This evening the Rangers will lock-horns with Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, in what we now call a ‘glamour friendly’. However, with recent allegations that Sports Direct retain 51% of all profits for Rangers’ merchandise, as well as the previously agreed deal to sell the naming rights of Ibrox to Sports Direct, Mike Ashley’s welcome might not prove to be so glamourous.
The Rangers first played a club from Newcastle on January 1st, 1891, at St James’ Park, with the Rangers winning 3-0, however, this was not Newcastle United, by name at least. This club was Newcastle West End, who had been formed in 1882 after West End Cricket Club had decided to launch a football team – as was common at the time.
However, Newcastle West End were finding it hard going and were struggling to keep up with mounting debts. This forced the club’s committee to approach their bitter rivals, Newcastle East End (another club launch by a local cricket team, Stanley Cricket Club) with a view to merging the clubs in 1892 – although this merger, much like that of the SPL and SFL, was actually a takeover by East End.
Newcastle East End were a much stronger outfit, having turned professional in 1889, they launched a limited company to operate the club in March 1890, the first club in Newcastle to do so.
A few players and officials from West End joined their rivals, and it was decided that East End would move in to West End’s St James’ Park home, as it was deemed that East End’s Chillington Park was the inferior ground.
In December 1892 the club decided to change the name of the club, to pay tribute to the merger. Newcastle United was deemed the most appropriate, as the merger had definitely united the city’s football supporters – however, an option on the table was Newcastle Rangers, which could have been inspired by the Rangers themselves, or more likely as a secondary tribute to the first club who played at the piece of land which became known as St James’ Park, Newcastle Rangers.
Newcastle Rangers were the second football club to be formed in Newcastle, starting life in Gateshead in 1878. They moved to a new ground across the river Tyne in September 1880, and the ground immediately became known as St James’ Park. Sadly, that is all I can tell you of Newcastle Rangers, as Newcastle West End took on the lease for St James’ Park in May 1886, and with that, Newcastle Rangers are seemingly lost to history – at least until I do some more digging.
Following the name change, the Rangers would again travel to St James’ Park on January 3rd 1893, but this time the Rangers suffered a 4-0 defeat. You could probably put this down to the higher quality of player, and professional status of those players who had originally played for Newcastle East End, but it is important to note that on the previous day, the Rangers had took part in a thrilling (and no doubt exhausting) 6-6 draw with Middlesbrough.
Newcastle would not visit their friends at Ibrox until April 29th, 1901, when the Rangers won 3-1, with goals from legends Finlay Speedie (brace) and *RC Campbell (*not to be confused with RG Campbell, or RC Hamilton).
Finlay Speedie (a future hero of The Great War earning himself the Military Medal) was clearly a player who had impressed the Geordies during their various encounters, and he was later transferred to St James’ Park in September 1906, and went on to become a Newcastle United legend.
Another player who left the Rangers for Newcastle in 1906 was Tom Sinclair, a name that many will not have heard before.
Tom Sinclair had been the Rangers No. 1 since October 29th, 1904, when the Rangers beat Dundee 2-1 at Ibrox. Sinclair would only miss one game from that day forward to the end of the 1905/06 season, which had ended with the Rangers beating Queen’s Park 3-2 in the final of the Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup at Hampden.
Around the time of the semi-final of that competition, which was against Celtic, the Rangers had signed the man who would ultimately replace Sinclair at the end of the season – Alex Newbigging, who transferred from Reading.
During a benefit match for Finlay Speedie on August 16th 1906, Celtic goalkeeper David Adams severely cut his hand (mid-save) on a nail which was sticking out of the goalpost. Before the Celtic officials left Ibrox that evening, it was agreed that Sinclair would play for Celtic, until Adams was fit to play.
Sinclair played at least 8 games for Celtic during his short spell between the sticks, including the first two rounds of the Glasgow Cup, without conceding a single goal. Celtic went on to win the Glasgow Cup that season, awarding Tom Sinclair with one of his three medals won in 1906/07.
Extraordinarily, Sinclair also won a medal from the Scottish Second XI Cup, with the Rangers, before his move to Newcastle United, where he then won the First Division title! Three medals in one season with three different clubs!
In the decades that followed under William Wilton and then Bill Struth, the Rangers and Newcastle would continue to regularly play friendly and ‘benefit’ matches, including the British Cup Challenge Match in 1932, which Newcastle won. This was probably due to the fact that the Rangers were the best team in Scotland, and to maintain such a position, they had to ensure they were tested beyond what could be offered domestically.
The regular friendly and benefit matches slowed somewhat after the mid-20s, as the Rangers began to travel further and further abroad to spread the Rangers word (to the USA and Canada in particular), and of course, the birth of European competition probably saw it more important to play a higher number of friendlies against non-British opposition.
It wasn’t until 1969 that the clubs would meet for the first time in a competitive fixture, in the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
The first leg was a goalless draw at Ibrox, before 10,000 of the famous, and fearless, Rangers support travelled down to St James’ Park for the return leg.
A former colleague of mine, a Geordie called Tom King, attended that famous game, and recalled it as the most drunken support he had ever seen!
“Rangers fans were jumping the turnstiles to try and get in, and many were seen to be getting a bite on the arse from a police dog as they got chased out. It was more than common back then for fans to give the turnstile operator a few notes to let them in, when there was supposed to be no more getting in. The lads on the turnstiles made a fortune that night!
“But, so did I. After the games we used to nip in to the ground and pick up all the bottles, and there must have been about 100,000 empty bottles in the Paddock the next day. Every Rangers supporter seemed to be carrying a crate of beer on his shoulder as he walked in to the ground.”
Two of RangersMedia’s more ‘experienced’ members, ‘minstral’ and ‘BLUEDIGNITY’, were there that night and it definitely appears that this night was not the Rangers support’s greatest night as far as behaviour is concerned – although that may depend on your point of view!
“We got crammed into the area known as the paddock. The cops couldn’t control the queues outside and a gate was broken down, so a lot got in without tickets – we’re probably lucky that there wasn’t a disaster.
“In the pubs before the game I remember they said to us that we couldn’t get tumblers and they gave us the drink in bottles, but a lot of windows didn’t see the logic in that idea later on. Those Newcastle Brown Ale bottles were heavy in them days.
“I also remember an announcement over the tannoy which said if we came on the park again the game would get abandoned. We were getting beat 2-0 at that time, but the announcement only prompted another invasion! A few Geordie fans came on behind the goals waving their scarfs, and another charge of the Light Blue brigade began!”
The crowd trouble that night has since been declared by some who were there as worse than that which we saw in Barcelona four years later, but a memorable occasion for those who attended nonetheless.
It would be no surprise that the Rangers would not be invited to St James’ Park again until 2005, which was a shame, as the two clubs had developed such a special relationship in the first half of the 20th century.
Closely followed by the likes of Arsenal and Everton, the Rangers have played Newcastle United more than any other English club and tonight’s meeting will be the 29th meeting between the clubs.
As well as being the majority owner of the Toon, Mike Ashley is one of the largest shareholders in Rangers International Football Club, and it remains to be seen whether or not Ashley intends to make the Rangers his own in the near future. With Ashley being the biggest shareholder to support the call to oust the Ahmad/Green consortium via an EGM next month, it looks like he could be about to increase his shareholding in the Rangers.
Does he have intentions to bring a ‘Newcastle Rangers’ back to St James’ Park? Unlikely, but can we rule it out completely? Not at all…Newcastle End 0-3 Rangers, 1/1/1891
Newcastle United 4-0 Rangers, 3/1/1893
Newcastle United 2-5 Rangers, 30/4/1895
Newcastle United 3-1 Rangers, 24/4/1897
Newcastle United 4-1 Rangers, 25/12/1900
Rangers 3-1 Newcastle United, 29/4/1901
Rangers 0-5 Newcastle United (neutral venue: Central Park, Aberdeen), 29/4/1902
Newcastle United 3-1 Rangers, 1/2/1902
Rangers 2-2 Newcastle United, 29/4/1903
Rangers 2-0 Newcastle United, 27/4/1904
Rangers 3-0 Newcastle United, 24/4/1907
Newcastle United 4-1 Rangers, 30/9/1908
Newcastle United 4-2 Rangers, 7/10/1908
Newcastle United 1-1 Rangers, 28/3/1914
Rangers 0-0 Newcastle United, 26/4/1921
Newcastle United 2-1 Rangers, 14/9/1921
Rangers 1-1 Newcastle United, 25/4/1922
Newcastle United 4-1 Rangers, 20/9/1922
Rangers 1-0 Newcastle United, 27/4/1925
Newcastle United 2-0 Rangers, 2/9/1925
British Cup Challenge Match, 1st Leg: Rangers 4-1 Newcastle, 14/9/1932
British Cup Challenge Match, 2nd Leg: Newcastle 5-0 Rangers, 21/9/1932
Rangers 3-2 Newcastle United, 25/9/1945
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Semi-Final, 1st Leg: Rangers 0-0 Newcastle United, 14/5/1969
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Semi-Final, 2nd Leg: Newcastle United 2-0 Rangers, 21/5/1969
Rangers 1-2 Newcastle United, 3/8/1993
Newcastle United 4-2 Rangers, 31/7/2005
Rangers 2-1 Newcastle United, 7/10/2010