John McPherson (1890 – 1902)
Born: 19 June 1868, Kilmarnock
Honours Won With Rangers:
League titles (5) – 1890/91, 1898/99, 1899/1900, 1900/01, 1901/02
Scottish Cups (3) – 1893/94, 1896/97, 1897/98
Caps: 5 (Scotland)
THERE have been some hugely talented players who have pulled on the Light Blue over the decades but it is fair to say that John ‘Kitey’ McPherson was the club’s first superstar. The recruitment of the Ayrshireman coincided with the formation of the Scottish Football League in 1890 and he became a huge figure in what was a highly successful era for Rangers.
Indeed, his career had the kind of start that dreams are made of. He scored on his Rangers debut – a 5-2 win over Hearts – scored four times in his second game, a 6–2 thumping of Renton, and then hit five goals in an 8–2 demolition of St Mirren.
It was an unbelievable start, but it was no flash in the pan. McPherson was a pivotal player during 12 years on the field and subsequently a skilled administrator of the club. He actually played in every position for Rangers, including goalkeeper, but it was as an inside forward that he shone brightest. A powerful dribbler, he had the ability to beat players and the vision to make passes for others to score as well as possessing a powerful shot himself.
He was part of the first championship-winning team when Rangers and Dumbarton shared the inaugural Scottish League in 1890/91. The two sides had finished level on points and the authorities ordered a play-off, which finished 2–2, so the teams were declared joint champions. How the clubs’ fortunes quickly differed. Dumbarton won the title again the following season but have never been champions of Scotland since.
McPherson was captain by the time Rangers achieved one their main ambitions: to win the Scottish Cup. They had not been in the final for 15 years when they faced Celtic at Hampden in front of 17,000 in 1894 and, fittingly, McPherson scored the third goal in a 3-1 victory over the team that was fast becoming Rangers’ main rival.
John had scored in every round en route to the final as Rangers finally claimed the prize seen as the blue riband of the Scottish game. He was on the scoresheet again when Rangers won the trophy for a second time in 1897, this time thrashing Dumbarton 5-1, and a year later the old trophy was retained when Kilmarnock were beaten 2-0.
Season 1898/99 was astonishing even in the annals of Rangers’ history and McPherson was a key man in a league campaign that has never been equalled anywhere in the world. Rangers won all of their 18 league matches, scoring 79 goals and conceding just 18. It was the perfect campaign and McPherson played in 15 of the games, scoring 7 times. It was the start of a wonderful stranglehold on the Scottish title and the team that did it is undoubtedly on par with the great sides that dominated the 1920s and 30s, the late 1940s, the early 1960s and the 1990s.
With McPherson at the hub of it all, Rangers retained the title in 1899/1900 by seven points from Celtic. He only missed two matches the following season and scored seven times as the title remained at Ibrox for a third successive year. And then Rangers made it four in a row in 1901/02, McPherson’s final season in the first team.
Incredibly, his final league appearance was as a goalkeeper – regular keeper Mathew Dickie was injured – in a 3-2 win over St Mirren on 18 January 1902, a match Rangers had to win to hold off Celtic and take the title.
McPherson had been a massive player in a fantastic era for Rangers. In 1907, he became a director of the club and served until his death in 1926. He collapsed and died while watching the Clyde Sports at Shawfield; one contemporary described him as ‘the finest player in the first 50 years of the club’s history’.