1895-96 Cup runs eclipse League


  • Testimonial for Willie Paul
  • Thistle keeper suspended for violence towards referee
  • Glasgow Cup semi reached again
  • From bottom to top of the table in one month

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After the relief of not having to apply for re-election at the Second Division AGM, Thistle attended as full members. Cowlairs and Dundee Wanderers, after finishing as the bottom two, were unsuccessful in their application for re-election, and Kilmarnock and Linthouse replaced them. Hibernian, champions for the second year were this time accepted by the First Division, and they were replaced in the Second by another Edinburgh club, Leith Athletic, who had finished bottom of the upper division.

Concern was expressed over the length of the league campaign. Last season the Second Division took 44 weeks to complete, though it was felt that this was inevitable when all cup competition took precedence over league fixtures.

Willie PaulDuring the close season, faithful servant Willie Paul was rewarded for his eleven years as a member of the club, with a benefit match against a Glasgow Select. Paul was presented with a purse of sovereigns as his testimonial.

Over the summer Thistle won a tournament at Saltcoats Victoria, and this, coupled with a number of re-signings and new signings, meant that Partick Thistle were confident for the season. Most of the regulars from the end of the season had rejoined, while George Stewart had signed from Third Lanark while favourite Willie Freebairn had left for Abercorn. Inchview had been used by junior clubs over he summer, and this tactic had paid off – Thistle had signed several useful juniors, especially Joe Houston from Jordanhill, in addition to Buchanan (Arthurlie), Jim Stirling (Leicester Fosse), Robert Little and Lamb (Gilmorehill) and Thomas Paterson (Thornliebank). Old Inchview halfback John Harvey had left Derby County, and Thistle were trying to persuade him to return to Whiteinch, but he decided to join Freebairn at Abercorn instead.

The season opened with a visit to Port Glasgow (2-3 defeat), quickly followed by a benefit match at Rangers for J.Black. Rangers won a 70 minute game 5-1. Renton were the next league opponents with a game at a newly expanded Tontine Park. The home side had been beaten finalists in last season’s Scottish Cup, but a rampant Thistle beat them 6-2, with Wilkie in top form. Match details here.

Since 1891 the Scottish Cup had begun with a preliminary competition, designed to shield the top teams from the free-for-all that a first round of over 160 teams caused. Of course, it dramatically reduced the chances of a lower team being drawn with one of the big clubs, with the financial rewards that went with it, and was seen as another method the establishment clubs used to keep the money between themselves. In 1895 it was decided to introduce a prize for the winners of the “Scottish Qualifying Cup”, as well as entry to the Cup “proper” for 16 or so clubs.

Burnbank Swifts V Partick ThistleThistle’s first game in the new competition was against Alliance club Burnbank Swifts from Hamilton. Thistle came through with their second 6-2 win in two weeks as 300 supporters travelled to the game. The game was not without cost, though, as John Proudfoot was suspended for a month by the SFA for rough play and fighting, while George Stewart was confined to hospital after the game.

A 2-2 draw was played with Kilmarnock at Inchview before Thistle travelled to Airdrie to play the local team. Thistle were under strength for the game against the team that had knocked them out of the Scottish Cup one season earlier. Robert Campbell, Thistle’s old left back, was turning out for Airdrie. Before the game Thistle had lodged a protest with referee McIntyre (ironically one of Rangers’ witnesses in the protest against Thistle and Pat Smith a season earlier) that Airdrie were about to play three players who had played professionally. The game went ahead, Airdrie winning 1-0, although there was concern that Airdrie’s goal had not crossed the line. Most dramatic though, and inevitably involving goalkeeper Smith again, who was reported for punching referee McIntyre which prompted a pitch invasion. Smith was reported to the SFA.

At the next SFA meeting Pat Smith plead that his punch had not connected with the referee, but he was suspended by the SFA until the end of the season, surviving a call that he should be suspended sine die. The referee left the meeting by a back door, the implication in the newspapers being that he wanted to avoid Smith after the meeting.

It was seen as ironic that Thistle should have used a similar protest over registration that had denied them a place in the Glasgow Cup final the year before. The protest had been raised before the game, which would have allowed Airdrie to remove the doubtful players, but they didn’t, and the protest found in favour of Partick Thistle.

Partick Thistle v AirdrieoniansThe game was replayed at Inchview the following week, and in a decision seen as petulant, Airdrie protested that five Thistle players were ineligible – the same grounds as the Thistle protest. Thistle were victorious 5-1, with three goals from Paul. “Good old Willie” said the papers. Match details here. The Airdrie protest was unanimously dismissed at the next SFA meeting.

Thistle’s second team goalkeeper, Edward Conway, was highly thought of, and he had been promoted to the first team for the Airdrie game because of Smith’s suspension. He kept his place for the visit of Cameronians in the Glasgow Cup. The army side were dispatched 15-0, a record score for the competition. Govan was then visited for a game with Linthouse and then left, with a 3-1 win. John Proudfoot made his return to the team.

Winning in the next round of the Qualifying Cup would have meant qualification to the Scottish Cup proper, and Thistle were paired with what looked like an easy tie against Alloa Athletic, albeit away at the Recreation Grounds. A big crowd was expected and Alloa announced that they would open both pay boxes to accommodate the supporters. Thistle got a fright and came away defeated by 5-4. As was the norm, Thistle lodged a protest, but withdrew it a few days before Alloa and Abercorn were due to play in the next round. The two clubs had arranged alternative games because of the protest, and then had to cancel them after the withdrawal. Thistle were told to compensate the two clubs for expenses and inconvenience – £3 each.

The early season concern of league fixtures falling by the wayside was justified, as Thistle’s next game was another cup tie, this time of the Glasgow variety, against Cowlairs at Inchview. In the Thistle line-up was goalkeeper John Crozier, who had joined Thistle from Clyde, then left to join Woolwich Arsenal in 1894. He played one league game for the London side but left them, allegedly suspended by the English FA, and re-joined at Inchview. After losing five to Alloa Crozier tightened up the defence and Thistle won by 6-1 to take them into the Glasgow Cup semi-final for the second year running.

Before the semi Thistle had a friendly against Queen’s Park. Although not the force they were, due to non-participation in the league, Queen’s were still a force. Winning 5-1, then, at Hampden, represented a tremendous result. Crozier was excellent, while John Proudfoot scored three. Willie Paul, too, was in good form, so it was regrettable when he was sent off for “rough play”. Paul was distraught – in his career a referee had never cautioned him, and others in the game vouched for his reputation for fair play. Fingers were pointed at Queen’s Park players, who had surrounded the referee, clamouring for Paul to be sent off.

Celtic v Partick ThistleThe following week saw a special train leave Partick for Celtic Park. Left-back Morrison returned after missing games against Alloa and Queen’s Park – the team was at full strength, and Mr Hunter, the trainer, said they would play until the final whistle. The gulf between First and Second Divisions was never more obvious. Thistle were physically unable to cope with Celtic – “Partick Thistle lightweights were knocked about like tin soldiers” – Paul was carried off the field with the score at 0-2, while Currie and David Proudfoot were also injured. The start of the game had been fairly even, there were two penalty claims, and Paul was dangerous, but when he was taken off Thistle lost heart, but were ultimately not disgraced. Match details here.

After the match Thistle protested, again, about administrative mistakes on the Celtic team sheet. The discrepancies were as simple as players’ addresses not being completed in full. This was the third protest Thistle had made of the season, and contemporary reports saw this as very regrettable. The protest was thrown out as being trivial.

Although his hearing was not until the following week, Willie Paul was still upset enough to miss the next league encounter – a home match against Port Glasgow. Laird, formerly of Maryhill came into the side, John Proudfoot taking Paul’s place. Thistle won 2-1. Match details here.

The glut of cup matches meant that Thistle had played less than half the number of league games that some of their rivals had. Mid-November saw five league games played – three wins, a draw and a defeat. Fifteen goals had been scored, nine conceded, and seventh place in the table had been reached.

Airdrie, opponents from the Qualifying Cup protested matches, were next visitors to Inchview. There was a degree of animosity between the clubs, and Thistle were weakened on two counts. Willie Paul, though censured (but not suspended) by the SFA for his sending off against Queen’s Park, was not playing. At the disciplinary meeting Referee Donald stated that Willie had “hacked and kicked the Queen’s Park players.” In his defence Willie denied the accusation.

Thistle were further short of players because of the Glasgow Cup final between Celtic and Queen’s Park. Apparently a number of players preferred to go to the final than to play in a league match against Airdrie. Thus weakened, Thistle were 6-0 down after an hour. Following a referee’s decision, the crowd invaded the pitch and the game was abandoned. The Thistle committee condemned the encroaching supporters, but the SFA fined the club £2 and awarded the points to Airdrie. Match details here.

Lancashire clubs were eyeing Inchview enviously, and several players were fancied. Several clubs were watching Ferguson. John Wilkie signed for Blackburn for a fee of £40 (reckoned to be the equivalent of Thistle’s monthly wage bill), scoring on his debut, while goalkeeper Smith, though suspended, reportedly signed for Burnley. Walsall also announced the signing of Fraser from Partick Thistle, though there’s no record of this player playing for Thistle.

So weakened, Thistle welcomed Renton to Inchview. Though Paul returned to the side with a goal Renton carried the game 2-1. A third consecutive home defeat by Motherwell (1-2) was followed by a visit to Beechwood to play Leith Athletic. Paul and Ferguson were missing from the team who faced rough opponents. John Proudfoot had to leave the field while six others were injured. Leith won 7-0 to relegate Thistle to bottom of the league. Match details here. Three games had been won, five lost, and one drawn. Seventeen goals had been scored, twenty-five lost, and just seven points gained.

A holiday friendly at home to Celtic was arranged, but due to the effects of the Leith game, several players were missing. With Proudfoot in goals, Thistle lost 1-0.

The Christmas break was surely a relief to the Thistle players, and after a trip north, where wins over Dundee (3-0, Dundee at that time doing well in the First Division), 6-1 against Arbroath Casuals, and a 1-2 defeat to Aberdeen raised spirits and marked the turn of the year.

Motherwell v Partick ThistleIt perhaps marked a turnaround in fortunes in the league, too. The first league opponents of the season were Motherwell at Fir Park, where a 3-3 draw was played out. This was followed by a 4-1 win over Morton at Inchview. Willie Paul scored, while he was well assisted by John Campbell at outside left. Morrison at left back also looked good. Match details here.

A strong team faced Hearts’ seconds and triumphed 5-2 at Inchview in a friendly. John Proudfoot scored two of the goals.

Ex Thistle players Freebairn and Harvey returned to Inchview playing for Abercorn, and got a hot reception, neither player appreciating the “crowds bantering”. Freebairn’s performance in particular caused Abercorn supporters to accuse him of not trying against his old team. The truth, though, was that Lawson kept him in check. Campbell again was impressive, assisting Currie, John Proudfoot and Lawson, twice, to make the score 4-2 to Thistle. Match details here.

The impressive reverse in fortunes continued at Linthouse visited. Lawson again got two, as did John Proudfoot, while Campbell got one. Willie Paul, too, played well as the Thistle halfbacks and forwards combined well. The final score was 5-1. Match details here. The turnaround had been remarkable, and Thistle celebrated by asking for a match with a First Division club to test themselves.

Willie Paul celebrated the birth of his first child by scoring three in the 4-3 win over Abercorn, Campbell scoring the other. Match details here. Before the game Thistle felt that if they could win the away game against Abercorn, who were top of the league, they would stand a chance of going to the end of the season unbeaten. In six weeks Thistle’s league position had improved, moving from last place to third. They had won seven games, lost five and drawn two. Thirty-seven goals had been scored, thirty-five conceded, and sixteen points gained.

The secret of Thistle’s success appeared to be the consistency of team selection. For the visit of Leith they made two changes to their unchanged side, and were defeated 5-3. Thistle missed Ferguson at right back, and while Campbell and Lawson (twice) scored, Leith rode their luck to win the game and remain in second place. Match details here.

Following the Leith game, several players quarrelled with the committee, and as a result went on strike. The problem took about a week to resolve, during which a friendly against Paisley Academicals was played. The Scottish Sport reported that “several ‘stars’ had a well-earned rest” as Thistle won 10-0. At the conclusion of the dispute, both John Crozier and George Stewart had had their services dispensed with. Stewart left to join Motherwell, while John Spence took over from Crozier in goal.

Clearly, this dispute had upset consistency in the team selection, and at fullback several combinations were tried. Just as the consistency had been the key to good results, inconsistency led to a rough 4-2 away defeat to Airdrie, and a 7-1 defeat to bottom-of-the-table Morton, before the last game of the league season saw a visit to Kilmarnock. Kilmarnock were well placed in the league, and a win over Thistle would have set up their last game of the season against Abercorn as a title decider. Thistle, keen to spoil the fun, won 3-2 as Kilmarnock cancelled the special train booked to take supporters to Abercorn for the last game. Match details here.

Final league table.

W L D F A Pts
Abercorn 12 3 3 55 31 27
Leith Athletic 11 6 1 55 37 23
Renton 9 6 3 40 28 21
Kilmarnock 10 7 1 50 45 21
Airdrieonians 7 7 4 48 44 18
Partick Thistle 8 8 2 46 54 18
Port Glasgow Athletic 6 8 4 40 41 16
Motherwell 5 10 3 31 52 13
Morton 4 10 4 32 42 12
Linthouse 5 12 1 25 48 11

Although the league season had been finished in mid April, there were a series of friendly matches to wind up the season. Local rivals Linthouse invited Thistle for a match at Govandale. Despite missing four regulars, Thistle won 3-1. The call for games against First Division opposition was heeded by Clyde, and a home and away series was set up. At Barrowfield Clyde won 5-2, while home advantage told at Inchview where Thistle won 4-2. A 2-1 win over Morton at Inchview was played before the season was concluded by a win over Wishaw Thistle. Wishaw were prospective Alliance champions, keen to gain election to the Second Division, so the 7-1 Thistle win did them no favours.

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