Big Interview

Billy Simpson

Sunday, 29 January 2017, 10:00

By: Rangers Football Club

On RangersTV supporters can watch in-depth one-to-ones with a lot of the club’s greatest stars as they discuss their football careers and years at Ibrox.

Today, Northern Irish striker Billy Simpson remembers his early years at Rangers after legendary manager Bill Struth brought him to Ibrox in 1950.

BILLY SIMPSON was a terrific striker who cost Rangers a club record fee of £11,500 when he joined the club in 1950.

A Northern Ireland internationalist, he arrived at Ibrox from Linfield on the recommendation of Light Blues great Torry Gillick.

Simpson’s versatility was one of his biggest strengths and while he performed well as an inside forward, it was through the middle where he was at his best.

His 163 goals in all competitions were proof of that and finding the net more than once every two games was no mean feat.

Simpson scored four goals in a single match on no less than three occasions for Rangers, against Third Lanark, St Mirren and Hibs.

His most important strike, however, was a sole counter against Hearts in April 1957 that allowed his team to go on and win the title.

Simpson’s finest moment on the international stage came at Wembley in November 1957, when he hit the winner against England.

He stayed at Ibrox for another four months before moving on to Annfield, the then home of Stirling Albion, in 1958

WATCH FULL INTERVIEW ON RANGERSTV HERE AND HERE

NAME
BILLY SIMPSON

DOB
12/12/1929, BELFAST

POSITION
STRIKER

RANGERS CAREER
APPS 239 (1950-1959) GOALS 163

CLUBS PLAYED FOR
LINFIELD, RANGERS, STIRLING ALBION, PARTICK THISTLE, OXFORD UNITED

HONOURS WON WITH RANGERS
LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP – 1952/53, 1955/56, 1956/57
SCOTTISH CUP – 1952/53

INTERNATIONAL

12 APPS (NORTHERN IRELAND), 5 GOALS

You were at Rangers for nine years in total after joining the club in 1950. You must have so many great memories.

BS: “I have great memories; I would need a bit of time to think about them all there are that many.

“It was a wonderful experience coming from Belfast. Linfield were a big club in Northern Ireland but to come over to Glasgow rangers was something you dreamed of when you were a wee boy.”

Explain to us how the move to Rangers came about.

BS: “I was picked for the Irish league and we were playing the English League in Blackpool. So I went over there and I think the result was 2-1 and we put on a good show.

“After the game I came back home to Belfast and I back to work the next day, in those days you were just part time more or less.

“The foreman came up and said there was a phone call from Windsor Park, from the secretary Mr Mackie, and that he wanted to see me down at the ground.

“My work was near to Windsor Park so I went down to the ground and Jerry Morgan the trainer said that Mr Mackie wanted to see me down at his office in the city hall.

“I wondered what it was all about and I’m not sure if jerry knew or not but I went down anyway and Mr Mackie took us into his office and said ‘Well lad I’ve got good news for you, there are two prominent clubs are interested in you.’

“He told me the two clubs were Everton and Glasgow Rangers and I said there was no argument at all, it was Rangers for me.

“So things moved quite quickly. I had to rush home but before that they said they had to get me rigged out. It wasn’t as if I was a tramp or anything but he sent me down to the big stores, one of the posh stores I had never been in in Belfast, and I got rigged out with nice clothes.

“I came over in the boat and in those days it was quite a long journey from 9 o’clock at night we docked in at the Broomielaw at 6 o’clock.

team_group_1

“Tom Petrie, who was Mr Struth’s chauffeur, came on to the boat and said to me that Mr Struth wouldn’t be able to see me until later on in the morning.

“So we had breakfast on board and he brought me up to Mr Struth, whose flat was over in Copland Road and he was just recuperating from his leg operation.

“I went in anyway and what an experience it was to meet this man who was known all over Northern Ireland as ‘The Boss’. But he made me feel relaxed straight away and told me what was needed to be a player at Rangers Football Club.

“He laid the law down and you knew if you stepped out of line you wouldn’t be here. I was still shaking actually but after a while it did settle down because I thought he was a very fatherly man. He was giving me good advice and he said ‘Now what you can do is you can go home to your parents and get things fixed up, or you can have a game out here on the park for the Reserves. What do you want to do?’

“I said I would play and I asked who were we playing, it was Queen’s Park Strollers. So I went out that Saturday and the whole enclosure which probably held around 10,000 fans was full and there were people in the stand.

“They had come to see who this boy was who had joined for a record signing fee of £11,500. I had the game anyway and I went back home and reported back next week.

“That was the start of my career and I never regretted it, it was a dream come true.”

As you mentioned you were the club’s record signing back then, did it put extra pressure on you?

BS: “It did in a way but I just wanted to play football and playing for such a famous club, I just never thought about money.

“The papers said it was a record fee and maybe a few years after you thought it was a lot, because it was a lot of money back then.

“But it never put pressure on me; I just liked the game that much and just to get out on the park. My great friend Johnny Hubbard used to sit in the dressing room and he used to be shaking, but once he got out onto the park he was fine.

“Now there are a lot of players were like that inwardly and you didn’t show it but once you got out onto the park you just wanted to play football.”

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What a career you went on to have at Rangers. You joined in 1950 and in 239 appearances you scored 163 goals and you’ve been described as pound-for-pound, the best signing Bill Struth ever made for the club.

BS: “It was some complement really, coming from a man like Mr Struth and I never would have thought I would have scored as many, I never really counted.

“I remember scoring four goals in three games but I couldn’t have cared less who scored as long as the team won and that’s telling you the truth.

“I was a team man and you give 110 percent. That’s the way it was and anyone that pulls on that blue jersey and can’t give 110 percent, they shouldn’t have the blue jersey on. That’s the way I see it anyway. If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.”

How did you fit into the Rangers squad initially?

BS: “They were very good to me because Willie Thornton, who was more or less at the end of his career, I watched him playing as a boy before I come over here and I thought he was colossal like a lot of the Rangers players.

“Willie helped me an awful lot as did George Young, Willie Woodburn and I could go through all the senior players.

“I appreciated it greatly. You’ll get some players who will come to a club and they are a wee bit out in the wilderness but not with me anyway, I found they were colossal and everybody made me feel welcome.”

If you had been able to choose your position what would it have been? In saying that, it would have been a brave man to tell Mr Struth where you wanted to play?

BS: “He would have chased you down the stairs, you wouldn’t argue with him, but I would have played anywhere and I’m sure the rest of the blokes would have played anywhere as long as you are in the team.”

You were described as a very brave player.

BS: “Well, I would just go for any ball really, legally, I didn’t bash my way through. But if the ball was in there I would go for it. I think it paid off and Willie Thornton was one of the main men who helped me head the ball.

“I was quite tall anyway but Willie gave me some great advice on what to do on the park. If the winger, Willie Waddell or whoever, got the ball he always told me not to come into the goals, hang out a bit because Willie Waddell was a colossal crosser of the ball and Johnny Hubbard, my pal, had a different style of crossing the ball.

“Willie would lob the ball and have it hanging in the air so you would get used to it. Johnny would cross the ball very fast across and you just needed to touch it and it went in like a rocket.

“You could time it but what Willie Thornton told me to do was to get to the corner of the 18-yard box and when the ball comes in try to time your run and by the time the ball comes over you’ll get up higher with a running jump that you will with a standing jump.

“So Willie taught me that and I appreciated it.”

billy_simpson_1

You had so many great players in your team back then.

BS: “Brown, Young and Shaw, McColl, Woodburn, Cox, it was an iron defence and the old timers like myself can rhyme that defence off.

“It was Saturday after Saturday and the forward line wasn’t so easy to pick. There were three or four of us in the forward line but you had to play for place actually.

“If you weren’t doing your stuff you would get dropped but I was quite fortunate. I was never dropped from the team but it was a colossal defence, the ‘Iron Curtain’. I never saw a defence like it and I don’t know how it would work today, but I think it would.”

How did you find the adjustment to Scottish football initially?

BS: “Oh, it was some difference, unbelievable. When you were only part-time you trained two nights a week in Belfast and that was your lot. But when you came over here it was different altogether. I had to speed up so they sent me to the Bellahouston Harriers and the man who helped me, their chief coach, put me through my paces and got me speeded up. It was short 15 yard sprints and it helped me an awful lot actually, it certainly did.”

What kind of player would you have described yourself as?

BS: “When I started playing centre forward I was more or less a ‘feeder’ centre forward. If the ball was shoved through I would just flick it through to the inside forwards.

“But I would say my strongest point was heading the ball actually. The ball in those days is totally different to what it is now. Nowadays the ball seems to be very light but back then, more so when it was a heavy ground, the ball got heavier and heavier as the game went on.

“Sometimes when you headed the ball you saw stars it was that heavy. If you cross the ball from the byline into the goal you were doing well actually. Nowadays the ball doesn’t gain any weight at all so it was totally different in those days.

“But I liked the challenge of going up and heading the ball if it was in the goal area, and that was through playing for my boys club, before I went to Linfield and playing centre half.

“You had to head the ball an awful lot and I think that’s how I got to learn the knack of how to head the ball.”