George Young - Scotland's greatest captain
SIXTY years ago today, on 19 May, 1957, George Young, one of the greatest – I would say THE greatest Scottish football captains played his last game of football. He went out at the top, captaining Scotland to a 2-1 victory over Switzerland, in Basle's Sankt Jakob Stadion, in a qualifying game for the 1958 World Cup finals. This win left Scotland on the cusp of qualifying for those finals.
The game was Young's 54th for his country, his 48th as captain, and it saw his Scotland career come full circle – it had been against the Swiss, at Hampden, back in 1946, that he had began his official Scotland career.
TODAY, 60-years after that final match as a player, 20-years after his death, Young, the first Scot onto the SFA's Roll of Honour of players who had played in 50 internationals, who is still Scotland's most-experienced captain – having led-out the national side a record 48 times, and who was during his career Scotland team manager in all but name, is almost forgotten in Scottish football..
George Lewis Young was born in Grangemouth in October, 1922. He was always a big lad, winning Scotland schoolboy honours in 1937. Leaving school, he went to work in a local ship repair yard, playing football for a local Juvenile side, then for Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. Even as a teenager Rangers were watching him, encouraging him to join “the Rabs” before, in 1941, signing the 18-year-old.
Willie Woodburn, was on active service, Young was in a reserved occupation in the ship yard. At six foot two inches and over 14-stones, he was already a giant and within weeks of signing he made his first-team debut, in a war-time Southern League match, against Hamilton Academical, on 8 November, 1941, in a 3-2 Rangers' win at Douglas Park.
Young managed `28 games that season, helping Rangers win the Southern League, the Southern League Cup, the Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup and the Summer Cup (on the toss of the coin after they and Hibs had finished the final tied 0-0 on goals and 2-2 on corners). The following season, and for the remainder of the war years, he was first-choice centre-half, although, significantly, when Woodburn was available, he and not Young played at centre-half. After Woodburn was demobbed, Young was switched to right-back, where he would play until Woodburn's controversial sine die suspension in late 1954, whereupon he moved back to play-out his career at centre-half.
In April, 1943 the 20-year-old Young made his debut in the Scotland side for a war-time international against England, at Hampden. England's won that Hampden match, 4-0; but the young Ranger was described by one Scottish football writer as: “the only one of the three Scottish debutants to look the part”, and he was retained at centre-half for the next game, at Maine Road, in October, 1943, which England won 8-0.
Tommy Lawton gave his young opponent a torrid time, scoring four of England's goals and Young was not called on again for another war-time international.
He continued to learn with Rangers, and, when Scotland faced Switzerland, at Hampden,on 15 May, 1946, Young made history as the first Scotland substitute, coming on at half-time for Morton's Billy Campbell, in a 3-1 win. This was the first of his 54 games for his country, although, he would be long retired before the SFA gave the match official international status.
When the Home Internationals resumed in the autumn of 1946, Young wasn't selected for the opener, a 3-1 loss to Wales in Wrexham, but, Scotland captain Jimmy Stephen of Bradford Park Avenue was dropped after that disaster and Young replaced him at right back.
Young played five straight games, before injury kept him out of the team to play Wales, at Hampden, on 12 November, 1947. But, in April, for Scotland's next international, the Hampden clash with England, Woodburn was carrying an injury, and Young was switched from right back to centre-half. He was also named as captain for the first time and would not miss another Scotland game for nearly seven years, putting together a record run of 34 straight internationals, before injury kept him out of the game against England, in April, 1954.
Back in the 1950s, football was different. This was before the era of the all-powerful track-suited manager. The international selection committee picked the squads. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and most-certainly with Scotland, the national captain – Young, was more akin to a cricket captain in the managerial powers he held.
Walter Winterbottom was England team manager, although the selectors still picked the side. The SFA's selection committee picked the Scotland team, but, they were less willing than their English counterparts to cede control of the chosen team to a professional manager. So, when he became Scotland captain, Young had a big say in tactics and training. Indeed, when Scottish football writers raised the possibility of Scotland appointing a team manager, Sir George Graham, the martinet Secretary of the SFA replied: “We don't need one – we've got George Young”.
George Young and old friend Billy Wright lead out the teams in 1956
Eric Caldow, who succeeded Young as Rangers' right back when Young moved to centre-half to replace Woodburn, when he was banned from the game in 1954, is in no doubts about Young's quality as a manager.
“With both Rangers and Scotland,” says Caldow, whose 40-cap Scotland career overlapped Young's and who was himself a distinguished national captain. “'Big Corky'” could come in at half-time and give a terrific in-depth critique of how each player had played. He had the authority to change things on the park while he laid down the tactics we would adopt – he was, for both club and country, but more-so for Scotland once Scot Symon took over at Rangers, a player-manager”.
Young never played in the World Cup finals. The SFA turned down a “wild card” to compete in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. They did qualify for the next World Cup, in Switzerland in 1954. However, Young knew he would not be going, since Rangers were committed to a tour of North America and would not release him to his country. So, he missed the absolute disaster which the Swiss trip became.
He was restored as Scotland captain for the two autumn 1954 Home Internationals, but he was left out of the team to play the legendary Hungarians of Puskas and Co. in December 1954. This was the only occasion on which Young was ever dropped from the national side since his first start in 1946.
The Scottish team – including Young - which had scraped a 2-2 draw against Northern Ireland in November had been roundly trashed by the critics. Remarkably, the dropping of the national captain and most-capped player attracted very little comment on Scotland's sports pages.
The Hungarians won 4-2. but, since Scotland had scored “a moral victory” - by losing to that great side by fewer goals than England had, the men in possession by and large received a vote of confidence from the selectors, when they sat down to pick the team to face England, at Wembley in April.
A 7-2 defeat showed that confidence had been misplaced, so, when it came to picking the squad for a busy May, 1955, in which Scotland were scheduled to face Portugal at Hampden, before travelling to Europe to face Yugoslavia, Austria and Hungary, Young was back as centre-half and captain.
He was injured in the tour opener against Yugoslavia, Bobby Evans of Celtic switched to centre-half for the next match, in Vienna, with Hibs' Gordon Smith taking-on the captaincy. Young, however, was very much the man in charge and at a pre-game team meeting, in Young's hotel room, in Vienna, the tactics which gave the Scots one of their best-ever wins, a 4-1 defeat of the team which had finished third in the World Cup less than a year previously, were laid down by the injured captain. Fit again, Young would continue as centre-half and captain until his retirement, at the end of the 1956-57 season.
Scotland beat Spain 4-2 at Hampden in their opening qualifier for the 1958 World Cup finals, Young's final game at Scotland national stadium. The Scots then moved on for their second World Cup qualifier, against Switzerland, in Basle. From Basle, the Scots moved on to play World Champions West Germany in a friendly in Stuttgart, with the selectors who travelled with the players, opting to rest the two veterans, Young and Gordon Smith. Evans again moved to centre-half for Young, with Tommy Docherty taking over the captaincy.
Bobby Evans and Young training with Scotland
Scotland won 3-1 and, when they moved on to prepare for the return game with Spain, in the Bernabau, Young suddenly discovered that some of the mundane jobs of captaincy, which he had done since 1948, were being given to Docherty. Then, when the team was announced, Smith was restored to the right wing, the young Dave Mackay was preferred to Young's Rangers team mate – and future Scotland manager – Ian McColl, and there was no place for Young.
This caused a major “stooshie”, because, back in April, Young had announced he would be retiring at the end of the season, and that the game in Spain would be his last. The press was in uproar, that the national captain had had his plans snubbed by the selectors.
There were suggestions that some selectors had felt sidelined by the close relationship between Young and Sir George Graham. They felt the skipper had ignored their suggestions regarding tactics for matches and Young's absence from the Stuttgart game, which had been won well, gave them the opportunity for pay-back, by scuppering Young's wish to dictate his own departure from the Scotland team.
There were whispers that the manner of his being denied his grand finale in football would be raised at the next SFA meeting, but, the matter was quietly dropped. Scotland had, after all been hammered 4-1 in Madrid and nobody wished to reopen still fresh wounds.
George Young was now an ex-footballer. He was already running a successful hotel in the Clyde Valley, near Lanark. He and Rangers goalkeeper George Niven opened one of Glasgow's first coffee bars, in Renfield Street in the city centre, while he immediately popped-up as one of the first football talking heads on BBC Scotland's Sportsreel programme.
He also wrote three well-received football books, before, in December, 1959, he returned to the game as manager of Third Lanark.
At the end of the 1959-60 season the Hi-Hi finished 12th in the 18-club First Division. The following season Thirds finished third, behind Rangers and Kilmarnock, the club's best finish since they had occupied the same spot in 1905, having won their only league title the previous season. In addition, that 1960-61 team's legendary forward line of Jimmy Goodfellow, Dave Hilley, Alec Harley, Matt Grey and Jimmy McInnes had contributed the bulk of the 100 league goals Thirds scored during the campaign.
Track-suited manager Young takes Third Lanark training
Such success for a small Scottish club always has an immediate effect, the English come calling and in jig time Goodfellow, Hilley, Harley and Grey took the high road south and financially safer but talent poorer Third slumped to 11th in the table in 1961-62.
Worse, a shady businessman named Bill Hiddleston took control of the club and Young, still just 40-years of age, quickly tendered his resignation. It took Hiddleston five years, but, he ran the club into the ground, by which time Young had long gone.
Young concentrated on his businesses, turning his back on football. Then, in the 1970s, when former team mate Willie Waddell became Rangers manager, Young began to be whitewashed out of Rangers' history. This is down to two things – the jealousy of former team mate Waddell and the craven conspiracy of those who failed to hold Wadell to account.
In writing his obituary, following Young's death, aged 74, in 1997. MP Tam Dalyell revealed how Young had become a non-person around Ibrox. Apparently, when both were still playing, Young had expressed his view that Celtic's Jimmy Delaney – later to become a key player in Matt Busby's first great Manchester United team – the 1948 FA Cup winning one – was a better outside right than Waddell.
Ill-health blighted Young's final years. He was reduced to a wheel chair, all but forgotten by Scottish football. Waddell never forgave him for the slight regarding Delaney and, when a Scottish journalist arranged a testimonial dinner for the ailing Young, shortly before he died, in 1979, Rangers took a table, but left it empty on the night.
The slights continued, when the Scottish Football Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 2004, Woodburn was one of the 22 founder members, Young had to wait until the following year for his induction. Lesser Rangers players had been honoured with stands and hospitality rooms named after them at Ibrox, there is no George Young room or stand.
The statistics demonstrate the influence he had on the national team. In Young's 54 internationals, Scotland won 30, drew 11 and lost just 13 – giving them a 56% winning average with him in the side. In all his international career stretched over 68 Scotland games, of which they won 34 – 50%. But, of the 14 games in that period which Young missed – Scotland won a mere four, 29%.
He formed a stellar back-three plus goalkeeper unit with Morton's Jimmy Cowan and his Ibrox team mates Sammy Cox and Woodburn in the 3-4-3 formation Scotland favoured. They played together in 15 internationals, of which Scotland won 11. He also played 22 games for the Scottish League XI, while he captained Scotland on their tour to North America in 1949. He was a regular pick for the long-standing Glasgow v Sheffield games. He was also an accomplished cricketer and golfer.
Cricket captain George Young with Thirds' players Alex Harley and Dave Hilley
His Rangers record is impressive. He played over 600 games for the club, winning six league championship, four Scottish Cup and two League Cup winner's medals – plus a further eight medals in war-time competition.
At the time he became Rangers captain, manager Bill Struth was in poor health. He had to have a leg amputated and Young would call on the Boss, every day to report on how training went and to discuss how the playing side of the club should be run. Struth was also vice-chairman of the club, so, Young was in effect, with the authority of the board, player-manager at this time.
But, how good was he? The late Sir Tom Finney summed Young up well: “A very difficult opponent, you thought you were past him, then, he would stretch-out one of those long legs of his and take the ball off you – I used to tell him,' you don't have legs, you have octopus tentacles'”, said the legendary Preston plumber.
Team mates for once - Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton and Young on the pools panel
Young was also the master of the long pass. It was said that the Rangers' tactics were simple – Young would play a long 60-yard pass into the path of either Waddell, or the South African outside left Johnny Hubbard, who would hit the by-line and cross for Willie Thornton or Irishman Billy Simpson to head home.
And that “Corky” nickname. He always carried a lucky champagne cork, allegedly given him by the wine waiter after the first champagne bottle was opened as Scotland celebrated their seminal 3-1 win over England at Wembley in 1949. He truly was, a colossus.