Struth’s Diamond Ring, a Bowler Hat and a Labour of Love: Interview with David Mason (Official RFC Historian)
- By Gary Havlin
In a year that saw an SPL Commission fail to ‘steal’ Title wins from our history books, and a campaign by supporters of lesser clubs’ to have the Advertising Standards Agency rebuke the club for advertising ’140 years of History’, never has it been more important to celebrate and educate Rangers fans on the heritage and traditions of our wonderful club.
From the Founders Trail and the Gallant Pioneers Website to articles written on various Fans’ Forums, from the sterling work done by the Rangers Media Team to brilliant books on all facets of Rangers history, it’s clear that Rangers fans have an insatiable interest and a deep sense of pride in the story of the Rangers, from the Founding Fathers to the present day.
David Mason, the Official Club Historian, has played an enormous part, spanning nearly 3 decades, in ensuring that the history of Rangers is maintained and historically significant artefacts are brought back to life, whilst enabling those who strive to tell the Rangers story to a wider audience to do so with great accuracy.
David will be familiar to us all this season as the Club Official who led the Toast to Her Majesty at The Loving Cup Ceremony, and led the Blue Room guests in a rousing rendition of our National Anthem, a tradition which David himself decided to bring back after many years of being omitted after the toast!
With some spine-tingling tales, what better person to tell us of his favourite Rangers artefacts, anecdotes and life as a Rangers fan…
GH- What was the first Rangers game you can remember going to and were you a regular at Ibrox before being appointed Club Historian?
DM- I can’t recall the first game I went to because, quite simply I was just a baby, but my father told me it was Rangers v Third Lanark at Cathkin. There then followed another at Firhill. The first matches I recall were at Ibrox when I was about 7 and then the first big match that really turned my head was the 1964 Scottish Cup Final. I can recall standing down by the wall on the track, in the enclosure under the old Grandstand. I remember the goals and the Dundee keeper Bert Slater who had a great match. However, what remains vivid in my mind is the lap of honour the team took – with Davie Wilson sporting a bowler hat. Ironically, I was to receive that same bowler hat some years later, from Jimmy Millar and today it hangs in the Manager’s office at Ibrox.
From then, I went to Ibrox and lots of away matches fairly regularly until I started playing football myself, when I had to rely on midweek matches. From around 1986, I saw just about every match up until a few years ago. I was always a huge fan and even one of the teachers at school used to call me ‘Rangers.’ Our Assistant Head Teacher was Billy Williamson who played for the club just after the war. The class was sent on a cross-country run and I went out with my Rangers strip with a number nine sewn on the back. I started to lag near the end and he shouted at me that I would have to do better with that jersey on! It worked and I summoned up the energy for a burst of speed…..for all about another 20 yards!
GH- Which player was your Rangers hero as a youngster and did you ever get to meet him as Club Historian?
DM- My hero as a youngster was Davie Wilson (just because I was called Davie too!), but when Colin Stein joined, he was the main man. I am honoured to say that I now regard them both as good friends – each really nice men. GH- As a lifelong Rangers fan, being Rangers Official Historian must be a labour of love for you! When and how did you get the job, and was there an official historian before yourself?
DM- I got the job through circumstance. My father had sent in some newspaper cuttings he had from the 40′s and the club was interested in displaying these in a museum. Shortly afterwards, there was a boardroom upheaval and the director charged with looking after things had left. I called Rangers to find out what had happened and the Secretary, Campbell Ogilvie told me that things had been put on hold, before adding that they had no one to attend to these things now. I offered and was both surprised and delighted to be asked to do the job. Essentially the role grew arms and legs from there. The last ‘historian’ the club had was Willie Allison, who wrote The New Era. I think he was the nephew of John Allan who wrote the trilogy of history books prior to that. Since I got the position, I have been involved in a whole range of things for the club. I used to record the match statistics for Graeme Souness, Walter Smith and Dick Advocaat so many fans used to see me at games taking notes through to around 2000.
GH- Is there such a thing as a typical day for the Official Rangers Historian, and what would it consist of?
DM- A typical day for me is doing my ‘real’ job as a geologist in land consultancy. But that will frequently have interludes of queries from the media, fans, or research related to any particular topic I’m actively working upon. On a matchday, my duties are more in corporate hospitality, entertaining guests in the Waddell Suite or doing tours of the Trophy Room. Then there are the odd requests like, would we like Carl Hansen’s gravestone for our museum! There is no typical day in my Rangers life, I would say! GH- Do you have a favourite piece of history i.e a letter/photograph/trophy/gift within the Ibrox Archives, and what’s story behind it?
DM- I have lots of favourite pieces. Among those that I particularly like are, The Loving Cup, Moses McNeil’s cup from the Gareloch Sports, and some letters from William Wilton. However, the piece I probably treasure most is Bill Struth’s diamond ring. It is the one he was pictured wearing in the portrait in the Trophy room. I was given the ring by Mrs Dallas’ daughter. Mrs Dallas had been Mr Struth’s secretary for many years. Her daughter Allison got the ring resized for herself, but I had it adjusted back to its normal size. Whenever I give talks on Mr Struth, I always wear it.
GH- On the subject of the Ibrox Archives, I imagine there are a phenomenal amount of historical items within Ibrox that cannot be displayed due to lack of room! Is that the case, and would you like to see them displayed in a Club museum in the future?
DM- We have lots of items still to be displayed, or that have been and are stored at the moment. However, we don’t have as much as people may imagine. Sadly, a lot of items were lost (or stolen), but we have the key pieces. We have lots of interesting documents and letters that I would love to get on a digital archive sometime. I would like our information to be more freely available and it is an objective of mine to integrate all of the research groups. Some of the work done by the Founders Trail boys has been fantastic and it is important to pool that interest from all sectors. Hopefully this will be a key element of a museum in the future. GH- Is there a particular artefact of Rangers history which the club doesn’t have in its possession, that you wish it did?
DM- There are lots of items that I would like to have in our possession, although I’m not sure if any of these actually exist. I would love to have one of the early jerseys and to know the real story behind the strip with the blue star. I am still not absolutely convinced that we ever played with that jersey. I suspect that it was used simply for the photograph. I may be ghoulish, but I would also like a piece of the timber lattice from the terracing that collapsed in 1902. Even a seat from the Old Pavilion would be nice to have, or indeed anything from inside that long demolished building. But really, anything with a bit of history behind it is fascinating to me.
GH- Ibrox itself is awash with history and tradition, do you have a favourite room within it and why?
DM- I have two favourite rooms inside Ibrox – the Trophy Room which is so calming when it is empty. It has a lovely stillness about it that is most relaxing. Then there is the Manager’s Room. I still get goose bumps going in there because of the depth of history attached to it. I can sense Bill Struth when I go into that room. GH- As a member of the panel that nominates former Rangers players for the Hall of Fame, how difficult is it to choose which great players and servants from our past get this honour bestowed upon them?
DM- I have been on the Hall of Fame panel since it commenced. It is always controversial for a variety of reasons, but mainly because everyone has an opinion on who should go in or otherwise. For that reason, we decided to set criteria which started with a minimum number of games. However, using that criterion, the likes of Brian Laudrup would have been excluded. So, we decided that we had to have a category for players of exceptional talent. We have added names incrementally and this, too, has been controversial with some fans failing to understand that this is the way the club want to do things. It is entirely commercial, of course, with the election supporting the bi-annual dinner. I would rather have added all the names of the first day, but I can understand why it has to be incremental. The one name I found quite frustrating was Sam English. We came under enormous pressure from some fans to elect him, but we were also mindful that we had some elderly players to be elected. We thought it better to ensure that these older men got the chance to enjoy their election and we postponed Sam’s election. However, the decision had been made to elect him in the following year, but we could not tell the fans at that stage. As such, we came in for some pelters when all the time we had decided that he should go in. The panel has changed over the period, but generally had Sandy Jardine, John Greig, Ally McCoist and myself at the core.
GH- Was the 2013 Loving Cup Ceremony the first time you had performed the toast?
DM- The Loving Cup ceremony was not quite as straightforward as it may have seemed. Sandy Jardine should have delivered it, but he was undergoing treatment. I was quite moved when Sandy told the club that I should do it. That should have been that, but there were some protocols and there was some uncertainty over whether I would do it, or Charles, or even Malcolm Murray. Eventually it was decided that I was best suited to it, which was a huge honour. I had attended the ceremony from 1986 and I recalled the piano we had in the Blue Room. We always sang the National Anthem at that time, but it had been dropped over the years. I decided that I would take things back to the roots and perform the ceremony as intended. That is why 44,000 fans and those in the Blue Room had to tolerate my singing voice!
GH- You mentioned the great work done by the guys at the Gallant Pioneers who take fans on the Founders Trail. Have you been fortunate enough to follow the Founders Trail?
DM- I have not been on the Founders Trail, but it is something I am very keen to do. I was heavily involved with Gary Ralston in the Gallant Pioneers and did much of the research, which he acknowledged in the book. I even wrote much of the book. We were actually co-writers, but had some small creative differences which led to Gary proceeding with publication on his own. Nonetheless, it did not affect our friendship and the success of the book says it all really, Gary did some fantastic work and I enjoyed my research. As a consequence, I visited all of the locations featured in the Trail and some others of relevance. I do think to get the feel for the founders, you have to walk in their footsteps. In that regard, Iain McColl, Gordon Bell and everyone else involved deserve huge credit. I think that every Rangers fan should go on the trail to find out what our club is really like
Despite being Official Club Historian for 27 years, David says as every week goes by he learns something new:
“As club historian, people expect me to know everything about the club, every player and every game. In the 27 years that I have been involved I have accumulated a huge amount of knowledge but there is so much to this club that it would take a lifetime of dedication to get anywhere near to the whole story. I would say that every week that passes I learn a little bit more. Did you know, for example that Willie Maley, the Celtic Manager, sent a book to Bill Struth’s granddaughter for Christmas? Or that Bill Struth tried to sign a player, but his mum wouldn’t allow him because he was Catholic. Struth got him fixed up elsewhere and he became a big star.”
Try as I might, David wouldn’t reveal who the big star was! However, all WILL be revealed, & much more on the Rangers Standard setter Bill Struth in David’s new book. ‘Bill Struth: The Boss’, co-written with Ian Stewart, will be hitting the bookshelves soon.
There is no hiding David’s passion for the club as first and foremost a fan, but also as a Club historian who cares deeply about the people and the tales that have woven through the very fabric of our club. David could write a book about HIS history with Rangers and it would make for a best seller!
Now more than ever, it’s important that we strive to make our history a part of our future, and with David and the other Rangers groups shining a light on our past, we can continue to celebrate it, and to educate the next generation of fans on why it’s so special to support The Rangers.