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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Matthew Lindsay

Rangers and Scotland wing king Davie Wilson was Simply the Best - just ask Sir Alex, The Lawman and Bud

Rangers legend Davie Wilson at Ibrox in 2008

RANGERS have had a few outstanding wingers during their 150 year existence.

Moses McNeill, one of the Glasgow club’s founding fathers way back in 1872, was renowned as a hard-dribbling wide player and was capped by Scotland. 

Alec Smith, Sandy Archibald, Alan Morton, Willie Waddell, Johnny Hubbard, Alex Scott, Willie Henderson, Willie Johnston, Tommy McLean, Davie Cooper, Mark Walters, Brian Laudrup and Ryan Kent, a star of the current Ibrox side, have all tormented opponents and delighted supporters with their pace, vision and skill since. 

Davie Wilson, the Light Blues legend who passed away at the age of 85 earlier this week, was up there with any of them.

For many knowledgeable observers of Scottish football, Wilson was simply the best.

A naturally right-footed outside-left who was equally adept at cutting inside and shooting as he was at crossing, he could convert chances as well as create them for his team mates. He plundered 159 goals in the 382 games which he played for Rangers between 1956 and 1967. He is, despite not being a striker, their seventh highest scorer in the post-war era. 

In Wilson on the Wing, the delightful and detailed autobiography which he wrote just two years ago after being approached by lifelong fan Alistair Aird, his old team mates Henderson and Johnston, who some would argue were without equal when it came to wing play, both lauded him.  

“He was without question the best goalscoring winger I played with,” said the former. “He was a great outside-left,” said the latter. “In fact, he was great in all the forward positions. He knew where the goals were and could score for fun. He would hit shots from anywhere and was really good with both feet.”

That strength was the result of a chance encounter with the great Morton at Ibrox when he was just 12. After admitting that he only used his right foot, the “Wee Blue Devil” encouraged him to wear a sandshoe on it to encourage him to use his left foot more. In a school game shortly afterwards he scored 10. 

Like so many great Scottish footballers, Wilson was told he was too small to make it as a professional. Born and brought up in the mining village of Newton, he was rejected by his local junior side Cambuslang Rangers for that reason. But he was taken on by Ballieston and his electrifying performances soon attracted the attention of Rangers. 

Wilson became a key member of the legendary Ibrox side of the late 1950s and early 1960s which dominated the domestic game and made a major impact in continental competition. He won four First Division titles, lifted the Scottish Cup five times and the League Cup twice. He represented the Ibrox club in the European Cup semi-final in 1960 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1961.

With Jimmy Millar and Ralph Brand, he formed one third of a fabled Rangers forward line during that halcyon era. Millar, Brand and Wilson amassed 112 goals between them in the 1962/63 season. That tally was only bettered by a front three when Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar of Barcelona collectively chalked up 131 in the 2015/16 campaign.

He made his European debut in the second leg of the European Cup first round double header against Saint-Etienne in France aged just 20 in 1957 and scored a diving header – the first of 10 goals that he would bag against foreign opposition - in a 2-1 defeat in the Stade-Geoffroy Guichard that completed a 4-3 aggregate victory.

As he trudged off the pitch that night, he was approached by one of the Saint-Etienne officials and presented with a new racing bike. “My immediate concern was how we were going to fit it on the aircraft that was flying us home,” he said. The victors somehow managed to get the unlikely gift back to Govan and the bike takes pride of place in the Ibrox trophy room to this day.  

Wilson shone for Scotland too. He was involved in the infamous 9-3 defeat which the national team suffered at the hands of England in a Home Internationals match at Wembley in 1961 in just his third appearance. The two goals he netted, his first for his country, in the second-half proved to no avail. But it is fair to say that he recovered from that humiliation.

In the rematch at Hampden the following year, he opened the scoring and helped the home team to record a 2-0 triumph in front of a crowd of 132,441. The next season he returned to Wembley and played as the visitors, courtesy of a first-half Jim Baxter double, secured a 2-1 win.

A young Alex Ferguson was one of those in attendance. The boyhood Rangers fan, who was by that time making a name for himself as an industrious and free-scoring striker at St Johnstone, was taken aback how well the blond-haired winger performed at left back after his club mate Eric Caldow had broken his leg and been stretchered off.

“He was phenomenal that day,” he recounted in Wilson on the Wing. “That should be one of his proudest moments.”

Wilson made it a hat-trick of victories over England at Hampden in 1964 when a late Alan Gilzean strike clinched a 1-0 win. Denis Law, the legendary Manchester United striker, played alongside his good friend in all four of those matches and relished the experience.

“He was one of the best left-wingers I played with,” said Law, who spent the majority of his time at Old Trafford alongside George Best, in Wilson on the Wing.

“He wasn’t just a winger, he was a goalscorer too. The game is much different today than it was when Davie and I played, but there is no doubt that he would still have been a star. He would have been a standout. He was special.”

Ferguson was certainly disappointed when Scot Symon allowed Wilson to leave Rangers and move to Dundee United just a week after he signed for the Ibrox club in 1967. He felt the lack of experience in the squad he joined contributed to them being beaten to the Scottish title to Celtic on the final day of his debut season. 

“I grew up watching the famous Rangers team with the ‘Iron Curtain’ defence,” he told Wilson on the Wing. “To my mind the team Davie was part of in the early 1960s was the best Rangers ever had.

“Davie had a real knack for scoring goals and, for a winger, to score the amount of goals he did for Rangers was amazing. He didn’t just contribute in an attacking sense either. Unlike some other wingers, Davie also understood what he needed to do when he lost the ball, he knew he had to get back and help out the defence.”

Wilson spent five years with United before moving on to play for Dumbarton for one last season and retiring aged 36 in 1973. He moved into coaching at Boghead and had spells in the dugout as manager and assistant with Kilmarnock, Hamilton and Queen of the South.

But Davie Wilson will forever be synonymous with Rangers and his legacy at Ibrox will live on forever.

Wilson on the Wing: The Davie Wilson Story by Davie Wilson and Alistair Aird is published by Pitch Publishing.  

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