The days of our Gallant Pioneers are consigned to the history books. However, their dream lives on as the club and its fans continue to write chapters, good and bad, which will chart the rise of the club back to the top of football in Scotland.
That the Rangers Football Club, so lovingly crafted and nurtured by the Founding Fathers in its fledgling days, is starting to flourish once more after four years of turmoil is in no small part thanks to the Rangers Supporters rallying to the cause and doing as their forefathers did before them, taking a keen interest in the running of their club, and buying into the Rangers Football Club. That the club rose up and started marching proudly towards it glorious history in the early part of the 1870s is in no small part thanks to the Founding Fathers and all who supported them as they strived for that first fixture against the greats of Queens Park. Those very first supporters who backed the club from it’s early days in 1872 would be given a name more suited to the Victorian age, they were to be known as ‘The Members’.
The very first members of The Rangers Club would have been Peter and Moses McNeil, Peter Campbell and William McBeath. The three friends from the Clyde Peninsula and William McBeath gave birth to the club towards the end of March in 1872 out of nothing but a love for the new craze of Association Football which was sweeping the nation. With an ‘itching toe’, they set out to garner support and attract members to their club, in order that ‘they could procure a ball and bestow upon it unlimited amount of abuse’ thus relieving the itch.
In the beginning, it really was as simple as rounding up their friends. The four boys did just that, not surprisingly there was a strong Gareloch connection. Moses and Peter McNeil’s brother, Harry, who played for Queens Park, was recruited for that first match, along with three of his friends, John Hunter and Willie Miller who played with Eastern and Willie McKinnon who played with Harry at Queens Park.
Eleven ‘Members’ had been recruited and they took to Fleshers’ Haugh for the first time in May 1872, drawing 0-0 with Callander. Seven members played in their ‘Civvies’ whilst the four ‘ringers’ were stripped for action. The Rangers were born.
With enthusiasm growing for the game, the need for organisation was a must, and a General Meeting was held after their second game, an 11-0 thrashing of Clyde. Members’ elected Office Bearers in a ‘proper and satisfactory manner’, and so began the governance of the Club with its Members having a say in which direction the Club was to be guided. William McBeath was elected the First President of The Rangers Football Club as listed in the 1874/75 season Roll of Office Bearers. The Members of the Rangers had made their first collective decision, it certainly wasn’t to be the last!
The Club Membership list of the 1870s consisted mainly of those with a shared upbringing on the Clyde Peninsula. Early criticism came with the accusation that they were ‘too exclusive’ with 3 McNeil’s, 3 Campbell’s and 2 Vallance’s, however these soon vanished as the club membership began to increase. The early 1870s’ would see the Membership numbers rarely rise above 70, with the numbers in the second half of that decade stabilising between 70 and 80. In comparison, in 1880, the Queens Park club attracted 97 new members to swell their coffers as well as their membership numbers. Their membership exceeded 300, and was so popular they had to restrict the total number to 350. Queens Park were the greats of the game at that time, and despite football’s amateur status, there’s no doubting the extra shillings’ available to them by virtue of their Membership base gave them a distinct advantage. Sound familiar?
Despite relatively low numbers of members in the beginning, the club did seem to attract people of influence or of some standing. The 1874/75 Membership Card announced the Patron (and member) of the club to be The Most Noble The Marquis of Lorne, the 9th Duke of Argyll and future Governor of Canada. It was something of a coup for the Rangers committee to persuade him to Patronise their fledgling adventure, especially as a year earlier he had married Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. He was one of the most high profile figures in British public life, and a Member of The Rangers Football Club.
An early edition of ‘The Scottish Football Association Annual’ acknowledges that “the club were on the march”. The rapid increase in Membership necessitated the committee to get private grounds and being successful in securing Clydesdale’s old cricket ground at Kinning Park, the club at once placed itself in the first rank of senior clubs. The year was 1876, Kinning Park had been acquired when Clydesdale moved to Titwood. At the same time, Rangers playing strength was augmented by the demise of the vacating club, many of whose Members decided to stay in the Kinning Park area and join the ‘Light Blues’
The Club was flourishing, but what did it mean to be a Member of The Rangers Football Club? First of all, it cost money! The first year of being a member would set you back 10s, and every year thereafter 5s. 10s in 1878 is equivalent to £37.90 in 2016. The average weekly wage in 1880s Glasgow for the Building Trade was 29s with a Labourer earning 17s. The cost of an annual Members Ticket didn’t seem prohibitive in any way to the majority of working Glasgow. The 1880s saw the emergence of the ‘football fanatic’ as the sport grew in popularity. Not specific to Rangers, your typical 1880′s Club Member was described by the 1956 Scottish Football Book as, ” All weekend analyses the game he’s just seen; on Tuesday and Wednesday he is still arguing the referee was really to blame for the defeat, on Thursday and Friday he is declaring his club should have made changes, then all is forgotten, all forgiven as he cheers his team on the field again on Saturday” The more things change, the more things stay the same!
The demographic makeup of the Members of the Rangers Football Club makes for interesting reading. In 1899, at the advent of the club becoming a Limited Company, shareholder records show that 22.6% of members were Manual-Skilled Workers, 18.8 % were businessmen, 10.2 % Manual Unskilled with ‘Professionals and Gentlemen’ making up 2.3%. White Collar workers made up 8.4% whilst Policemen numbered 0.1%. Proof that Rangers attracted a broad Church of supporters from all walks of life.
It was to be in the running and success of the football club, however, that mattered the most to the Members. By 1882 there had been no attempt to build up the Membership, and the financial crisis of 1883, when President George Goudie loaned £30 (roughly £3000 today) to stave off crippling debt, focused the mind.
The Athole Arms was the scene of the 1883 Annual Meeting where the Members returned Tom Vallance as President and recognised the need to increase their membership. The Athole Arms Hotel address of 13-21 Dundas Street is on the site of today’s side entrance to Buchanan Street Underground, next to Queen Street railway station. A recruitment drive proved so successful that at the start of the 1884/85 Season, the Membership list more than doubled to 180.
The task of the Members at the Annual Meeting, much as shareholders today, was to elect the Office Bearers, including the President. In a style not unaccustomed to the current system in Spanish football, the office bearers made lavish promises to the members. Tom Vallance, at the Annual Meeting in 1884 promised ‘New Blood’ for the forthcoming season, which he duly delivered. At the 1885 Annual Meeting, Vallance again made a proclamation for the coming season, declaring he would, ‘ Speak to the Members at the next Annual Meeting with 3 trophies on the table’ He was re-elected as President, however this time his promise couldn’t be kept, Rangers winning no silverware that season. The Scottish Athletic Journal had a field day, deriding the close season statement of President Vallance, they said they would ‘ Present 3 Tea Cups to place on the table before him at the next Annual Meeting’.
One of the most momentous decisions taken by the members happened on 16th February, 1887. At a Special Meeting, convened in the wake of an eviction notice being posted at their Kinning Park Ground, they agreed on a move from Kinning Park to Ibrox. One decision that the Members made that has a direct impact on the supporters of today, as the club considered moving to Strathbungo barely 6 months previous in 1886.
The 1887/1888 Season was where the Members really flexed their collective muscle, and came together in a vote that would shape the future of Rangers. There had been many clashes between board members, not least due to the disruptive influence of match secretary J. W. MacKay. The half yearly meeting in November 1887 got so heated, it had to be adjourned for a week. The second round of hostilities saw the members accuse the committee of treating football as a pastime and not as a business. A 9 hour debate saw the committee increased by 2 members to 7. At the 1888 Annual Meeting, things hadn’t improved as 6 out of the 7 committee members failed to be re-elected. Echoes of the 2015 EGM when Dave King and his board won the day over the then incumbents.
As well as off the field matters, the Members also had an indirect influence on the Rangers lineup on the pitch. The Starting XI was selected by virtue of a Selection Committee. The Selection Committee in turn was selected by the Members. In 1887, William Wilton, after a series of poor results, argued that the Selection Committee should be increased. The Members agreed. Change was effected.
Perhaps the most important decision taken by the Members at another Special General Meeting was on the 27th March 1899. It changed the way the club was structured and governed, and the Membership of the club came to mean something different entirely. They voted to adopt the principle of limited liability, and on the 10th May 1899, The Rangers Football Club became The Rangers Football Club Ltd, the Members became Shareholders, the shareholders eventually became a Majority Shareholder, the rest, as they say, is history.
As it is today for Rangers fans the world over, being a Member of the Rangers Club for the first 27 years of its existence seemed to be a badge of honor that was worn with pride. A mix of all classes of society wanted to be seen to be involved in all aspects of the club, from the success on the pitch to the grand social occasions. They had much in common with the modern Rangers supporter. The love of social occasions and an interest in how the club is being run to name but two. The striking difference between the Founding Fathers and the stewardship of our Club in recent history has been the involvement the members had in the running of the club. They had a say, and weren’t afraid to voice their opinion, as they did when they voted 6 committee members off the executive board for failing in their duties in 1888.
Supporters and shareholders, the modern day Members, have had no real clout in the affairs of Rangers for far too long. Through the new Club 1872 fans group, we are heading back to the days of the genesis of our Club where members had a direct influence on all aspects of the stewardship of Rangers. In the not too distant future through an independent Club 1872, Rangers fans will be able to ensure that major club decisions cannot be taken without the agreement of the Rangers supporters. After the hardships previous Rangers Boards have caused us, the ability for us to act if present or future custodians do not act in the best interests of OUR club is a must to protect it for our grandchildren, and is a hark back to the ideals of the Gallant Pioneers.< Back