady but nothing to get excited about – until some last minute panic in May that is…

Church bells for Willie – alarm bells for Thistle

On 28th March 1895, having just turned 29, Willie got married to a lass from Dumbarton Road by the name of Jane Thomson – but he called her Jeanie. The prospect of setting up a home of his own must have been a bit of a relief – at the last count there were eleven in his household at 6, Church Street!

The club members were generous to the newlyweds with gifts, and it was announced that the amateur player would receive a testimonial from the club, all of which was just grand and perfectly proper.

Whether co-incidental or not, after Willie had been granted marital leave, Thistle proceeded to fall apart, losing 9-0 at Broomfield (the club’s record League loss which stands today), 3-0 at Dalziel Park against Motherwell, and 4-0 at home to the champions-in-waiting Hibernian (Willie’s first game back).

All of a sudden, with just two League games to play, Thistle had slumped into the bottom three, i.e. “the re-election zone”, a precarious place to be. Losing our hard-won Scottish League status was not in the committee’s master-plan.

Willie lifts us out of the mire

We were chasing down Abercorn and it looked like only two victories in the last two games would give us a chance.

Was he spurred on by guilt or was he just a comic book hero in the making? Whatever the answer, Willie and Thistle came good in the end.

Against Renton, Willie opened the scoring in the 3-1 victory at Tontine Park on Saturday 18th May 1895.

One week later, Thistle entertained Port Glasgow Athletic. Abercorn had completed their programme already, so we knew what was required. Defeat – we’d be up for re-election. Draw – at the whim of the SFL we’d either be in a play-off with Abercorn or be included together with them in the re-election ballot. Win – we’d be above Abercorn and out of danger.  3,500 souls crowded in to Inchview, anxious to know the club’s fate.

In the end, we needn’t have worried; Willie scored and the Jags won 5-0. We were safe.

After eleven years of sterling service, Willie Paul was duly rewarded with a post-season benefit match against a Glasgow Select, and was further presented with a purse of sovereigns. The recognition was exceedingly well deserved.

Partick Thistle scorers 1894-95

25 – John Proudfoot
16 – Willie Paul
11 – John Campbell
11 – Willie Freebairn
8 – John Wilkie
2 – o.g.
2 – Robert Murray
2 – William McDonald
1 – David Bruce

Note: There are 15 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1895-96 – Underwood Park – a happy hunting ground

For Willie personally, his goal scoring ratio is at its’ peak in this season. With 20 known goals in 24 known appearances he’s clearly in the mood.

For the team, it’s another so-so League season – neither challenging at the top nor struggling at the bottom. Despite finishing joint 5th, Thistle had the worst defence in the League – we seemed just as likely to score 6 goals and win as concede 7 goals and lose.

As for the Scottish Cup? Ouch. We didn’t even qualify – for the one and only time in our history. The structure had been altered again by the SFA. Back in 1891 they had introduced Preliminary Rounds to shield the big boys from the minnows.  Now, in 1895, it was decided to introduce an actual Cup competition, namely the Scottish Qualifying Cup, into which Thistle were unceremoniously shepherded. To qualify for the Scottish Cup proper, we needed to get through 3 ties.

Scottish Qualifying Cup – another hat trick for Willie, but all to no avail

In August, Thistle started well in the new competition with a 6-2 victory over Burnbank Swifts at Victoria Park, Hamilton. It’s known that Willie played centre forward that day but unfortunately, no scorers can be found at the moment. I’m certainly not giving up hope that these goal-scorers can yet be uncovered. This was followed up in September with an excellent 5-1 victory over Airdrieonians at Inchview – a game which saw Willie Paul bag his 10th (known) hat-trick for the club. Having won the most difficult tie on paper, Thistle slipped on a banana skin in the crucial 3rd Round in October, crashing out to a 5-4 defeat to Alloa at Recreation Park. Willie’s goal that day would have been scant consolation to him or anybody else Thistle minded. Our Scottish Cup dreams were over before they had even begun.

Hat trick #11 for Willie at a happy hunting ground

When Willie looked back at his career he would undoubtedly have very fond memories of playing at Underwood Park in Paisley. On Saturday 15th February 1896 he once again completed the splendid hat-trick feat – made even better by the fact that i) it was in the League and that ii) every goal mattered; Abercorn 3, Partick Thistle 4.

It was his third hat-trick in the SFL – and a repeat performance of his supreme effort in the same competition at the same ground almost exactly 2 years ago; Abercorn 2, Partick Thistle 3.

Underwood Park was, of course, the venue for Willie’s record-making 4-goal-haul against the Welsh back in 1890 when Scotland triumphed by 5 goals to 0.

If Underwood Park wasn’t Willie’s favourite away day then it must have been right up there!

Partick Thistle scorers 1895-96

20 – John Proudfoot
20 – Willie Paul
11 – John Campbell
11 – Robert Currie
4 – William Lawson
3 – John Wilkie
3 – James Lamont
3 – o.g.
2 – R. Lamont
2 – Thomas Paterson
2 – David Proudfoot

1 – D. Fraser
1 – Abe Morrison
1 – James Bryce
1 – Sloan
1 – Thomson
1 – William McDonald

Note: There are 56 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1896-97 – Championees

Who’s the Daddy?

These were great days for Willie. Goals were raining in every week from every angle and in 1896 he and Jeanie were blessed with a child, christened Jessie. Was it better than scoring 4 for Scotland I wonder? After three mid-table finishes in the Second Division, the Jags finally kicked on with a serious title challenge. Willie scored more League goals this season than any other (15), and finished as our top League scorer for the second season in a row. Accounting for all first team games, this was the SEVENTH time that Willie has finished out in front as our overall top (or joint top) scorer –an amazing feat. As per 1892-93, this season’s achievement could be seen as exceptional, given that Willie was side-lined through injury for seven matches at the tail end of the season (and probably wasn’t getting a good night’s sleep!)

Willie registers his TWELFTH known hat-trick

In October, our 1st Round Glasgow Cup tie was nice ‘n’ easy, as the army boys, Cameronians, were dismissed in an orderly fashion by 4 goals to 1, with Willie Paul getting his twelfth (known) hat-trick. Thistle, having annihilated the same team by a Glasgow Cup record score of 15-0 the previous season, took the opportunity to give a run out to some of the reserve players.

This completed a splendid start to the season all around – Thistle were unbeaten in seven matches and Willie Paul had seven goals credited to his account already.

Inchview – the days are numbered

Our rented home in Whiteinch, now in its twelfth season of our tenancy, was coming in for a bit of criticism for all sorts of reasons, including the state of the pitch, and the lack of decent facilities for spectators and players alike. Wisely, in my opinion, the men in control of the purse strings were unwilling to spend money on a rented space that they could be forced out of at a month’s notice. In the nineteenth century, we were blessed with a series of progressive committees who seemed most able in getting things done.

The committee at this time included the wily George Easton, yet a young man in his early twenties, who would give virtually his entire working life to the club, literally ‘til the day he died in 1929. I recall a later Weekly News article praising Mr. Easton which stated: “the advancement and welfare of the club was his chief aim and ambition in life”.

In response to the members concerns, a specially commissioned “ground committee”, headed by Mr. R. W. Mitchell, swung into action, and worked wonders by securing land in Partick, adjacent to the Meadowside Ferry. Ambitious plans were revealed to build a ground which would have a capacity of over 20,000 with a grandstand and pavilion.

To help fund the new ground, the committee had generated several hundred pounds in transfer fees in the recent past, with David Proudfoot (Leicester) and Pat Smith (Bolton Wanderers) being the latest two that we needed to replace. With all that was going on at this time it’s really a wonder that the committee were able to field such a successful team in this season. It was a great balancing act.

The long run in

Glasgow and Scottish Cup exits to Linthouse and Rangers meant that Thistle could concentrate solely on the Second Division championship (which consisted of 18 games per club). By mid-January, the table had a strange old look, with some clubs having as many as 10 games in hand to others. Despite the fact that Thistle had only tasted defeat once (a 3-1 loss away to the League leaders in December) they had only been as high as 3rd place so far. 8 points behind with 5 games in hand and 8 to play – it was a mental struggle more than anything else.

SFL Second Division @ 18th January 1897

Leith Athletic; Pld.15 Pts.23
Airdrieonians; Pld.16, Pts.19
Morton; Pld.14, Pts.16
Partick Thistle; Pld.10, Pts.15
Renton; Pld.13, Pts.14
Port Glasgow Athletic; Pld.11, Pts.9
Kilmarnock; Pld.6, Pts.8
Motherwell; Pld.6, Pts.3
Dumbarton; Pld.13, Pts.2
Linthouse; Pld.10, Pts.1

Thistle go about their business in a professional manner

23.01.1897 Renton [a] 2-1 (Sam Donaldson, William McDonald)

A crucial two points were won at Tontine Park. Thistle ran rings round Renton in the first half and led 2-0 – things were looking good. However, in his last game for the club before moving south to Blackburn Rovers, John Proudfoot went off injured, leaving Thistle up against it for the second half. The ten-men held on to secure two vital points.

13.02.1897 Motherwell [a] 6-0 (Willie Paul [2], William Lawson, James Lamont, William Ward, John Ferguson)

Motherwell were this season’s whipping boys and two points from Fir Park were seen as a given. After their recent ground move, they were struggling to attract a crowd and money was especially tight for them. Willie loved it here and scored on all three of his visits in 1896, 1897 and 1899 – 5 goals in total. To this day he remains our top-scorer versus the ‘Well with a total of 10 in competitive action.

20.02.1897 Motherwell [h] 6-2 (Willie Paul [2], William Lawson [2], John Ferguson [2])

Even playing the second half with ten men couldn’t prevent Thistle from comfortably overcoming Motherwell for the second time in 8 days.

Thistle hit the joint Top of the League – with a whip round for Willie!

27.02.1897 Linthouse [a] 5-3 (John Ferguson [2], William Lawson, Andrew Mailer, Willie Paul)

Our bitter rivals from Govan were looking to dent our title aspirations and were actually leading 3-2 at half-time. Thistle rallied in the second half and when Willie Paul scored a brilliant match-winning fifth, there was an immediate and spontaneous collection amongst Thistle supporters to commemorate the goal.

Thistle were on a roll with this fourth straight League victory – every one of them would be a dagger blow in the hearts of Leith as we hunted them down. When they came to Inchview, they were two points in front again, but Thistle were in the somewhat luxurious position of still having two games in hand.

20.03.1897 Leith Athletic [h] 5-0 (William Lawson, Andrew Mailer, Willie Paul [2], John Ferguson)

This 5-0 victory in Whiteinch was seen by many as the title decider. Despite the counter-attractions of the Scottish Cup Final and Scotland’s international against Wales, the “decider” was watched by over 4,000.

In Monday’s papers, the table was looking good:

SFL Second Division @ 22nd March 1897

Leith Athletic; Pld.17, Pts.25
Partick Thistle; Pld. 15, Pts.25
Airdrieonians; Pld.17, Pts.19

Once again, Thistle had joined Leith at the top, but with two games in hand, three points from our last three games would now be enough to clinch our first ever title.

Thistle finally go Top – it’s a bittersweet moment for Willie

27.03.1897 Kilmarnock [a] 3-1 (Andrew Mailer, Willie Paul [2])

1,000 members of the dark blue army travelled from Partick to cheer on the Jags – a massive away support in those days. Excitement was high, and another brace from Willie ensured that Thistle hit the very top spot with just two games to play. Like a finely run marathon, the winning line was now firmly in sight – and we were still going strong. Only a single point was now needed from the 4 available. As you can see, Willie was on red hot form, having shot 9 goals in the last 5 League games. Somewhat tragically, Willie picked up a nasty ankle injury in this battle and, after playing such a crucial role in the title challenge, he would have to sit out the final two League games as well as a further five friendly matches in April and May.

Thistle clinch first Title

17.04.1897 Kilmarnock [h] 2-0 (James Lamont, Robert Currie)

5,000 packed into Inchview to see Thistle over the line – no doubt Willie was in amongst them, cheering his team mates on. We needed a point, but got two, although Thistle had been far from clinical in the game. Half-backs James Lamont and Robert Currie scored the goals which eased the nerves – Willie’s team mates had done him proud and the whole club could celebrate a major success. Having missed out completely in the victorious Greenock Charity Cup campaign of 1893, this was Willie’s first real taste of silverware as a Partick Thistle player. I’m guessing he never felt his ankle much this Saturday night!

Thistle formally concluded their League campaign the following week, as two Football Specials made the trip to Greenock.

24.04.1897 Morton [a] 4-3 (James Lamont, John Ferguson, Andrew Mailer, James Lamb)

We had finished our League campaign with 8 straight victories and, clearly, were deserving champions.

Also, despite the players concerns about Inchview, we finished our League season unbeaten at home for the very first time. Our twelfth and final season at Inchview was an extremely successful one.

Thistle lobby for Premier status – with a risky strategy

With the title won, and a new ground secured at Meadowside, the club were desperate to play in next season’s Top League – and to do so would need to be favoured by vote in the forthcoming First Division election ballot.

As part of their tacit campaign, Thistle deployed a somewhat risky strategy by challenging existing First Division outfits in the closing weeks of the season. In all, four premier sides were challenged: Third Lanark [h] 2-2; Clyde [h] 3-4; St Bernard’s [h] 2-0 and Dundee [a] 2-1.

Results went well – the victory at Dundee (who had finished 5th in the First Division) was particularly excellent. As it turned out, the strategy had served to strengthen our bid.

Willie for the committee?

Niall Kennedy: “At the end of season AGM it was announced that a balance of £260 pounds was at the bank. R.W.Mitchell, who had been a prime mover in getting the new ground organised, replaced Andrew Smith as President. Willie Paul was offered a place on the committee, as an acknowledgement of his wonderful contribution to Partick Thistle, but he graciously declined, preferring to continue playing.”

Thistle attain First-Class status

Of the seven sides vying for the three places, Thistle had made a solid case. The only cause for concern was the worry that the other clubs may not wish to see five clubs from Glasgow in a ten club League set up.

There were two important AGM’s held on the evening of the 1st June 1897. Both went swimmingly for the Partick Thistle Football Club.

First of all, at the AGM of the SFA, Thistle were voted in as one of the sixteen clubs who would automatically enter the Scottish Cup (proper) 1st Round for the forthcoming season. This was the first time since any form of preliminaries had been introduced in 1891 that the Jags had been afforded this status.

The meeting that mattered most was reported in the Scotsman of June 2nd 1897 as follows:

“The annual meeting of the Scottish Football League was held last night in Glasgow. Mr. J. H. McLaughlin (Celtic) presided over a full attendance of representatives. The reports of the secretary and the treasurer were adopted. The latter showed an income of £1589 14s 3d, and an expenditure of £1189 7s 5d, leaving a balance of £409 6s 10d, the largest in the history of the League. The report of Mr. T. Marr, secretary of the Second Division, pointed out that both the clubs in the final tie for the Qualifying Cup and three of the four clubs last surviving in the Scottish Cup competition belonged to the Division [Applause]. The treasurer’s statement showed a credit balance of 1s 8d [Laughter]. The meeting then proceeded to the consideration of the constitution of the Divisions. For the first time, the three clubs at the bottom of the list – Third Lanark, Clyde and Abercorn – were nominated as were also Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock, Leith Athletic and Airdrieonians. After several votes had been taken, the final resulted as follows:– Third Lanark, 14; Partick Thistle, 13; Clyde, 8; Abercorn; 7. The first three were accordingly elected. The three retiring clubs in the Second Division – Motherwell, Port Glasgow and Dumbarton – were proposed for re-election, and applications for admission had been received from Victoria United (Aberdeen), Ayr, Falkirk, East Stirlingshire, Hamilton Academicals and Dundee Wanderers. The final vote resulted:– Motherwell, 34; Port Glasgow, 27; Ayr, 24; Dumbarton, 17. The last-named accordingly retired from the League.”

Yahoo! The champagne corks could finally be popped down and around Partick way!

This was the reaction in the Scottish Sport on the 4th June 1897:

Partick Thistle may consider themselves highly honoured in securing such a decided distinction, and the best way they can exhibit their gratitude is by resolving, and taking adequate measures to support their resolve, that they shall not be in the last three a twelvemonth hence. The coming season will be a most momentous one in the history of the club, perhaps the most momentous they have ever faced, for in addition to their elevation to first-class rank as a club they will enter upon the possession of their new and better equipped grounds at Meadowside.”

Partick Thistle scorers 1896-97

23 – Willie Paul
19 – John Ferguson
15 – William Lawson
11 – James Lamb
9 – John Proudfoot
6 – Andrew Mailer
5 – James Lamont
5 – John Logan
5 – Sam Donaldson
4 – Robert Currie
1 – David Gilfillan
1 – Jamie Auchincloss
1 – Jim McKenzie
1 – Patrick Gray
1 – William McDonald
1 – William Ward

Note: There are 12 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1897-98 – Willie Paul’s finest hour

31-year-old Willie Paul was now at the veteran stage for these times. The big feller was now in his 14th season with the Thistle – he probably thought he had seen it all by now – but perhaps his very finest hour was about to come.


An impression of the first-known Partick Thistle Brake Club banner. (with special thanks to ChewinGumMacaroonBaaaz of the WeAreThistle forum for his patience and talent!)

Excitement levels were sky-high around Partick. Season tickets (or “memberships” as they were known) were up to their highest level yet. Thistle were in the big time, and there were plenty of fans in our new catchment area who were keen to be involved in the journey. Where there had been none previously, there were suddenly a whole host of brake clubs formed – 12 of them in all – ready to follow the Jags around the country. One of them had a banner in the likeness of Willie Paul. This season, Brake club patrons would watch Willie in action against a certain Alec Raisbeck (Hibernian) – little did they know the latter would also find his way onto their banners some 12 years later.

Thistle found the going tough – but not impossibly so – in their first ever Top-Flight season. Since the advent of professionalism in 1893-94, Scotland’s top clubs had gone from strength to strength. Money went to money, and the gap between the likes of Rangers, Celtic, Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian and the rest was now really evident. Thistle would have no joy at all from any of these sides this season – with the exception of match day one…

Thistle reach the summit of Scottish football amidst talk of a Willie Paul statue

Sat-04-Sep-1897 Heart of Midlothian [h] W3-2
Scorers: Robert Gray, Willie Paul, Willie Paul
Att: 7,000
Venue: Meadowside, Partick.

Surely, one of thee most momentous occasions in all of Partick Thistle’s history? If I could hitch a ride in the Tardis I would, with a heavy heart, skip past 1971 and 1921 and set the co-ordinates as per the above. What a starter we had been given; Heart of Midlothian were the visitors – and they were the current Scottish Champions! The Second Division flag (unveiled in a friendly match with Rangers the week before) was flying high above the new main stand, and Meadowside hosted a huge crowd for the second week in a row. Big gate receipts were very welcome – there was a new ground to pay for after all.

No-one tells this story better than Niall Kennedy:

“Thistle were able to field their strongest eleven but it was still an enormous task. Thistle, up against a strong wind, played an early form of route one football with backs and halfs sending the ball quickly to their forwards. Robert Gray scored the first Thistle goal. However, it was the third goal, just one minute later again, that drew a huge ovation from the crowd of 7,000. Willie Paul, the oldest man on the pitch, took a shot from long range that beat the keeper. Thistle held on after a late rally from Hearts to take both points. It was an amazing win brought about more by hard work than by skill and ability, but amazing all the same. The reaction in Partick to the victory was unbelievable. Residents who had hung out of tenement windows watching the large crowd throng the streets before the game now watched them leave Meadowside singing and dancing. The newspapers were full of the story of a well-known Thistle follower who announced he was going to start at the nearest close and insisted he was going to visit every tenant in the entire burgh to shake their hands. There were rumours that the Thistle committee had commissioned a statue of Willie Paul to commemorate his goal.”

And so it came to be that Thistle prevailed in a famous battle of the Champions. Top-Flight Victory # 1 was secured on day one of our entry into the arena. With no goal-average system in place, Thistle fast-forwarded straight to the joint-top place in Scottish Football.

1st= Celtic; Pld.1, Pts.2
1st= Dundee; Pld.1, Pts.2
1st= Partick Thistle; Pld.1, Pts.2
1st= Rangers; Pld.1, Pts.2
1st= Third Lanark; Pld.1, Pts.2
6th= Clyde; Pld.1, Pts.0
6th= Heart of Midlothian; Pld.1, Pts.0
6th= Hibernian; Pld.1, Pts.0
6th= St Bernard’s; Pld.1, Pts.0
6th= St Mirren; Pld.1, Pts.0

Alas, Thistle were soon brought back down to earth with consecutive defeats – vs. St Mirren [a] 0-1 (League) and vs. Rangers [h] 0-6 (Glasgow Cup). One consolation was the successful start, financially.

Niall Kennedy: “In the first three home games 28,000 had paid into Meadowside compared to an average of 2,929 a game the previous season. On the strength of the attendances the Thistle committee decided to press on with their plans for building the grandstand on the south side of the ground.”

An anti-climactic season – with a nervous ending

After the initial excitement had died down, the faithful were tested with League defeats outnumbering victories by almost 2 to 1. There was no joy in either Cup either, with a 1st Round Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Dundee adding to the disappointment of the Glasgow Cup defeat against Rangers.

In terms of the League, the Scottish Sport’s rallying call from 12 months earlier came back to haunt us, although we very nearly escaped the dreaded “re-election zone” – just another solitary point would have ensured an outright 7th place finish. Somewhat miraculously, Dundee pulled off an unlikely victory against title-chasing Rangers on the last day of the season to catch Thistle. With Dundee and Thistle therefore locked in joint 7th, the SFL committee deemed a play-off necessary, to decide which of the two would be put forward for re-election.

Dundee agreed to play the game at Meadowside where a bigger gate was expected. Way back in September, Thistle, with a Willie Paul goal, had defeated Dundee 3-1 at Meadowside. Alas, there was to be no repeat performance, and Thistle failed to take home advantage, losing by 2 goals to 0, our third competitive defeat at the hands of the Dundonians this season.

For the second season running, our status as a Top-Flight club was dependent on the votes of our fellow Scottish League member clubs.

Our destination was settled on Monday 30th May 1898 at the Scottish Football League’s AGM held in the chambers at West Regent Street. Much to the disappointment of Kilmarnock, the Second Division champions, the status-quo in the First Division was maintained – all at Meadowside could breathe a sigh of relief. Interestingly, a motion from Celtic that, in future, the bottom two in the First Division should retire in favour of the first two in the Second Division was carried unanimously. At some point in the forthcoming 12 months this was clearly rescinded as automatic promotion / relegation was only first introduced in season 1921-22 – a whole quarter-century later!

Partick Thistle scorers 1897-98

9 – Willie Paul
8 – John Ferguson
7 – Fred McDiarmid
7 – Robert Gray
6 – Walter Lindsay
5 – George Allan
3 – James Brydson
2 – George Drummond
2 – James Cleland
2 – James Lamont
1 – Andy Wilson
1 – D.Fraser
1 – Donald McNeil
1 – Houston
1 – William Johnstone

Note: There are 4 goals unaccredited in this season

Season 1898-99 – Flattened by Fattie Foulkes

Now aged 32, Willie decided to answer the long-standing calls for him to join the 13-man committee, and he now had a dual role to play for the good of the club. Whilst it’s not clear if he served on the actual match committee, his timing was not good. Poor results meant that this season’s committee were set to get a roasting from the ever-demanding faithful, and only two of them were left standing at the end of it all. By season’s end, I rather suspect that Willie may have jumped rather than be pushed from his new role.

In their pre-season preview the Scottish Sport noted: “Willie Paul will play centre forward again, if for no other reason than his generalship.”

This back-handed compliment was perhaps slightly uncharitable. As disappointing as the season was for the club, Willie himself fared reasonably well in the goal scoring department, managing a personal total of 10 – bettered by no other in this campaign. As known totals stand, this was the sixth time that Willie finished at the top of our all-game scoring chart – a record which has proved to be insurmountable for a long line of Thistle greats, with the closest challengers being Sam Kennedy (five times) and Neil Harris, Willie Sharp, Jimmy Bone, Dougie Somner and Kris Doolan, all of whom achieved this feat in four different seasons.

To be fair to the Sport, in a later pre-season report they commented: “The evergreen Willie Paul seems to renew his youth as every season comes round.

Energised or not, some brutal treatment in a pre-season friendly at Linthouse meant that Willie had to sit out the next pre-season friendly against Celtic. The Scottish Sport reported:

The present feeling at Meadowside is that the Thistle have played their last friendly match at Govandale. Partickonians are under the impression that an infirmary instead of a theatre behind Linthouse’s field would be more suitable

Willie quickly recovered in time for the opening League match – and he went on to record a total of 34 first-team appearances this season – more than any other in his time at Thistle.

A nightmare League campaign

Goals were hard to come by though – not just for Willie, but for the team in general. It was obvious that we were miles behind Scotland’s top sides – mainly due to the financial gaps which had been building over the last 5 or 6 years.

The season goes down as our all-time worst start to a League campaign, with 8 straight defeats being registered. Willie scored only once in this period – in a 5-1 defeat vs. Dundee at Carolina Port.

Within the first month, Willie was honest enough to state that he didn’t feel able to play the centre forward position as it should be – after 14 years in the position he felt a younger man was needed, and for the last few months of the year he shifted out to the right wing.

Results barely improved.

Fog-gate ‘98

Some comic relief was obtained in mid-November – although by seasons’ end Willie Paul may not have seen it that way. Willie had another two potential career goals in the bag – but abandonment in the home game against Hearts put paid to them. However, the phrase “taking one for the team” springs to mind – Thistle were losing 4-2 at the time, and no-one at Meadowside was complaining. Hearts only had themselves to blame – if their kit hamper had turned up as timeously as the players themselves, the game would have been concluded without a problem.

The referee, a Mr. McIntyre of Clydebank, was taking pelters from the vociferous Meadowside crowd, paradoxically considered as one of the cheeriest but rowdiest in Scotland. How fickle we are though. Reports vary from only three to six minutes being left on the clock when the whistler abandoned the game due to a lack of visibility, caused by both a lack of light and a rapidly descending winter fog. The Sport reported how the mood changed in the ground: “When Mr McIntyre prematurely stopped the game, and visions of a replay were manifest, the mind of the crowd took a wonderful turn, and cries of ‘Good old McIntyre’ were heard all around the field.”

A final representative honour for the veteran Willie Paul

Willie only missed his first League game of the season on the 10th December 1898 – and it was for good reason. Although playing in a struggling Thistle team, his abilities were still obviously being recognised and, with his 3-season-stint as a full Scottish internationalist now almost a decade behind him, it must have been extremely gratifying for Willie, and for the club, when he was once again called up to the Glasgow team to face Sheffield down at Bramall Lane. Unfortunately, Willie came off second best in a clash with the renowned Fattie Foulkes (William Foulke, GK, weight varied at this time from 20st to 24st) and, whilst Willie was off the field receiving treatment for his injury, Sheffield sealed the winner in a 2-1 victory. Willie’s injury saw him miss out the following week’s League game vs. Third Lanark.

▪ The scene of the crime: Bramall Lane. The assailant: Fattie Foulkes @ 2:05

Oor Willie was considerably taller than your average Victorian footballer but, as you can see, William Foulkes was not your average Victorian footballer. He wasn’t going to be lightly charged into the net, that’s for sure!

It’s worth noting that Willie (who played in 16 out of the 18 League games) would probably have registered a 100% League appearance record this season had it not been for the Glasgow call-up – in those days that was great going for a man pushing 33.

Summarising Willie’s final scoring record for Glasgow & Scotland makes for impressive reading:

28.01.1888 Sheffield 2 Glasgow 3 (@ Bramall Lane, Sheffield)
25.02.1888 Glasgow 1 Edinburgh 1 (@ Ibrox, Glasgow)
10.03.1888 Scotland 5 Wales 1 (@ Hibernian Park, Edinburgh) 1 goal for Willie
23.02.1889 Edinburgh 3 Glasgow 5 (@ Powderhall, Edinburgh) 1 goal for Willie
23.03.1889 Glasgow 5 London 1 (@ 2nd Hampden Park, Glasgow) 1 goal for Willie
15.04.1889 Wales 0 Scotland 0 (@ Racecourse Ground, Wrexham)
22.03.1890 Scotland 5 Wales 0 (@ Underwood Park, Paisley) 4 goals for Willie
31.05.1890 Aberdeenshire 2 Glasgow 6 (@ Aberdeen)
11.11.1893 Sheffield 7 Glasgow 2 (@ Olive Grove) 1 goal for Willie
07.12.1895 Glasgow 3 Sheffield 1 (@ Old Cathkin Park, Glasgow) 1 goal for Willie
06.11.1897 Glasgow 0 Sheffield 0 (@ Old Cathkin Park, Glasgow)
10.12.1898 Sheffield 2 Glasgow 1 (@ Bramall Lane, Sheffield)

The battle for the wooden spoon

There were no home wins in any game, League or otherwise, until Hogmanay, when a 2-0 victory over Dundee – a bedraggled lot on the verge of bankruptcy – was recorded. The result lifted us off the bottom of the table with just one game left to play in the short 18 game campaign. That, coupled with the seemingly worse state of our wooden spoon rivals, gave us some hope that we may yet be spared relegation. Had we not won that game, it would have been the one and only time that we’d have finished a season with no home wins in the League.

The League campaign had been scheduled for completion before the year had turned but, on account of fog-gate ’98, Thistle still had one game left to play. In early January, Jags lost the replayed game too, by 1 goal to 0. The only consolation was some extra cash to boost the on-going Meadowside building fund.

In short, this was a season of nightmare proportions and all the enthusiasm of the last two seasons had been thoroughly dampened.

The LAST reported hat-trick and the Paul brothers Scottish Cup double act

Unusually, and for the only time in our history, the Scottish Cup campaign began after the main League season was over. The faithful could lay aside re-election worries for a few months – could we regain some pride in the Cup? Well, yes and no…

Non-League Irvine had done well to reach the Scottish Cup 1st Round proper, and were “rewarded” with a trip to Meadowside. In mid-January, Thistle saw off the challenge in a professional manner, easing to a 5-0 win, and could even afford the luxury of two missed penalties. A second half hat-trick for Willie is commonly reported across the British press (although the History book suggests there may be at least one report that says he only got 2), easing the Jags home. It’s his first in over 2 years and, given that his very first was in the English Cup, it seems typical of the man and fitting that his last should come in the Scottish Cup!

Another brace from Willie followed in the 2nd Round a month later, but Thistle could only draw 2-2 at home with a fairly poor Morton side from the Second Division, both sets of fans having to suffer a disallowed goal each. Morton twice equalised, with a second half penalty earning them a replay.

Despite the dreadful League campaigns (for both sides) there were between 5,000 and 6,000 at Cappielow for the second game a week later – the Cup then, as now, had a magical attraction all of its’ own.

At Cappielow, Willie played up front alongside his brother James, who was making his first-team debut, aged 19. Willie was probably like a father figure to his younger sibling, and must have been a great help in passing on his vast experience. This family partnership would be repeated on 3 further occasions between now and the end of the season. It was another eventful game, in which both sides missed a penalty – quite a common occurrence in those days, with goalkeepers being free to position themselves anywhere within their 6 yard arc. Willie gave Thistle the lead on 30 minutes, but his goal was cancelled out by Orr at the start of the second half. Walter Collier grabbed a late winner with only a few minutes remaining, bringing some much needed cheer to the travelling support, several hundred strong. Thistle were in the Scottish Cup Quarter Finals for only the second time in their history – and for the first time during Willie Paul’s playing career. On 25th February, Port Glasgow was the next destination for Thistle’s third Scottish Cup Saturday in a row.

The Paul brothers played alongside each other up front once again in the Quarter Final at Clune Park, but the defensive weaknesses in the side were exposed big time. Despite young  James Paul giving Thistle an early lead, Thistle were completely outclassed by the Second Division side, and the horrific reversal by 7 goals to 3 left our Scottish Cup dreams in tatters.

The poor season continues – Thistle relegated for the first time

Thistle did their re-election prospects no favours whatsoever by continuing their atrocious SFL form in the all-new late-season Glasgow League, losing 8 of the 10 matches, quite heavily on more than one occasion.

For the third season in a row, the entire Partick Thistle community was on tenterhooks, awaiting the outcome of the re-election vote at the Scottish League AGM. The business was conducted at 17a St Vincent Street on the 30th May 1899 – by then we had endured almost five months on the First Division’s equivalent of “Death Row”.

This time, only the bottom two from the First (Thistle and Dundee) and the top two from the Second (champions Kilmarnock and runners-up Leith Athletic) were involved in the ballot. The votes were cast as follows: Kilmarnock, 15; Dundee, 10; Partick Thistle, 5; Leith Athletic, 2. Kilmarnock were therefore promoted, and Partick Thistle were relegated. Leith’s motion that, from next season, two clubs should automatically be promoted, and two automatically relegated was rejected unanimously.

And so, Thistle experienced that character-building feeling of relegation for the first time in their history. Being voted down below the hapless and destitute Dundonians was perhaps the ultimate humiliation in a hugely disappointing season.

Partick Thistle scorers 1898-99

10 – Willie Paul
8 – Fred McDiarmid
7 – Robert Gray 
7 – James Kirkland
2 – Bob Duncan
2 – James Lamb
2 – Robert Currie
2 – Walter Lindsay
1 – Dick Richmond
1 – George Allan
1 – George McNicol
1 – James Bryce
1 – James Paul
1 – James Watson
1 – John Ferguson
1 – Waddell
1 – Walter Collier

Note: All goals are allocated in this season

Season 1899-00 – Willie marshalls the troops

The 33-year-old Willie Paul was now into his 16th season with Partick Thistle. “Veteran” had been the press adjective of choice for the last couple of seasons – but Willie continued to defy the implications of this tag, in terms of both his appearance and goal totals. Could he continue to do so? And how would Thistle respond to the feeling of having been relegated? Yes. And brilliantly.

Willie marshalls the troops

They came, they went, they continued to come, they continued to go – but Willie Paul remained a constant fixture, and he was a real pillar of the club. This was in evidence again as the century came to a close – Willie was almost like a figure from a bygone era, in amongst the new breed. At the age of 33 he may have lost a yard of pace – but he had gained a yard through brain.

A pre-season friendly with Clyde was played at Meadowside; Jags lost 3-4 to the First Division side, but Willie got his first goal of the season and, more importantly, inspired and encouraged those around him. The Scottish Sport reported: “Paul led his new comrades with judgement, divided the work with wisdom, and gave everyone the chance to distinguish himself.

Four days later, the League campaign got off to a great start, with a second half counter from Willie guiding the Jags to a fine 3-1 victory at Fir Park against an ever-improving Motherwell team. “From the determined play of Partick Thistle they mean to win the league” commented the Sport. The tone for the season was set.

The following Saturday, Willie was on target again, as the Jags won their first home League game of the season, defeating Morton by 2 goals to 1. Morton were seen as contenders and this was a very encouraging result. After just two League wins the Sport observed: “Every man in the burgh is convinced that the championship flag will find its way to Meadowside.” The woes of season 1898-99 meant nothing to this year’s class.

By the end of September, the Scottish Sport had Thistle installed as probable champions, even going so far as to predict that they’d be likely to replace Clyde in the First Division come the end of the season. Uncanny.

Thistle on a great run – the goals keep coming from Willie

Against Airdrie in October, Willie Paul opened the scoring with one of the easiest goals he had ever scored. Both full backs and the goalkeeper left the ball to one another, leaving the veteran Thistle forward to roll the ball over the line. The 3-2 victory kept Thistle out in front at the Top of the League.

In December there was another brace for Willie in a fantastic 8-1 victory vs. Linthouse, a result which maintained a 100% home League win record thus far. The Linthouse players didn’t look interested and the visiting goalkeeper didn’t look fit – this was a clear case of two clubs going in different directions. Thistle were proving to be born survivors in this tumultuous period – back then club lifespans were extremely low compared to today. The butchers of Govandale would soon demonstrate this to be true.

The end of the nineteenth century

What’s that? “A landmark?” I hear you say. “A milestone?” I hear you say. “Must be another goal for Willie Paul!” I hear you say. Correct!

The nineteenth century ended with a visit to Ralston Park, Paisley on League business. On the 30th December 1899, a 2-2 draw was achieved against Abercorn. Willie Paul scored. Obviously.

The result put Thistle 5 points ahead at the top of the League, but Morton still had 2 games in hand and were potentially only a single point behind. They were putting up a good challenge and the picture was now clear – it was a two horse race for the title.

The start of the twentieth century

What’s that? “A landmark?” I hear you say. “A milestone?” I hear you say. “Must be another goal for Willie Paul!” I hear you say. Correct!

The twentieth century started with a 2-game tour up North. At Grant Street, Inverness on the 1st January 1900 we popped in to first-foot Clachnacuddin. Thistle won 5-0. Willie Paul scored. Obviously. Long before there was Roy of the Rovers there was Willie of the Thistle.

Another wee run to the Scottish Cup Quarter-Finals

Friendlies, Western League matches, and Scottish Cup ties made up 12 of the 13 fixtures for the first ten weeks of the twentieth century, as the game’s rulers continued to experiment with the make-up of Scottish football’s match card.

For only the second time in his playing career, Willie saw Thistle through to the Scottish Cup Quarter-Finals, playing in both of the 2-1 victories away to non-League Galston and at home to First Division St Bernard’s. He never featured in the Quarter-Final itself, a home tie with Rangers, which drew an enormous crowd of 12,000 to Meadowside – the second highest reported gate of Willie’s time at the club. Thistle held Rangers until the second half but the modern “wage gap” problem was evident as they ran out easy 6-1 winners in the end.

Hats, handkerchiefs, umbrellas and what-not were being waved in a fashion worthy of an international

Thistle’s results had been solid – especially at Meadowside where we still had a 100% home League record for the season. Straight from match day one we had maintained our place as League leaders. However, there was no let-up in the challenge from Greenock – they had won their games in hand and were on a great run of 5 straight League wins. They were breathing down our necks in the run in, and four points out of four would probably be required.

SFL Second Division @ 23rd March 1900

Partick Thistle; Pld.16, Pts.25
Morton; Pld.16, Pts.24
Port Glasgow Ath; Pld.18, Pts.20
Leith Athletic; Pld.17, Pts.19
Motherwell; Pld.16, Pts.19
Hamilton Academical; Pld.17, Pts.15
Abercorn; Pld.16, Pts.14
Ayr FC; Pld.18, Pts.14
Airdrieonians; Pld.18, Pts.11
Linthouse; Pld.18, Pts.9

Thistle to play:
24.03.1900 Abercorn [h]
31.03.1900 Hamilton Academical [a]

Morton to play:
24.03.1900 Leith Athletic [a]
07.04.1900 Motherwell [h]

In what could have theoretically have been a title clincher, Thistle took an early lead in the crucial home game vs. Abercorn. Inexplicably, the players took their foot off the gas, and Meadowside was stunned when the players retired at half-time with the score standing; Partick Thistle 1, Abercorn 3. Such a result was unforeseen – nerves were jangling.

The second half was really the stuff of legend. Willie’s old striking buddy, Willie Freebairn, had returned to Thistle several months earlier after spells with Abercorn, Leicester Fosse and East Stirlingshire. He was only in his mid-20s, but he was already a seasoned campaigner – and he too was a big favourite with the fans. In Thistle’s hour of need, the two forwards stole the show.

The second half started in sensational style, Freebairn scoring in the first minute. Thistle had the bit between their teeth, and attacked with invention and conviction. Willie Paul soon equalised the game. 3-3! Thistle were a completely different team in this period – this was the proverbial game of two halves. Strenuous efforts were being made to gain the lead and, finally, it came, Freebairn scoring amidst “intense excitement” according to the Herald. “Hats, handkerchiefs, umbrellas and what-not were being waved in a fashion worthy of an international” said the Sport.

Willie Paul extended the lead, and, collectively, 3,000 Partickonians heaved a great sigh of relief. Final score; Partick Thistle 5, Abercorn 3.

The Sport reported that Paul and Freebairn were carried off the field “amid hilarious merriment. There was great reason for the demonstration, as the game has been pulled out of the fire, and at a time, too, when all seemed lost. The timeous fright will make the Thistle go all the way in future, and stimulate them to do what should have been done long ago.”

The importance of Thistle’s win was underlined by events in Leith. In a tough battle, a solitary second half goal was enough to give Morton their sixth consecutive League win. This race was going to the wire.

Another business end wobble

The following Saturday, on the 31st March 1900, 1500 members of the dark blue army travelled on special trains to Hamilton, hoping to see Thistle win the title. Morton’s final game was scheduled for the following Saturday. No doubt, all from Greenock would be fully focused on events at Douglas Park.

The Jags fans were stunned when the home team scored, with barely a few minutes on the clock. For the second week in a row we were throwing a wobbler – just at the wrong moment. Why do they do that to us?

Who could save us this time?

Now this whole article may be slanted towards Partick Thistle’s first double centurion, but, at this exact moment in this particular campaign, it would be completely remiss of me to skip over the contribution made by a young American-born lad (although this is disputed by some sources) by the name of John Blackwood, who probably made the greatest ever 6-month impact of any short-stint players in all of Partick Thistle’s long and industrious history.

The amazing young centre forward had arrived on loan from Celtic at the end of October and was immediately thrust into the no.9 role, with Willie Paul moving to his inside. He was a revelation – and a natural-born goal-scoring machine. In his short time at Thistle he really “put himself in the shop window” with an amazing 29 goals in his 6 months, and by seasons’ end he would be a Woolwich Arsenal player.

It would be John Blackwood who would save us on this most important of days, cementing himself in eternal glory at this excellent moment in the club’s history.

He grabbed an equaliser without too much fuss, and settled everyone’s nerves. He then added two further goals in the last ten minutes of the half to grab himself an ultra-rare “45 hat-trick”. Partick Thistle were now within touching distance of their second League title in four seasons.

On the old (unspoken) in-club striker rivalry front, he may have been outgunned on the day, but the man, the legend, made sure that the name “WILLIE PAUL” was also typed and recorded forever on the score-sheet of yet another huge milestone game. Hamilton were the better team for a great period but Willie’s second half goal finally put the outcome of the game beyond doubt, giving Thistle a 3 goal cushion. It was reported as the best goal of the game and was delivered in his classic trademark fashion as he “dribbled down the left, past half backs and full backs before scoring with a good shot”.

Final score; Hamilton 2, Partick Thistle 4. The title was ours – it mattered not a jot what Morton did next week for they were now 3 points behind.

Promoted by the drawing of lots

By virtue of having finished in the Top Two, Thistle were cordially invited to apply for election to the First Division.

There were calls from the 1900 equivalents of James Traynor and Chick Young that we should stay put rather than become “the wagless tail” of the First Division. Thankfully, this nonsense was dismissed by the ever-progressive Partick Thistle committee, who proceeded with the application post-haste. Thank heavens for driven men like George Easton within our ranks.

Unbelievably, this was the fourth season in a row that Partick Thistle would be involved in the nail-biting election process, with the club’s destination once again in the hands of its’ fellow member clubs.

The meeting was held on Wednesday May 16th, in the office of the secretary at 227 West George Street, with Mr J. McFarlane (St Bernard’s) presiding.

In the ballot were St Bernards (9th in D1), Clyde (10th in D1), Partick Thistle (1st in D2) and Morton (2nd in D2).

Drama ensued in the voting which was counter-intuitive to the League placing, with Morton gathering the most votes and St Bernard’s the least.

Clyde and Partick Thistle were tied for the all-important second place. The promotion / relegation destiny of these two clubs now fell to President McFarlane who had the casting vote in such circumstances. He deemed this to be too much pressure for one man to bear, and opted instead for the drawing of lots.

Luck was with Partick Thistle, who duly became the only side in the SFL ever to have been promoted in such a way. This was a real blow for the newly formed Clyde Football and Athletic Club Ltd. who have the equally dubious distinction of being the only club in the SFL ever to be relegated in such an un-satisfactory manner.

Now that the Meadowside club have once more got their head in front, I certainly look to their judicious management making a longer stay in the upper ten” said the Scottish Sport.

Partick Thistle scorers 1899-00

29 – John Blackwood
28 – Willie Freebairn
17 – Willie Paul
13 – David McDougall
12 – David Fairbairn
10 – Geordie McNicol
4 – David Proudfoot
2 – William Goudie
1 – James Brydson
1 – Robert Campbell
1 – Walter Collier
1 – William McDonald 

Note: All goals are allocated in this season

Season 1900-01 – Willie in the rid, black an’ yella’

There’s a very good chance that Willie Paul, now entering his seventeenth unbroken season at Thistle, was in possession of some sort of Scottish record for the feat – almost unheard of at a time when career spans were shorter and inter-club movements extremely fluid.

As a first-team player, he was now winding down for sure. Thistle were back for another crack at the Top-Flight, hoping to finally establish themselves in this class, and had invested a larger sum than ever before in the hope of doing so. Willie’s role would be to serve as back-up, as and when required.

Just before seasons’ start, the League structure was exceptionally gerrymandered to accommodate Queen’s Park, who, up until this point, had been staunchly non-League. They were placed straight into the First Division, completely bypassing not only the Second Division, but the standard post-season election ballot too. As it turned out, this unprecedented move, which resulted in an uneven 11 club Top League, would have dire consequences for Thistle at re-election time, ten months hence.

Willie played in the rid, black an’ yella’

The new strip, introducing a bit o’ yella’ for the first time, is depicted here courtesy of historicalkits.co.uk.

Image courtesy of historicalkits.co.uk.

As we all know by now, Willie Paul had seen it all during his time at Thistle. Here in his final first-team season, he witnessed Thistle’s traditional dark blue strip being shelved, and was part of the squad re-christened “The Wasps” by the press.

The new strip, introducing a bit o’ yella’ for the first time, is depicted here courtesy of historicalkits.co.uk.

Being a bit of an old romantic at heart, it pleases me to know that, at various stages, Willie sported flashes of red in the shorts and socks, black in the socks and yellow in the top (even if it was a bit of a mustard shade!)

A buzzing September for Willie

As a Waspsman (it’ll never catch on) his first call to duty was against Rangers in the League on the 8th September 1900. Willie played at outside right and forced at least one good save out of Matthew Dickie in the Rangers goal. There were almost 10,000 at Meadowside to see it and Rangers were “extremely lucky” to escape with both points, winning by 2 goals to 1.

The very next week, the 34-year-old notched his second goal of the season, as Thistle got their Glasgow Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 2-0 victory at home to the short-lived Normal Athletic. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the last confirmed / known goal in the Willie Paul story, but with such a handsome tally we can have no complaints. All good things must come to an end at some time.

In a season where Thistle experimented with many in the centre forward position, Willie was called back into the role for consecutive League games against Hibernian [h] 0-1 and Third Lanark [h] 3-1. The victory over the Hi-Hi was the first League win of the season and lifted “The Wasps” off the bottom of the table for the first time. This proved to be Willie’s last game in the Scottish Football League and, looking back at it now, this win is all the more pleasing for that.

In October, further Glasgow Cup wins were achieved against Clyde [h] 3-1 (without Willie) and Cameronians [a] 3-0. Against the latter at Maxwell Park, Dennistoun, Willie played up front alongside his old striking pal, Willie Freebairn. Freebairn scored his 9th goal of the season that day, consolidating his place as our top-scorer at the time. However, it proved to be the last game that he played – a kick to the chest side-lining him immediately. The initial consequences were that he missed the Final (as did Willie) two weeks later when Thistle, once again, were thwarted by Rangers, who won by 3 goals to 1 at Celtic Park.

Thistle stunned by the death of Willie Freebairn

The long-term consequences proved to be much more severe than that, however. After a few weeks of being “not quite right”, Willie, who was due to be married on the 28th December, was admitted to the Western Infirmary. He underwent a chest-operation on Sunday 18th November and he never rallied from it, resulting in his death on the following day.

Falkirk-born Willie was only 26 when he died but he packed a lot of living in to his short time. He was in his second spell at Thistle, having tried his hand down South for a spell at Leicester, before returning to fulfil his boyhood dreams with a short-spell at East Stirlingshire. Cut down in his prime, his death came as an almighty shock – his return to the first team had been expected shortly as a matter of routine.

The 27-year-old Willie Paul had nurtured the 19-year-old Willie Freebairn into the Thistle strike force several years previously at Inchview.

The two men had a great in-team rivalry going on during Thistle’s first two seasons in the SFL back in 1893-94 and 1894-95. Freebairn was top-scorer in the first season, Paul the second, each vying to outdo the other in a ding-dong battle that was fruitful for Partick Thistle.

On 22nd November 1900, the funeral was held, the party walking from the Freebairn home in Dumbarton Road near Whiteinch Cross to Byres Road, before being driven to Western Necropolis. Local shops were closed as a mark of respect.

Willie might have thought back to some great and famous days for the two. Perhaps he thought back to the time when both men scored a hat-trick against Glasgow Thistle in the League in the crazy 13-1 game back in 1894.

Even fresher in the mind would be the game just last March when Thistle, going for the flag, were 3-1 down at HT, at home to Abercorn. The two forwards stole the show with four second half goals between them. Perhaps Paul would have smiled at the memory of Freebairn and he being carried off the field by supporters “amid hilarious merriment”.

Scottish Cup Final brings more misery for Willie

Willie Paul finally got to play in a Scottish Cup Final – but it wasn’t an experience he’d care to remember. He was playing games in the second team at this stage, and played at centre forward in the Second XI Scottish Cup Final on 15th December 1900. In a storm of wind and rain at Powderhall, a weakly represented Thistle side were humiliated by Heart of Midlothian, and crashed to defeat by 8 goals to 2.

A wretched season

In the League, Thistle had sunk back to the bottom spot just before Willie Freebairn’s death. They never recovered from there, and were mathematically confirmed as the bottom dogs as early as January 5th 1901 when they lost 2-1 at home to Morton. Another long wait on First Division Death Row would now ensue – it would be 5 whole months until our judgement day at the annual AGM election. Talk of the eleven team set up possibly being increased to twelve or even fourteen clubs gave a glimmer of hope, but this was not shared by the Scottish Sport:

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.”

Thistle’s SFL / Scottish Cup season was over by 9th February, and the fixture list now consisted of games in the Western League and friendlies.

Willie’s last game for the first-team

As a first-team player, Willie’s “farewell bow” came in front of 2,000 fans at Clune Park on the 23rd February 1901, although I doubt anyone knew of its’ significance at the time, especially in the low-profile arena of the Western League. We’d love to think that, in typical Willie Paul fashion, he made sure that he was on the score-sheet for the milestone game – the official history book says it is so – but we can find no report to back that up, having re-checked the Herald, the Record, the Times, the Scotsman, and the Dundee Courier. The Greenock Telegraph says that the goal was scored by Tom Gibbons, and we are obliged to go with that. In any case, it was only a consolation goal; Port Glasgow Athletic 2, Partick Thistle 1.

Thistle relegated for the second time

Never, in the history of the Scottish Football League, has a team been involved in so many consecutive post-season elections. Thistle would set the record at six seasons in a row – this was the fifth of them.

When it came to the League AGM on the 30th May 1901, press talks of League expansion proved to have at least some foundation, which was good news for Thistle. Dundee did propose that the First Division be extended to twelve clubs but, alas, the motion was rejected. Worse still, the clubs voted to reduce the League back to just ten clubs and, from that moment, Thistle’s hopes had all but evaporated. The controversial pre-season admittance of Queen’s Park had come back to haunt us. Five clubs were now in the election ballot for just two First Division places – St Mirren (9th in D1), Heart of Midlothian (10th in D1), Partick Thistle (11th in D1), St Bernard’s (1st in D2) and Airdrieonians (2nd in D2). Heart of Midlothian and St Mirren, almost inevitably, secured the two available places and Thistle were duly relegated for the second time.

Never mind the Wasps, the Yo-Yos would have been a much more appropriate nickname for this lot!

Cue the mass exodus from Meadowside; not Willie Paul though – he soldiered on with the Thistle, as always.

Partick Thistle scorers 1900-01

9 – Tom Hyslop
9 – Willie Freebairn
8 – Tom Atherton
7 – John Spence
6 – John Muirhead
4 – Tom Gibbons
3 – Geordie McNicoll
2 – o.g.
2 – Dick Crawford
2 – Robert Campbell
2 – Willie Paul
1 – David Campbell
1 – Donald Cameron
1 – James Henderson
1 – James Lamont
1 – Murray
1 – Walter Fairgrieve

Note: There are 8 goals unaccredited in this season

A giant legacy – Season 1901-02 onwards

The 35-year-old was now in his 18th season with Partick Thistle. It wasn’t expected that he would have a big part to play but the intention was that he’d make himself available for selection, and keep himself in shape by turning out for the reserves. As an amateur, Willie was no burden to the cash-strapped treasurer – George Easton could have done with a few more in the mould of Willie Paul.

Willie honoured with a second testimonial

Willie had previously been honoured away back in 1895 – perhaps they thought his career was coming to an end back then. If so, they underestimated him!

There can be very few footballers whose services have been recognised by two testimonials at the same club – but Willie Paul was an exceedingly rare breed. For Thistle, he gave so much of himself for so little for so long, that there wouldn’t be a man in all of Scotland who would have begrudged him this pay day.

Willie had also given a small degree of favour to Queen’s Park over the last couple of decades, turning out for them on around 20 occasions. It was fitting therefore, that the leading amateur club sent a team to accommodate Willie for a benefit match.

It was played at Meadowside on the evening of Tuesday 20th August 1901, First Division QP emerging victors by 2 goals to 0. A large crowd is commented upon in various press reports, with a firm attendance figure of 2,000 being quoted in the official history book.

Willie Paul and Partick Thistle – stuck like glue

Willie’s devotion to the cause was never doubted but it was emphasised in a reserve game just a few weeks after his second testimonial when he lined up in goals in a match against Third Lanark. Andrew Duff, eat your heart out!

Willie’s testimonial year was capped on the evening of 5th November 1901, when both he and Jeanie were acknowledged with a presentation from the club. The Dundee Courier reported:

VETERAN PLAYER HONOURED. In recognition of the long and brilliant services rendered to the Partick Thistle Football Club, William Paul, the well-known player, was presented with a handsome gold watch last night by the members of the Partick club. Mrs Paul was presented with a beautiful gold chain.”

Willie’s name continued in the registered players lists all the way up to 1904-05 – either he just couldn’t let go or we just couldn’t bear to let him go. A bit of both most likely! He was around, but is not thought to have played for the reserves at all in any of those last few seasons. However, I shall keep my eyes peeled for even the smallest snippet of information that might say otherwise.

Willie went on to serve on the board of directors at the new Partick Thistle Football Club Limited, at the very dawn of Thistle’s long unbroken run as a top-flight club.

Terrible news for the Paul family

Willie (43) and Jeanie (39) may have got some unexpected news early in 1910 when they discovered they were going to have another baby. Tragically, the baby was still-born in October, 1910, and was buried at the Western Necropolis, with a double plot space future-reserved for the grieving, but seemingly practical, parents.

This must have been a very stressful period for the Pauls. At this time, their house at Carmichael Street was being shared with 4 Thomsons as boarders (presumably Jeanie’s adult brothers and sisters), 3 of whom worked in the shipyards alongside Willie. It seems reasonable to read between the lines and assume that Willie’s amateur principles ensured that he would never be in a financial position to relax and take it easy after he had given up the game.

As with many working folks of the day, respite from the 9-to-5 was found by following the nation’s favourite game. On Saturday 7th October 1911, Willie was one of the 58,000 who were at Celtic Park to cheer on Alec Raisbeck and the Thistle boys as they attempted to win their first ever Glasgow Cup in the final against Rangers. What a crowd – how the game had grown exponentially since he retired!

He himself had played for Thistle in the final of 1888. He had also played his part in getting Thistle to the final of 1900. He’d have loved to see them win it – third time lucky?

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Rangers won 1-0, their first-half winner coming against the run of the play. But for poor finishing, Thistle would have surely have won the Cup. Willie was probably heading and kicking every ball from his vantage point.

A premature death

Shortly after this, Willie was taken ill, following problems with his appendix. He died at home, 20 Carmichael Street, Govan, on the morning of Friday 23rd October 1911, after 4 days of sufferation. He was aged just 45.

Followers of football will learn with regret of the death of William Paul, one of the great centre forwards of his day.” ~ Dundee Courier

He was a close and stylish dribbler and played with a keenness and excellence never bettered by any Partick centre… Although never capped against England, Paul played in three Internationals against Wales in successive years, beginning in 1888, and, thanks to his leadership, the Scots only lost one goal in all three games and scored ten times.” ~ The Evening Telegraph

Sadly, both Mum and Dad would, in all likelihood, have attended their son’s funeral. David lived on until 1918, aged 78. Margaret lived until 1924, when she was 79. She suffered from bronchitis and had a cardiac arrest. She died at the family home at 55, Byres Road, where she had lived for some 25 years.

Willie was buried at The Western Necropolis, in Maryhill, lying in spirit with his old buddy, Willie Freebairn. Spookily, he had only purchased the plot 12 months earlier to accommodate his still-born child.

He was survived by his wife, Jeanie (41), and three children; Jessie (15), Margaret (13) and William (7).

In time, the double plot was filled by William Jr (interred 3 December 1921, aged 18) and Jeanie (interred 14 September 1934, aged 65).

A giant legacy

Willie’s career time span gave him an interesting time of it. It’s possible that the teenager watched Thistle play at Jordanvale in the early 1880s, and it’s even more likely he played there with Partick Elm. For sure, the man played for Thistle in 3 different grounds – at Muir Park, at Inchview and at Meadowside. In his 40s he watched them play at Firhill. He saw the game progress from amateur to professional level, and he witnessed at first hand the evolution of fundamental law changes within the game itself.

Most importantly of all, Willie Paul played a huge part in transforming the stature of Partick Thistle, helping to change the outsiders’ perception of the club. On his watch, the club deemed not good enough to be invited to participate in the Glasgow Charity Cup rose all the way to the very summit of Scottish football. It was a struggle – and there were ups and downs along the way – but Thistle got there.

Following Willie Paul’s second testimonial season in 1901-02, Partick Thistle began a run which lasted almost 70 years, competing in every possible top-flight campaign in Scottish football.

His astonishing plethora of club-records, milestones and tallies was quite something – but the rise and rise of the club, his one club, is the abiding, real and tangible legacy of Willie Paul.

Truly, the man stands forever as the first Partick Thistle giant.


This in-depth article would be considerably poorer were it not for the ground-breaking research by Niall Kennedy, and I doff my cap to the rt. hon. Gentleman for allowing me to directly quote from his excellent 19th century season-by-season insights. Aside from that, I think the story benefitted enormously from the informed editorial of the period from the Scottish Sport, all of which was possible only as a result of Niall’s dedicated excavation.

My thanks also go to Stuart Deans for his ever-magnificent treasure-trove at the Partick Thistle History Archive. Almost without fail, whenever I’m researching something or other, Stu’s archive has some invaluable original reference source that helps no end. It’s as deep and wide as the Clyde itself. From Brake Club banners to extra Willie Paul games for Glasgow to testimonial snips, the Archive came up trumps once again.

And a very special thanks to my kindred spirit Jack Little for his newspaper archive power-shifts and his trusty fine tooth-comb. Jack is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in Thistle statistics, and it’s been my great pleasure to be working alongside him in the last couple of years.


Aberdeen Evening Express; Aberdeen Journal; Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs; Association Of Football Statisticians 1891-92 Annual; Association Of Football Statisticians 1892-93 Annual; Athletic News; Belfast Newsletter; Birmingham Daily Post; Blackburn Standard; britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk; Daily Record; Daily Telegraph; Derby Daily Telegraph; Dundee Courier and Argus; Dundee Evening Telegraph; Edinburgh Evening News; Evening Post; Evening Telegraph; Falkirk Herald; findmypast.co.uk; Glasgow Herald; Lancashire Evening Post; Liverpool Mercury; londonhearts.com; Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser; Morning Post; Motherwell Times; Partick Thistle Football Club 1876-2002 The Official History (Robert Reid, Niall Kennedy, Billy Thomson & Stuart Deans); Partick Thistle Legends (Niall Kennedy & Tom Hosie); partickthistleahistory.wikifoundry.com; Pre-War Scottish League Players, Version 2, November 2012 (John Litster); Pre-War Scottish League Results & Scorers 1890-91 to 1939-40, Version 1.0, September 2013 (John Litster); ptearlyyears.net (inc. Scottish Referee, Scottish Umpire & Scottish Sport); scotlandspeople.gov.uk; Scotsman; Scottish Football Historian; scottish-football-historical-archive.com; scottishleague.net; SFL Tables 1890-2013, Version 1.1, September 2013 (John Litster); Sheffield Daily Telegraph; Sheffield Evening Telegraph; Sheffield Independent; Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette; Weekly News; Yorkshire Post


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