Billy Kennedy reviews a player transfer to Ibrox 100 years ago

Posted : 31st March 2020

Linfield Honorary Vice-President BILLY KENNEDY looks back 100 years to a record £2,500 transfer deal between Linfield and Glasgow Rangers for the Belfast Blues' highly accomplished full-back BILLY McCANDLESS

The former vice-chairman’s feature is published in today’s issue of the News Letter

A century ago this year Linfield full-back Billy McCandless joined Glasgow Rangers for a then record transfer fee of £2,500.

Belfast-born McCandless, then 26, was a highly accomplished defender who went on become one of the most distinguished full-backs in the 148-year history of Rangers Football Club.

McCandless, who played 296 games and scored 10 goals for Rangers , was an Irish international winning nine caps.

Indeed, his 1920 £2,500 transfer to Ibrox Park was money well spent for the Glasgow giants . He was a Rangers regular through the 1920s and, on retirement in 1930, he moved into club management in Wales, holding the reins at Newport County, Cardiff City and Swansea Town and leading all three to League titles.

Billy, born in 1894, was a left-back who began his career with junior teams Ligoniel in North Balfast and Barn in Carrickfergus. He joined Linfield in 1914 and helped the Belfast Blues to Irish Cup success in 1916 and 1919. He also won a Co Antrim Shield winners' medal and Steel and Sons Cup winners' medal while at Linfield.

His sterling performance for Ireland in a 2-0 British Championship defeat of England at Roker Park, Sunderland prompted cross-channel interest and, when he moved to Rangers, his £2,500 transfer fee was a record for an Irish player at the time. Interestingly, it was legendary Rangers manager Bill Struth who had picked up on Billy's ability after coming to his attention on international duty.

Struth mentioned this to Rangers' scout William Wilton, but the suggestion was rebuffed with Wilton responding: "Oh no; he's too old; why he's bald". But the astute Mr Struth, just into the Ibrox managerial seat, did sign McCandless for a record fee (at the time) to Linfield and Billy became one of Rangers' key players over the entire decade of the 1920s.

Mr Struth later said in an interview with the Sunday Express: "I know Billy was still a youngster. He was a slight little player who seldom put the ball into touch. He was always poised and could take the ball as it came. Occasionally, he cost us a goal by taking risks in clearing his lines; but he did a fine job for Rangers".

Billy became a huge Rangers favourite and it was said at the time that his manager Bill Struth had "an eye for player".

He won eight Scottish League winners' medals with Rangers (1921, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930); picked up a clutch of knock-out medals, and formed a formidable full-back pairing with another Ulsterman Bertie Manderson. A third Ulsterman Bob Hamilton, a Newry, Co Down man, also played in the full -back position for Rangers in that period.

In the 1925-winning League winning team, Billy McCandless scored the winning goal against Ayr United, taking the Championship to Ibrox for the fifth season in six years.

In 1930, Billy McCandless, known to the fans as 'Bucksy', was given the opportunity to move into football management by Ballymena in the Irish League, where he was appointed player-manager. He returned to Scotland in 1933 to take charge of Dundee before moving to Newport County in 1937.

When he died in 1955 aged 61, while manager of Swansea Town, the Western Mail newspaper in Cardiff described Billy as a man who lived for football. "Welsh soccer has sustained a severe loss in the death of this Irishman who did so much for it. Billy Mac will be mourned by the soccer public everywhere," said the paper.

His Welsh managerial honours were: Newport County - Football League Third Division South winner 1938-39; Cardiff City - Football League Third Division South winner 1946-47; Swansea Town - Football League Third Division South winner 1948-49.

Billy McCandless won his first Ireland cap on October 19, 1919 in the first post-war international, a 1-1 draw with England. He went on to win nine caps for Ireland, making his final appearance on February 2, 1929 in a 2-2 draw with Wales.

- Rangers Football Club - the Ulster Connection by Billy Kennedy (published 2019 - in hardback and softback). Available at Rangers stores in Belfast and Glasgow, the Linfield superstore at Windsor Park, and on line from Amazon

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