The League Leaders put up a gallant show at Ibrox (1949)

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Rangers, 12th November 2022)

When St. Mirren made the short journey to Ibrox to meet Rangers on 12th November 1949, they were sitting top of Division 1 with thirteen points from nine games, one point ahead of Dundee and Celtic. Admittedly, a number of the chasing pack including the Ibrox Club had games in hand owing to their involvement in the latter stages of the League Cup. Nevertheless, the Love Street side had the points in the bag.

Aside from a commemorative issue for the Opening of the Main Stand in 1929, the first regular Rangers programme appeared on New Year’s Day 1947 for the League match against Celtic. It was an eight-page issue, slightly taller than A5 size, and printed blue on white matt paper throughout. It retained the same format until 1965, with the exception of European matches and friendlies.

Rangers v St. Mirren 1949

Rangers v St. Mirren 1949

Issue number 55 for the St. Mirren match displayed a title banner on the front cover above the list of Club officials, match details and team line-ups in the contemporary 2-3-5 formation. Below this, there was an introduction which recalled that this would be the third meeting of the sides this season, following their two League Cup sectional ties, and that a “rousing contest” was expected.

Page two listed the fixtures and results for both teams in the season thus far, alongside Supporter's Association news. The centre page spread presented the results of previous League and Cup meetings between the sides and, unusually for programmes of the era, there were detailed pen pictures of the St. Mirren players under the heading “Our Guests”. The obligatory Half-Time Score Board, listing fourteen Scottish and English matches, occupied the centre portion.

Page six displayed an undated photo of a Club Golf outing at Turnberry, whilst the text opposite made the connection with one of the players in the picture. George Henderson, who starred in a Scottish Cup Tie between the sides in 1921/22, equalised for Rangers in the last minute and opened the scoring for them in the replay, which Rangers won 2-0.

The remainder of the programme consisted of adverts.

During the preparation of this article, it was discovered that this programme has, in fact, two different covers! Whilst the St. Mirren line up in both copies is the one which took the field, there is a difference in the Rangers XI. One cover lists Paton at inside right, whilst the other correctly shows Findlay in this position. The remainder of the Rangers team was the one which took the field and all other aspects of the two programmes are identical. This discovery will be news to many collectors, who would naturally assume that only one version exists for a programme of this period.

The game turned out to be a dramatically unlucky one for St. Mirren. Before a crowd of 45,000, they set about their hosts from the start, but the nature of the fixture turned after just twelve minutes. A simple encounter between Rangers’ Ian McColl and St. Mirren’s Alex Crowe resulted in the Paisley centre sustaining a broken leg. It was an obvious accident and McColl was left grief stricken, to be comforted by the Saints players.

In the days before substitutions, Arthur Milne went to centre and Gerry Burrell was given a roving commission. The ten Buddies rose to the task and for the next half an hour ran rings around their eleven opponents. It developed into a mighty clash, with Cox crashing a shot against the post for Rangers and Blyth also striking the woodwork. The last act of a dramatic first half saw Torry Gillick slip and pull a muscle, putting him out for the remainder of the contest.

The second period wasn’t so incident-packed, but the St. Mirren forwards continued to harass the Rangers defence. Jimmy Drinkwater was cautioned by the referee, as was Willie Woodburn for a series of infringements against Milne. Rangers were beginning to take command but Willie Telfer and his St. Mirren defence continued to hold firm.

However, with only five minutes remaining, there was heartbreak for the ten gallant Buddies as Rangers’ debutant Joe Johnson’s snap shot from 20 yards provided the only goal of the match. Despite the loss, other results kept St. Mirren equal on points at the top and their display left fans with the impression that they were worthy of that position.