THERE is nothing in life as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
The French writer Victor Hugo scripted that truism around the time Moses and Peter McNeil,
William McBeath and Peter Campbell were taking a stroll in West End Park and discussing the possibility of forming
their own football team.
Hugo’s words applied in the spring of 1872 as much as they did around 135 years later when the
idea for The Gallant Pioneers started to percolate around a mind that knew as much about Victorian football in
Scotland as it did Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Still, again and again the names of the founders of Rangers would enter idle thoughts and always
the same question arose: ‘Where did they really come from?’, ‘What happened to them?’, ‘Where are their final
resting places?’ and, crucially, ‘How come in-depth research has never been published before?’
Robert McElroy is the standard bearer for Rangers historians everywhere and while he and Bob
Ferrier had written extensively and with great passion about the early years of the club, adding to the earlier
work of John Allan, still the men behind its formation remained pretty much a mystery.
Someone offered heartfelt counsel early on: ‘Don’t bother writing about early years history of
football clubs. No-one is interested and there won’t be any money in it for you.’
It seemed sage advice when one publisher after another (sadly, the majority of them Scottish)
rejected The Gallant Pioneers. ‘Too dry,’ said one. ‘Too academic,’ said another. ‘Too historical and not
commercial enough,’ came another knockback.
One publisher clearly didn’t even bother to study the proposal at all as he fired a rejection
email back within 60 seconds declaring the only book he wanted to read about the early years of Rangers related to
the issue of sectarianism.
He had the cheek to call soon after the book hit the bookshelves as word of mouth and some very
favourable reviews had the phones at Breedon Books, a small publishing house in Derby who eventually took it on,
ringing off the hook.
What he wanted will always remain a mystery. Shamefully, for someone in the communications
industry, he was told in no uncertain terms to go forth and multiply in a fraction of the time it had taken him to
reject the book in the first place.
They say never burn your bridges, but this was verbal petrol happily ignited from a mouth
The book is now on its third re-print with sales of around 6,000 to date, but the mystic who
tried to talk me out of the entire project was right about one thing: The money really is rotten - it’s no wonder
JK Rowling wrote about Harry Potter, rather than the very early years of quidditch.
In truth, it cost more to research than it will ever take in royalties, but the Gallant Pioneers
was never about cash.
Forgive the arrogance, but this was a book to stand the test of time, not a get rich quick
scheme destined to end up in the 50 pence bin at Bargain Books, hacked out in a couple of months then hacked down
in price like World Cup souvenirs two months after the final has been played.
The Gallant Pioneers took three years to research and write, each character painstakingly
studied before words were finally committed to the page. Rangers fans deserved nothing less, but ego also dictated
the past be raked and raked again.
That is not to say there are not mistakes in the book. Sadly, the chapter on Tom Vallance states
Sir Stanley Matthews was directly related to him via Tom’s son, James.
In fact, two James Vallances married two Elizabeth Wilsons in the first half of the 20th century
and the Matthews line came from the Vallance-Wilson marriage not associated with ‘Honest Tom’ of Rangers fame.
The truth has only recently come to light from a descendant of Tom Vallance and it still hurts
now to think about it. It's an amazing quirk of coincidence, but the mistake was mine and mine alone - my utmost
apology to all who have bought the book but rest assured complete faith remains in all its other findings.
Rangers historian David Mason was a terrific sounding board and also contributed to the research
effort. Initially, we had planned to write the book together but creative differences, in the very truest sense,
contributed to an amicable parting in the end. Rest assured, he retains a passionate interest about that
enthralling period of the club’s existence.
The very DNA of Rangers was found in libraries, museums, archives and historical vaults the
length and breadth of Britain, from Kew to Bristol and South Wales, the west coast of France to the west coast of
Scotland, Lincoln to Liverpool, Dumfries to Perthshire and, of course, in and around Glasgow.
They slowly gave up the secrets stories of each of the founders - the sad plight of William
McBeath, for example, who died a ‘certified imbecile’, details of Peter Campbell’s death and his family’s maritime
passions, poor Peter McNeil’s struggle with mental health problems that led to him being sectioned at Hawkhead
Asylum in Paisley.
Joyously, research also revealed Peter’s grand-daughters to be still very much alive and with
us. Heather Lang and Doreen Holland knew nothing of their grandfather’s achievements in life, never mind his sad
passing, and they were very proud guests of honour at the founders’ dinner organised by supporters and held at
Ibrox in 2009. It felt like royalty was visiting the stadium.
Ironically, Moses lived longer than anyone else - he passed away in Dumbarton in 1938 at the age
of 82 - but least was known about his life, although colour is now thankfully being added.
On the back of the book’s publication, a newspaper pal called to say one of his relatives was
related to the McNeils and had a photo of Moses taken at his beloved Rosneath in the early 1930s. The glint in
Moses’ eye was as instantly recognisable in the grainy black and white image as it was in the famous picture of the
1877 Rangers team that reached its first Scottish Cup final.
In addition to telling a great story, easily one of the most romantic of any football club ever
formed, the aim of The Gallant Pioneers was to inform and inspire fans in the 21st century to the achievements of
the teenage boys who helped form the club they all adore.
Book sales alone have silenced the cynics who said it would be impossible to engage with a
modern audience of supporters about a story detailing the earliest decades of their favourite club.
Fans have continued to respond to the story and the ongoing research efforts of people such as
Iain McColl, Gordon Bell, Neil Stobie, Alex Lister and the Founders’ Committee has helped spread the word
still further among rank and file supporters.
Not only have Iain and Co been passionate supporters of the book, their own Founders’ Tours have
become a must for all Rangers fans as they re-visit some of the key venues and sites from the club’s early years.
They have undoubtedly helped bring Rangers supporters even closer to the club in these financially troubling
Other fans have also been touched by the exploits of the founding fathers and even raised money
to fit a headstone to the pauper’s grave of William McBeath, which had lain unloved and untended since 1917 on the
forgotten fringes of a Lincoln cemetery.
They also deserve enormous credit for honouring the men who spawned a club that has given
Scottish football some of its greatest players.
One of them, Sandy Jardine, has been such an enthusiastic supporter of the spirit of The Gallant
Pioneers, as well as David Mason, supporters’ liaison boss Jim Hannah and Rangers Media boss Lindsay Herron. They
have ensured the story has received terrific coverage in the club’s official media channels, such as the Rangers
News and website.
Finally, apologies for ending with another quote, but it was Henry Ford who famously told the
Chicago Tribune that all history was bunk.
If only he was around Ibrox today, he would soon recognise the folly of that remark.