He only played five competitive matches for Rangers and he was the first of the founders to leave the club barely three years after its inception although he did hold the honour of being the club’s first president, that being decreed in 1874.
Sadly his life after Rangers was not a happy one. Little was known about the young man born in Callander in Perthshire, whose mother moved the family to Glasgow in to a flat in the Sandyford area where he was near neighbours of the McNeils – Moses and Peter, until the publication of Gary Ralston’s book The Gallant Pioneers.
Then emerged a tale of sorrow and difficulty which ended with McBeath’s demise in Lincoln after a miserable experience in a poorhouse. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
Shocked by this revelation, a group of Rangers supporters known as the Vanguard Bears sought to make things right and honour one of the founding fathers with the dignity his status with the club deserves.
A group of them visited the site at Washingborough Road Cemetery in Lincoln and they were aghast at the state of disrepair. They promptly purchased a 50-year lease of the plot from Lincolnshire Council and then set about organising a proper headstone to commemorate the life of McBeath.
This was completed in the early part of 2010 and it has now become part of city tours in Lincoln as a place of historical significance such has been the local interest and the Vanguard Bears deserve great credit for their work.
No photographs of William are known to exist and the Vanguard Bears have kindly allowed us to reproduce a shot they took of his final resting place.
McBeath had become friendly with the McNeils soon after arriving in Glasgow in the 1860s and was there that fateful day when Moses, Peter and Peter Campbell walked with him in West End Park – now Kelvingrove Park – and discussed forming a football team.
Like the other three he played in the first game – perhaps appropriately against a team called Callander (no doubt made up of fellow migrants from the Perthshire town) – and was said to be have been so drained after the event that he wanted to spend a week in his bed.
There are no records of Rangers’ matches in 1873 and the early part of 1874 but William only missed three out of the 15 Rangers played in the 1874/75 season.
He played in the first ever competitive game – the Scottish Cup tie with Oxford which took place on October 10, 1874 and was won 2-0. However, he had given up the game by November the following year.
After finishing playing football for Rangers, McBeath married and later moved to England but he had a difficult life as his marriage collapsed and he even stood trial near Bristol in 1897 for fraud.
He had been hired by a so-called entrepreneur to sell advertising to local hoteliers and businessmen which was supposed to appear in a weekly journal in the northern part of England where most of the summer trade came from.
He and the “entrepreneur” John Burgoyne Emmett were charged with taking money under false pretences. He was acquitted but left the area and moved to Bradford and married again – almost certainly bigamously as his first wife appeared to be living in Essex at this point
He then moved to Lincoln but he suffered in later life with mental problems and existed in the Lincoln Workhouse or poorhouse with no money and almost certainly suffering from dementia.
He died on July 15, 1917 and was buried in that pauper’s grave which, 92 years on, was transformed into a fitting resting place for a founding father and bears the legend “never forgotten by some, now remembered by many”.
Born: 7 May 1856, Callander