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Ian McColl

Ian McColl, football player and manager of the Scottish national team, died on 24 October 2008. He was 81.

He was born John Miller McColl on 7 June 1927 in Alexandria in Dunbartonshire, a town which The Herald describes as “the very heart of the Vale of Leven, the ‘cradle of Scottish Football'”. The Daily Telegraph notes that he took to the game early on, in unusual circumstances:

Before going on to Glasgow University he attended Vale of Leven Academy, and as a teenager was already playing wartime football for Queen’s Park.

Having joined Queen’s Park in 1943, he turned professional and signed for Rangers in June 1945, where he soon rose to the fore, as The Times records:

McColl joined Rangers from Queen’s Park – he had moved from the Vale of Leven to Glasgow in 1943 to study engineering at the University of Glasgow – and quickly established himself as an integral part of a defensive unit which picked itself almost every week: Bobby Brown, George Young, Jock Shaw; McColl, Willie Woodburn and Sammy Cox. All were internationals, and McColl, the grandson of another Scotland player, William McColl, was capped 14 times for Scotland.

The Herald notes that this “Iron Curtain” defence

were remarkably durable and consistent: from 1948-50 they featured in a remarkable 353 out of 360 league fixtures as a collective unit.

It adds that he finished his playing career on a high note:

In the twilight of his playing career, he won a fifth Scottish Cup winners medal when he replaced the injured Harold Davis in the 1960 Scottish Cup Final, playing superbly as Rangers defeated Kilmarnock 2-0. Just 18 days later, again at Hampden, he wore the light blue for the last time in the Charity Cup Final. In that final season at Ibrox, with the maximum wage still in force in England, McColl was the highest paid player throughout Britain.

The Scotsman‘s appreciation of McColl includes this tribute from another former Rangers captain and Scottish international:

“I’ll never forget meeting Ian on my first day of full-time training as an apprentice professional with Rangers in 1960,” recalled Greig yesterday. “At that time, the players used to get paired off to do some basic ball skills.

“I was just a young kid, a bit nervous in front of all these Rangers first-team players who were superstars in my eyes. Then someone shouted, ‘Here son, you come with me’. It was Ian McColl. He took me under his wing and it was something I always appreciated.

“He was coming to the end of his playing career at that stage, but I knew all about him. Younger people won’t realise just how good he was. Ian was a truly great player and I was fortunate to spend that time with him.”

All the papers comment on his successful five-year stint as Scotland manager, at a time when team selection was still by committee. His success rate was second only to Alex McLeish’s (far shorter) term in the job, although The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph give him one more game and one more victory (17 out of 28) than The Times and The Herald (16 out of 27). But there’s some confusion over the end of his managership in May 1965: the three London dailies say he was sacked, The Herald states that he resigned.

After managing Sunderland for three years, he put the qualifications he’d obtained while playing for Rangers to use, as a civil engineer; this from The Herald again:

Bill Struth [Rangers’ first post-War manager] always encouraged his players to further their education, and throughout his Ibrox career McColl was a part-time footballer, firstly studying Civil Engineering at the Royal Technical College, graduating BSc Honours (ARTC), then working for F J C Lilley, civil engineering contractors.

The last word goes to one of his most celebrated opponents, Lawrie Reilly of Hibernian’s “Famous Five” forward line, in The Scotsman:

“He was a wonderful man who commanded the respect of everyone in the game. We had some tremendous tussles on the pitch, but I can honestly say that not one of that Rangers’ defence ever used unfair tactics. They were hard men, but played the game the right way. Ian and I became good pals.

“…I was genuinely sorry to hear Ian had passed away. He was a tremendous footballer and a real gentleman.”

(John Miller McColl, born 7 June 1927 in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, died 24 October 2008 in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire)

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