09 October 2013

The Club is Bigger than the Man – William Struth

‘To be a Ranger is to sense the sacred trust of upholding all that such a name means in this shrine of football. They must be true in their conception of what the Ibrox tradition seeks from them. No true Ranger has ever failed in the mission set him.’

by Gary Havlin | Contributor

The words of William Struth, Rangers Trainer, Manager, Director and Vice-Chairman, from 1914 until his death in September 1956.

If one individual has come to personify Rangers above all others, it is Mr. Struth. His obituary in the Wee Blue Book simply stated, ‘He LIVED Rangers’.

After a failed attempt to lure him from Clyde in 1910 – Struth didn't want Jimmy Wilson to lose his job – he joined the Ibrox staff in 1914 after the death of Wilson as a ‘trainer’. Even in his days as a trainer, "he commanded spartan discipline." His only experience in football was the few years he spent at Clyde, during which the ‘Bully Wee’ had built a reputation for being an exceptionally fit squad of players. 

Struth's background was in Athletics, himself being a champion sprinter and half-mile runner. John Allan, Rangers' first historian, said of him, "… a man well versed in the theories of preparing athletes for supreme tests of endurance."

The death of William Wilton on 2nd May 1920 (the day after we had won the Title back from Celtic) in a tragic boating accident had a traumatic effect on the club. A strong hand was needed, and the Club wasted no time in appointing Bill Struth as their second manager, one of the finest appointments in Rangers history.

Despite having very little experience in playing football at an 'elite' level, he more than made up for it in his man management style. Forming close relationships with his Captains, these were the men he entrusted not only with making the right decisions and organising his players on the field of play, but also with carrying onto the pitch the values for which he stood. He picked the brains of legendary captains David Meiklejohn through the 1920s and Jock 'Tiger' Shaw and George Young through the late '30 and '40s on footballing matters and strengths and weaknesses of opponents. To be the Captain of Rangers under Bill Struth meant more than wearing the armband – that legacy still lives on. 
Struth with his first signing, 
Alan Lauder Morton

Notwithstanding his lack of 'footballing' experience, his ability to spot a player was immense. Indeed, his first signing was one Alan Lauder Morton, a player who became one of Rangers' and Scotland's finest. Add to that Greetin' Bob McPhail, Johnny Hubbard, Willie Waddell, Jerry Dawson, Willie Thornton, Jock Shaw and Willie Woodburn, names that trip off the tongue for any Rangers fan. 

Struth considered right back Dougie Gray the most profitable signing he ever made. For a signing on fee of £20, the Aberdonian gave the Club over 20 years magnificent service. Torry Gillick, reflecting on the day he signed for Rangers in May 1933 said, "Mr. Struth gave me the impression that I wasn't signing for a football club, but that I had entered the most magnificent organisation in the world."

Struth was involved in all aspects of the Club's business. He shaped the Club from within as well as masterminding the footballing success that came its way. Rangers morphed from a 'weel kent' Scottish football club to an institution of world renown. The players were expected to live up to the reputation that Struth worked so hard to cultivate. The strict dress code was enforced down to the minutiae of players having their ties' done up in a proper fashion. Dr. Adam Little was summoned up the marble staircase for having the audacity to knot his cravat the wrong way. 

It's said he ruled with an authoritarian style, an iron fist in a velvet glove, that players who disobeyed his instructions were taking a chance with their careers. Struth insisted on First Class travel; that when players were at the Cinema, they had to sit in the best seats in the house to uphold the good name of the Club. Despite the rules imposed on the players, the results on and off the pitch speak for themselves. 

Struth and his good friend
Herbert Chapman
The great man's record at Rangers remains unsurpassed: 18 League Championships, 10 Scottish Cups, 2 Scottish League Cups, 18 Glasgow Cups and 20 Charity Cups from 1920 until 1954, and many, many other tournaments won in the war years of 1939-45, including the first team to win nine titles in a row in an 'unofficial' capacity. 

It was his team which broke the Scottish Cup Hoodoo in 1928. Fully 25 years had passed since Rangers had lifted the old trophy, the quarter century drought wiped away with a 4-0 victory over Celtic. It was Mr. Struth that instigated the British Championship matches with Arsenal along with his great friend and Arsenal Legend, Herbert Chapman. What is not commonly known is that Struth might have been Chapman's successor at Highbury. Willie Maley wrote an article where he revealed that he and Struth had been 'sounded out' over taking on the Arsenal job on Chapman's passing. 

Added to the domination of Scotland and Britain, Struth embarked his Rangers on numerous Continental Tours, the first being in June 1921 in Copenhagen. Through the years, the club traversed the world: Denmark, France, Switzerland, USA, Canada and Austria all saw Struth's Rangers make their mark on global football, remaining unbeaten until their 1933 Tour of Germany. It was the last game of that tour that saw Rangers first defeat on foreign soil, to a German League Select. Indeed, until that match, in the 12 years of foreign trips under Bill Struth, Rangers had played 40 games scoring 174 goals. One can only wonder what success Struth would have brought Rangers in the Continental arena had European competition been around during his glorious reign.

Struth and his Rangers Squad on an early tour of Copenhagen
Bill Struth relinquished his role as Manager in 1954 after some years of ailing health including having a leg amputated. Scott Symon was handed the reigns, to which Struth said, "On behalf of those who cherish the good name of Rangers, a sacred trust given to so few, I extend the hand of welcome to this young man, a man who became a true Ranger, and no more imposing accolade could be given anyone. I know that, from the most humble follower to the full board of Directors, he will be backed to the limit. And he will succeed."


Toward the end of his time at Rangers, Bill Struth was honoured by a number of Glasgow businessmen, who presented him with his portrait in oils painted by Charles Chapman, which now hangs proudly in the Ibrox Trophy Room. The presentation ceremony of this portrait in Glasgow City Chambers was presided over by Lord Provost Tom Kerr, himself a fervent Rangers fan. He told Struth that he was a "Napoleon who had never met his Waterloo," and it was in Bill Struth's speech of thanks upon the presentation where he uttered the immortal words, "Let the others come after us, we welcome the chase."


The players presented him with a magnificent television/radiogram and an electric fire. George Young, team captain at the time, made the presentation and in a touching speech stressed the overwhelming admiration and affection the players had for him. Brushing away a tear, football's Grand Old Man, deeply sentimental about his boys, each of whom to him was like a son, told of what it all meant to him. The emotion of the occasion was summed up by Rangers first Public Relations officer, Willie Allison, 'I have known few more touching moments or a more genuine sense of loyalty to one who could lash as well as praise'

Bill Struth 'taking leave of his boys'
His death in September 1956, like that of his predecessor William Wilton 36 years previous, cast a heavy shadow over Rangers. On knowing his days were short, his one thought was that none should mourn for him: "Let the feats of our club – those past and those that assuredly will come – be the star over Rangers. Let none grieve. Rather, let all rejoice that we have attained so much for the club which is bigger than the man. The honour has been mine in serving it. Carry on, my good friends."

If any man were to be bigger than the Club, then it could only be 'The Boss', William Struth.



William Struth – In his 34 years reign as Manager, Rangers became the most eminent club in Great Britain. He made the name of Rangers known throughout the sporting world and nurtured some of the clubs Greatest ever players. Fanatically loyal to his ideals, he made Rangers his life. But what shaped those ideals and what influence did they have on Rangers and his life? 

'Mr. Struth – The Boss' by RFC Historian David Mason and lifelong fan Ian Stewart draws on family accounts and the extensive Rangers archive to examine his early life in Edinburgh and Fife and the course of his time at Rangers. A warts and all account of the most celebrated manager in the unrivaled history of Rangers, 'Mr. Struth – The Boss' uncovers what made him the setter of the Rangers Standard.

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