Because there is no team like Glasgow Rovers! Lost manuscript reveals Rangers were almost called Rovers

THE only first-person account ever written of the formation of Rangers in 1872 has been unearthed after being hidden for 76 years – and it reveals that the founding fathers considered naming the club Glasgow Rovers.

Rangers historian David Mason launched his new official Ibrox biography, The Rangers Story: 150 Years Of A Remarkable Football Club, this week as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations.

During his research for the book, Mason came into possession of a short, handwritten autobiography written by a Scotsman named James Hill in Canada before his death in 1946.

Hill had grown up in Glasgow in the 1860s and 1870s and had been present at Fleshers Haugh on Glasgow Green when the club formed by Moses McNeill, Peter McNeill, Peter Campbell and William McBeath played their first matches.

Hill – who was the younger brother of prominent Rangers first player and Scotland internationalist David, who is pictured in the iconic 1877 Scottish Cup final team photo, and also played in the some first-team games – emigrated to Canada in 1882.

However, he wrote his memoirs before he died at the age of 86. In it he recounts how members of the Argyle Cricket Club joined in football matches with the McNeill brothers, Campbell and McBeath and helped establish the new club.

He also confirms that the colors worn by the first team were light blue and reveals that the Rovers name was considered when Rangers were formed in 1873.

Hill’s granddaughter, Meryle Nerland, traveled to Scotland in the 1990s and passed the manuscript on to then Rangers business manager Bob Reilly during a visit to Ibrox.

Mason discovered the document while writing The Rangers Story and contacted Hill’s great-granddaughter, Sonya Savage, a prominent Canadian politician who served as Minister of Justice as well as Solicitor General of Alberta, to request permission to use it.

“There have been various accounts of the formation of Rangers over the years,” he said. “One was written by William Dunlop, who played in the 1877 team. He wrote an authoritative account of the formation. But he wasn’t there. He was just talking about what we had told him. It was second-hand information.

“Moses McNeill did an article in the Evening Times in 1935. But it was written by John Allan, who produced the first Rangers story. It was closely aligned with this book and we know it contained errors.

“Other than that, nothing has ever come from someone who was actually there when the Rangers were formed. That’s the beauty of the Hill story. This is the story of someone who was part part of Ranger training. This is not anecdotal information.

“Nobody until now has ever shown the association of cricket in the formation of the club. It corresponds to what was happening in football at that time. It also shows that they played in light blue. There had a debate about whether they played light blue or royal blue.

“It also shows that they considered the Rovers name. They played in different guises at the start. They operated under the Western name for a while, they were also called Argyle.

“But in 1873, when they were formed, they finally decided to call themselves Rangers. Various suggestions were made. Rovers was one of them, but they opted for Rangers.

“The reason for this is that Moses McNeill saw the name Rangers in an annual edition of English rugby football. He felt it was an appropriate name because they were mostly out-of-town boys, so they were foreigners.

“Hill’s autobiographical account had remained lost in the family archives until a chance encounter I had with his descendants a few years ago. It’s fascinating on many levels.

“It highlights the growing popularity of football at the expense of summer cricket play. It also provides context for the development of the club. But it is the role of Argyle cricketers that is intriguing.

Hill wrote: ‘He (David) excelled at cricket, was a good bowler and was a leader of the Argyle Cricket Club, which played Saturday afternoons at Glasgow Green with other boys who attended St James Parish School. It would be around 1870 to 1873.

“Around this time Rangers started. Some young people from Gareloch used to meet and play football on Saturday afternoons. It wasn’t long before the boys of Argyle CC took an interest and gave up cricket and joined football.

“They used to pick sides and play good games. It ended with them merging into one club and calling it Rangers, with light blue sweaters and white pants (breeches).

“If I remember correctly, there were other names proposed. I think Rovers was the other name, but Rangers wore and they were certainly a big club in Scotland, playing association football.

He continued: “They were playing at Glasgow Green and there was quite a competition to get the playing ground near the shrubs of the Fleshers Haugh.

“As I was going to school and had holidays on Saturdays, I would sometimes get the Rangers goal posts into position on that pitch. As I got older I started playing if a man was missing and over time I was a recognized player in the 2nd XI. I occasionally filled a spot in the 1st XI but my arrival in Canada put an end to my football career.

“Davie played with the 1st XI from their start and although he was the youngest player in the team he did so well. He was chosen by the Football Association to play against England in 1882. They did well that year beating England 6-2, if I remember correctly, in the Oval, London, he also played against Wales and Ireland.

“He usually gets the credit for being behind the passing game. In association football, like most players at that time (were) prone to hanging on to the ball until they lost it.

Mason said: “Hill’s account is really important information. Her granddaughter died. But I contacted the family and received permission to use the memoirs.

“His great-granddaughter Sonya Savage emailed me saying she had no objections and congratulating Rangers on reaching ‘the great milestone of 150 years’.”

The Rangers Story: 150 Years Of A Remarkable Football Club by David Mason is published by Pitch Publishing and costs £40.

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