- Highest league position ever
- Riot at Port Glasgow
- Old favourites return to Meadowside
- First Limited Company board elected
Partick Thistle had developed a reputation for being inconsistent. Between 1898 and 1903 they had yoyo’d between the 1st and 2nd, never spending two consecutive seasons in the same division.
The committee, soon to become the first board of directors of the newly limited liability company Partick Thistle Football Club Limited, were determined that the club should become a regular 1st Division team, avoiding the annual scramble to avoid relegation.
1903/04 was the chance to get consistent.
Financially they finished the previous season with a substantial bank balance, after clearing off £650 of old debts.
The previous season was a record one for Thistle as they finished 8th, well away from the bottom of the division. Most of the previous season’s players who had performed so well were retained. The want of a reserve back had been severely felt towards the end of last season, and in addition to Campbell and Wilson, Joe Leiper has been signed from Chesterfield. Leiper had gained lots of experience with Derby County, but learned his football with the old Partick Minerva club and was expected to prove an important signing and end his career at Meadowside.
At half-back the team was strengthened by the signings of Hugh Murdoch (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy) and Harry Wilson (late of Petershill), the latter considered by good judges to be the signing of the season. The only newcomer in the forward line was William Hamilton (Clelland Rangers), a centre of considerable promise, although the club were negotiating to sign an ex Thistle favourite who had been playing in England.
Crawford had settled well and the ex Celtic player appeared to have found his proper home at Meadowside, and the same was said of goalkeeper Howden, who was now a fully fledged professional.
Come the eve of the first game the following players had been signed: Goal: Wilkie and Howden. Backs: Campbell, Andrew Wilson, Leiper (Derby County). Half backs: Harvey, Gailey, Walker, Willie Gray, Murdoch (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy), Harry Wilson (Petershill). Forwards: Crawford, Muirhead, Massie, Kennedy, Robert Gray, Conner and Hastie.
It was as young a team as Thistle had assembled for several years.
The season begins
The first game of the season was away to Celtic and Joe Leiper lined up at left back, replacing Andrew Wilson. The remainder of the team was recognisable as regulars of the previous season. It was an unimpressive first performance of the season but it took a late goal (Thistle continued to allege that the goal was scored after time was up, although the referee had not whistled to end the game, for the rest of the season) to deprive Thistle of a 1-1 draw after Robert Campbell had scored from a long distance free kick. Leiper played well but was unable to cope with the pace of the game, and that game was to be his only game of the season. The high hopes that he would be an important signing had been misplaced and he was released from his contract later in August, joining Motherwell.
There were a number of changes for the following match, at Meadowside against Port Glasgow Athletic. Tom Wilkie replaced the injured Willie Howden in goals and Andrew Wilson replaced Joe Leiper. Hugh Wilson, Robert Massie and Robert Gray also appeared in the team, which was regarded as a stronger team than had played Celtic. The game ended 1-0 to Thistle. The forwards had dominated the game but the Athletic goalie kept the score down.
Following the 1-0 win at Meadowside the Thistle team travelled on a specially-chartered train to Kilmarnock along with 400 fans. Thistle were strong again, good value for the 3-1 win, and they followed the win with a 1-1 draw with Hearts at home. Big Sam Kennedy in particular impressed the Glasgow Herald with his bustling style. According to the Herald Thistle “played with dash and vim that seemed to astonish the Hearts as much as it delighted the Meadowside supporters”. William Massie scored the Thistle goal and Hearts equaliser came from a penalty. The Daily Record reckoned that the penalty was an unfair decision as Robert Campbell’s foul was not committed directly in front of the goal, the paper still unhappy with the new rule, introduced in 1902, which introduced a penalty kick for any infringement committed in an area 18 yards from the goal line and 44 yards wide.
Thistle had been due to play a Glasgow Cup tie against Cameronians of Maryhill but the regimental team scratched in the days before the game. Thistle received a bye into the next round and re-arranged a league match away against Morton which they won comfortably through goals from Massie, Kennedy and Willie Gray. Thistle were the better team but Morton were reportedly aggrieved with the aggressive play of the Thistle defence. “The Partick Thistle backs were unnecessarily vigorous, and as opposition players were inclined to retaliate, the feeling on and off the pitch was not of the friendly order. Campbell had three fouls against him quite early in the game”, reported the Daily Record. “Campbell’s treatment of Sellars was especially reprehensible,” said the Greenock Telegraph. Athletic News had a different take on the Thistle approach, making special mention of an emphasis on dribbling, as well as “vim and eagerness.” Thistle returned from Greenock a single point from the top of the league.
The season had started well on the field, and off it, too, there had been big changes over the last few years. When William Ward was elected as President of the football club they were in the Second Division and saddled with a large debt. Now, three years on the club had become a limited liability company in “a highly prosperous condition, largely owing to Ward’s exertions”, Vice-President Ritchie Robertson said in tribute. The President was presented with a handsome lobby (grandfather) clock from the members of the club in mid September.
The Club’s financial prospectus was also issued. The capital to be raised by the share issue in the limited company was fixed at £4000, but only 818 shares at £1 each were to be offered to the public. 182 shares had already been given to fully paid up members of the football club.
A second visit ‘doon the water’ in two weeks was next up for the Thistle players – a visit to Clune Park in Port Glasgow for the sixth league game of the season. The teams had already met in the league (a 1-0 win for Thistle), and Athletic were keen for revenge. With Thistle leading 2-1, the referee declined to give the home team a penalty in the last minute. The home supporters stormed the pitch at the end of the game. Tom Wilkie, Sam Kennedy and Willie Gray were attacked and injured as they tried to leave the pitch. The referee, unable to keep control of some rough play from both teams, escaped the mob but had to be escorted to the train station for his own safety.
The home fans were unhappy with the ref’s performance and also the robust play of the Thistle team (although the Daily Record suggested that both teams were guilty of “tough tackling”) and in particular Andy and Hugh Wilson of Thistle on the left of the defence. Two goals from Sam Kennedy had given Thistle the win, but the behaviour of the home fans meant that both the visiting club, and the referee, would report the Port Glasgow crowd.
Athletic News prefered to concentrate on the form of the Thistle team:
Partick Thistle are living in an atmosphere of unalloyed bliss, the wherefore being that they stand third on the League table, with four of their six engagements won, and only a single defeat against them. Never in their long history have they been so elevated. Three of their matches have been played on opponents ground, and, what is more, they have in a singleencounter only lost more than one goal.
A couple of weeks later the Daily Record reported on the SFA meeting that discussed the Port Glasgow supporters’ behaviour.
When Tom Wilkie was asked by the committee if he had drawn the referee’s attention to the fact that missiles were being thrown by home fans, Tom replied “Yes”. “What did the referee say” was the next question. “Oh, they are throwing stones at me, tae,” Tom concluded.
“The SFA sat for three hours last night, and Greenock and Port Glasgow bulked largely the proceedings. The spectators in that district at club games are drawn principally from the shipyard element, and they have novel ideas of their own as to how they ought to comport themselves. Port Glasgow especially has earned an unenviable reputation. The language of its people is neither refined nor classical, and visiting teams, according to the complaints of Partick Thistle, are subjected to such playful abuse as having “daunders” and other missiles hurled at their heads from the horny handed Clune Park supporters, kicked on their way to the pavilion and abused off the ground.
A string of witnesses, including Tom Wilkie, the Thistle goalkeeper, who appeared to have been the special target for the tributes of the local enthusiasts, and Mr Ritchie Robertson, the linesman, made out a pretty strong case against the club. After a long inquiry … it was decided to censure the club and to send a Committee of Inspection to visit the ground and report.”
Robert Campbell represented Glasgow in the annual match against Sheffield. Glasgow won 3-0 at Ibrox.
Before the first game of the season the club announced that they hoped to secure an ex Thistle favourite who had been playing in England. Prior to the Glasgow Cup semi final match against Third Lanark the Evening Times announced that “after protracted negotiations with Everton, Partick Thistle have at last secured the transfer of John Proudfoot, the old favourite with Partickonians.”
John Proudfoot had previously played over 60 times for the club between 1894 and 1897 before leaving for a career at Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Watford. He was suspended by Watford for insubordination in 1902.
Proudfoot looked in good condition and replaced Willie Gray (still injured following the Port Glasgow game) for the Third Lanark game. Tom Wilkie also missed out but Sam Kennedy had recovered from being attacked by the Port Glasgow crowd.
The match with Third Lanark was expected to be close – Thistle had been in excellent recent form – but they were outclassed across the pitch, partly because of injuries to key players, but Thirds were very good, easy victors, winning 5-0. Some onlookers suggested the difference between the teams was as between First and Second Division football.
It was a huge disappointment for a team who had been showing good form. Almost exactly a year previously Thistle had started the season well before losing in the Glasgow Cup to eventual winners Third Lanark – a result which started a poor run of form. Thistle supporters hoped that history would not repeat itself.
There was an ideal opportunity to improve on the Thirds result just two days later in a home game against Rangers. A win for Thistle would take them to the top of the league table. Proudfoot dropped out but Sam Kennedy returned. John Muirhead also returned for his first game since being injured against Hearts and scored for Thistle. However Wilkie had injured himself trying to save a penalty and was carried off. Murdoch went in goals. Rangers were comfortably the better team against ten men and won 4-1.
The injury to Tom Wilkie was a reoccurrence of an old injury and he was expected to be missing for a lengthy period. Luckily Thistle had excellent back up from Willie Howden (who was to go on to play over 200 times for the club).
A run of unremarkable results served to highlight further problems in the team that John Proudfoot’s arrival had not remedied immediately. The club committee began to negotiate the signings of a further two forwards and a full back.
The committee’s strategy of targeting experience over youth and potential saw a further two experienced forwards join the club in mid October.
The signing of Alex ‘Sandy’ McMahon certainly had Scottish football talking. Sandy was widely regarded as one of the greats of Scottish football, perhaps the best forward that Celtic had ever had. However, he had played just eleven games the previous season due to injury and it was expected that he would end his career as a Celtic player, although it was unlikely that he would play for the first team again. It had been eight months since his previous match.
However the Thistle committee managed to persuade him that he could still play at the top level of Scottish football. Others within Scottish football couldn’t come to an agreement. “Celtic opinion nothwithstanding the ‘Duke’ is far from being a spent force,” said the Scottish Weekly Record, while the Athletic News was unconvinced that he would contribute much.
Sandy was immediately added to the team to play Queen’s Park at Cathkin Park, as was John Wilkie, an old team-mate of John Proudfoot and another favourite of the Thistle crowd.
Wilkie had played from 1894 to 1895 when he teamed up to great effect with John Campbell on the left wing. Campbell and Wilkie remained as a partnership with Blackburn Rovers and Rangers, although they went their separate ways in 1903 when Campbell moved to Hibernian. Meanwhile Wilkie was unattached for a while and hadn’t played for 15 months.
“Partick Thistle have put their house in order for game against Queen’s Park, there being five changes from last Saturday. McMahon is a certain starter, and with Muirhead the pair should form a capital wing. Crawford is off injured and the vacancy will be filled by Proudfoot whose position seems to change with every match. Included in defence are Wilkie, Campbell and Murdoch which should strengthen that part of the team,” reported the Evening Times.
A 1-1 draw was achieved against Queen’s Park. Both McMahon and Wilkie played, and Proudfoot scored the goal. Although Wilkie probably was not fully fit, there was justification for the policy of signing experience. “McMahon and Wilkie both played. Both exhibited much of their old cleverness and will no doubt once the rustiness of retirement has worn off, effect a material improvement in the forward play of their new club. McMahon showed signs of being unfit, especially late in the game,” said the Daily Record. The Record also reported that the referee could have ordered a number of players off for rough play.
The game against Queen’s Park was played at the original Cathkin. The amateurs were temporarily homeless – they were waiting for their new (ie the current) Hampden ground to be ready and had moved out of the old (2nd) Hampden ground a little bit early. It was to be the last game played at the ground before Thirds moved out to take over the 2nd Hampden site, which was renamed (new) Cathkin. Contractors were to move Thirds old stand and pavilion to the 2nd Hampden site to develop the ground for 3rd Lanark. Effectively both clubs had stadiums (2nd Hampden and new Cathkin) built on the same site off Cathcart Road.
Having improved the forward line, the committee’s changes began to impact on the defence. Tom Turnbull was signed for a fee of £25 from Sheffield United. Turnbull had previously played for Celtic and East Stirlingshire but only played three times for United, and had not played for three years after breaking his leg when playing in a United v Aston Villa match (United were unhappy when told that no ambulance was available to take Tom to hospital). Despite this, the Evening Times reckoned Turnbull a strong, powerful full back who should play himself into form. He was the committee’s second attempt to replace Andy Wilson since the start of the season, the signing of Joe Leiper being a failure.
Turnbull wouldn’t face Third Lanark at Meadowside in the next game – Wilson retained his place. Sam Kennedy returned to the team meaning that John Wilkie could be rested – he hadn’t been ready for his imposed debut against Queen’s Park.Tom Harvey also returned to the team. McMahon faced his old team-mate John Campbell: the players had formed a legendary partnership at Celtic. The game ended 2-2 and Sandy McMahon scored Thistle’s first goal – the first of many it was hoped. The Evening Times was impressed. “McMahon came off splendidly against the 3rd, and his clever goal had a stimulating effect on the team. The forwards would do well to play to him more, particularly at corner kicks. Last Saturday chances were lost by the ball being poorly placed.”
For the next game away at Hearts the Daily Record joined the admiration of McMahon: “The presence of McMahon should attract some interest. Practically he has done the average span of a football career in two clubs already – the Hibernian and Celtic – and that he is able to produce valuable work for a third is a remarkable testimony to his vitality”.
It was a disappointment to all that McMahon didn’t play at Tynecastle after all. “McMahon’s non appearance was only part of an afternoon of disappointments provided by Partick Thistle,” said the Daily Record, but no explanation was provided. Robert Gray was pressed into unexpected service, but it was a poor performance all round. The backs and half-backs in particular were poor and Hearts had it easy, leading 3-0 at half time. Sam Kennedy pulled a goal back but the game finished 1-4.
Tom Turnbull wasn’t singled out by the press for a poor debut performance, but the highly-rated player didn’t play for Thistle again. Andy Wilson would return to the team, having seen off another who would try to take his jersey.
Following an abandoned match against Motherwell, heavy fog making the conclusion of the game impossible to witness for the fans, Thistle were to face Third Lanark for a third time in four months.
The game should have been played at Third’s new ground (the old Hampden on Cathcart Road) but it wasn’t ready so the game was played at Queen’s Park’s state of the art new Hampden Park. McMahon “reappeared” in the team, as did Wilkie at inside right. “McMahon was clever but on the slow side, while Wilkie is improving every match, and gave a taking display,” said the Record. “Kennedy was very energetic in the centre but frequently showed a lack of discretion in parting with the ball”. The game ended in another win for Thirds, 1-0.
After a run of four games without one, a win was desperately needed against Kilmarnock. However, there had been signs of improvement in the defeat to Third Lanark. The left wing of Muirhead and Wilkie was potent and Thistle turned in an emphatic 4-0 win.
“McMahon was again unable to turn out for the Thistle. Kennedy scored after a brilliant individual run half the length of the field. The Partick Thistle forwards were splendidly led by Kennedy, who had several of his characteristic bursts up the centre similar to that from which he scored. The cleverest forward was Wilkie, whose adhesion to the ranks of the Thistle looks like steadying up their forward play considerably. Partick Thistle fans are wondering why Rangers let Wilkie go. He gave a display against Kilmarnock that was equal to that of his best Ibrox days,” said the Daily Record.
The first statutory meeting of Partick Thistle as a limited company took place on 4 December, when the shareholders were called on to elect directors for the first time. George Easton, who had acted as interim secretary during the transfer between the old club and the limited company announced William Hay as President and 10 directors, many of them names recognisable from the old committee:
- William Ward
- George Easton
- John Gilchrist
- Willie Paul
Sandy McMahon’s appearances had been severely limited since he arrived at Meadowside. Many from both sides hoped that he would recover from his lower back pain to feature against Celtic in mid-December. The veteran wasn’t fit, though, and Sam Kennedy continued at centre forward. Robert Campbell had been injured in a friendly the previous week and missed the game (and was to miss most of the remainder of the season). Tom Harvey moved back to replace him. Celtic were easily the better team and won 4-0.
“If there is one club more than any other that the Rangers can be depended upon to beat it is the Partick Thistle. No matter how well the Meadowside team may be performing against other clubs, they can never make any serious impression on the ‘light blues’ and Saturday’s game was no exception to the rule.” Rangers had beaten Thistle 2-0 in the game in early January.
A better performance was required against Hibs in the next game – Thistle hadn’t won for more than a month. The team selection, “handicapped by the inability of Muirhead and Massie to take the field”, was described as being at full strength. Tellingly, there was no mention of McMahon, suggesting that the legendary forward was no longer regarded as a key member of the squad. Thistle won 3-1 and the forward line played well. “Kennedy kept the wings moving grandly, and with Gray getting a partner to suit him in John Wilkie, and Proudfoot playing up to Crawford in a style that he has not previously shown, the Hibs defence got a rude awakening.” Tom Harvey, too, was improving in his new full-back position.
The win over Hibernian was a welcome one and they players seemed back in form, although the continuing attempts by the board to improve the team continued. Negotiations were pending for a new back and another forward who had seen service in England, reported the Evening Times. Meanwhile James Gailey, who had been at Meadowside since 1901, was transferred to Ayr.
The next game, away to Dundee, was a disastrous one for the team. The Dundee papers had excitedly reported that Sandy McMahon was back in training with a view to getting a run out before the Cup match the following week, but there was no sign of McMahon in the team. Campbell and Massie were missing, hopefully kept in good condition for the Cup tie the following week. The game ended 0-3 but the score told only part of the story. The pitch was rock hard. First Willie Howden was “rather badly damaged” by a challenge from Bell, but was able to continue. Then Tom Harvey and Wille Gray were injured. Gray was carried off with damage to the cartilage of his right knee and didn’t continue. With defeat a distinct possibility Thistle started to play the “one back game” and continued to press Dundee leaving Andy Wilson to defend single-handedly. The Daily Record reported that “the one back game was highly disconcerting and frequently made Dundee players both look and feel ridiculous,” although its not clear whether the Dundee players felt that Thistle were making it too easy for their full strength team. Crawford then left the game suffering from knee damage and Thistle reverted to a more conventional nine-man line-up to prevent a large defeat.In the end, the nine men performed better than the eleven-man starting line-up.
The injuries meant a weakened team travelled to Motherwell for the first round of the Scottish Cup. Bob Campbell returned and Tom Harvey moved back to the half-back line. Sandy McMahon replaced Crawford in one of his rare appearances, and played well. The Record reported that he was handicapped by the heavy ground but gave an exhibition of studied football, while the Athletic News described the game as “more strenuous than ornamental.” Thistle were disappointed with the referee, reckoning Motherwell’s first goal was offside while a goal by McMahon was adjudged offside. Willie Howden, after his injury at Dundee, was disappointed with his part in Motherwell’s two goals but made some good saves too. John Proudfoot’s goal and Thistle’s attempts to play passing football on a muddy pitch weren’t enough and Thistle exited the competition at the earliest possible stage, losing 1-2.
The Scottish Cup exit was disappointing, but back in the League, the team had been placed in a comfortable mid-table place since November, and they were to remain as the seventh team in the league of 14 until the last game of the league competition in mid March. This was a change from the normally inconsistent form expected of the team. Notable results in the run-in to the end of the season were a 6-1 win over Dundee and a 3-0 win over Airdrieonians.
Tom Wilkie made a long awaited return to the team during those final league matches, having missed most of the season due to an injuries sustained after he was attacked by Port Glasgow Athletic fans in September. John Muirhead had been suspended by the club for not attending training.
At the end of the season the club were placed in mid-table. Thistle had achieved a creditable top half position, between 2nd and 5th, for the first twelve games of the season before dropping down to 7th place for the remainder of the season, comfortably ahead of Kilmarnock at the bottom of the table. It had been a successful competition.
|9||Port Glasgow Athletic||26||8||4||14||33||49||-16||20|
With the league competition over (and an early Cup exit) the only things that remained were the Inter City League and the start of rebuilding the team for next season.
The Inter City competition had initially been a prestigious one, competed between the top teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to compliment the short Scottish League fixture list. For a number of year Thistle were one of a number of clubs who lobbied for membership. However, as the national competition grew, and extra teams were added, the Inter City League was devalued. Clubs were apathetic, and with no rules to ensure full strength teams, crowds shrank.
Thistle were among the clubs who played weakened teams, giving opportunities to youngsters to impress enough for a contract for the following season. The competition wasn’t completed, with Celtic in particular unable to fulfill fixtures. Unsurprisingly, Thistle finished last, failing to win a game. Tellingly, Celtic and Rangers also finished at the foot of the table, and the Glasgow clubs would leave the competition to form a new Glasgow League the following season.
In the match against St Mirren Thistle lost 0-6, rather than winning 3-0 (which was erroneously reported in the 2002 history of he club).
Ex Thistle player John Campbell, previously of Rangers and West Ham, signed for Hibernian.
Joe Leiper has been signed as a reserve full back from Derby County.
Half backs Murdoch (Kirkintilloch rob Roy) and Harry Wilson (late of Petershill) were signed.
William Hamilton, a forward, was signed from Clelland Rangers.
James Richmond, the ex Thistle half back, also known as Dick, “has been astonishing the south Africans by his fine play in a football match between Johannesburg and Pretoria.” Richmond plays for Johannesburg.
Joe Leiper was released from his contract by the Partick Thistle committee.
John Proudfoot re-signs for Thistle, from Everton.
Alex Morton has signed for Airdrieonians from Thistle.
Joe Leiper signs for Motherwell after being released by Thistle, and is appointed captain.
John Hastie leaves Thistle and joins Bathgate.
Thistle sign Alex McMahon from Celtic.
Thistle sign John Wilkie from Rangers, for his second spell with the club.
Tom Turnbull, late of the Celtic and Sheffield United, joins Thistle.
Alexander McAllister transferred to Queens Park.
James Galley was transferred to Ayr.
Thistle sign Hartley, an outside right, from Rangers.
Robert Connor signs for Bathgate from Thistle, while John Hastie re-signs for Thistle from Bathgate.
McLay of Rutherglen Glencairn plays for Thistle against St Mirren.
Thistle sign left back Thomas Suttie from Lochgelly United.
Dave Melville of East Fife and Wylie of Renfew Victoria play against Hibs.
Thistle sign A McE Swann, the Queen’s Park back.
Anderson (Parkhead) and Ross (Co-operative United) play against Queen’s Park.
Thistle sign Dave Melville from East Fife for £30 and the promise of a match to be played in Fife the following season.
McLean of Fairfield Shipyard plays in a friendly against Albion Rovers.
PT will play McKenzie, a goalkeeper from St Enoch Station team, in friendly v QP on 14/5. ET 12/5
Suttie returns to play for Lochgelly.
Thistle sign John Gilligan, a full back, from Dundee.
James Drummond, the ex Celtic forward originally from Holytown, signs for Thistle from Man City.
Thistle sign forward Henry McIlvenny from Hamilton Academicals.
Daily Record July 1903 – June 1904
Evening Times July 1903 – June 1904
Glasgow Herald July 1903 – June 1904
Athletic News July 1903 – June 1904
British Newspaper Archive August 1903 – May 1904
Season by season
- Miscellaneous (16)
- Other clubs (15)
- Players (26)
- Thistle – early years (48)
- Thistle – general (5)
Football history links
- Ayr United archive
- Bill Shankly
- Falkirk Historian
- Gallant Pioneers – Early history of Rangers
- Glasgow Herald archive at Google
- Hibernian Historical Trust
- London Hearts
- Partick Thistle history archive by StuTheJag
- Rangers History
- Scottish Football Historical Archive
- Scottish Football Museum
- Scottish Sports History
- ScottishLeague.net and forum
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