In May, 1872, at Fleshers Haugh, Glasgow Green, Rangers fought out a 0-0 draw with Callander. Their first game saw their first “Man of the Match”, William McBeath. He would also become first president of the Club, in 1874-75. In 1884, a successor in that office, Tom Vallance, would present William with a “beautiful gold badge” to acknowledge the role he had played in the foundation of the Club. Such achievements but gained by a man we know so little about. We do know he was born in Callander on 7 May, 1856. It is likely he organised the opposition for that match at Fleshers Haugh, Rangers’ opposition probably being “expats” from William’s hometown. The Callander side that played Alexandra in a Scottish Cup tie in October, 1873 included a “MacBeath”.
It was reported by William Dunlop in his history of the Club which appeared in the 1881/82 SFA Annual, that William McBeath had been so exhausted by his efforts that day at Fleshers Haugh that he was “laid up for a week”.* It is likely William, unlike his friends, the McNeils, was by no means a natural athlete. He did, though, play for the Club until November, 1875. He was a by no means unsuccessful forward. His record includes a hat-trick against Gramby, at Hillhead, in January, 1874.
William McBeath’s life reads like the script of a very bad soap opera. William’s mother, Jane, was the second wife of Peter, his first wife having died aged only fifty-nine. Peter owned a general store on Callander’s Main Street. The family home was above the store. William had an older sister, Jane, and an older brother, Peter. Another boy was born after William but he, like so many other children of the time, died in infancy. William also had four half-brothers and sisters from his father’s previous relationships.
Tragically, Peter McBeath died in November, 1864. Shortly afterwards, his wife took William and his sister Jane to Glasgow to start a new life. By the time of the 1871 census, the McBeaths were living at 17 Cleveland Street, the same address as five members of the McNeil family, including brothers Peter and William.
William’s friendship with Peter extended to Peter’s brother Moses and their friend Peter Campbell. It was at the beginning of 1872 the four boys had the idea to form a football club. At the same time, though, tragedy struck William again with the death in March of his mother, Jane, aged only fifty-three. How traumatic a period this must have been for fifteen year-old William as he registered the death of his parent. The pain for William was not over. In June of the following year, his sister, Jane, married Daniel Lang. Within six months, Daniel died from consumption. Less than six years later, poor Jane was dead herself, from tuberculosis. William, again, signed the death certificate.
By 1878, William was a commercial traveller. He had moved to the Crosshill area of the city after marrying Jeannie Harris. Two years later, their first-born arrived, a son. He was given his father’s names, William Duncanson McBeath. Within a year, the family moved to Bristol in what was almost certainly the most settled and happiest period of William’s life. A sister, Agnes, and brother, Norman, for William, Jnr were born.
Sadly, the remaining period of William McBeath’s life is clouded in mist. What happened to cause a breakdown in the happy family life of the McBeaths, we do not know. Norman was sent to Glasgow to live with his grandmother. Agnes became a nursery governess in Torquay but disappears after 1901. We have no trace of William, Jnr after the 1891 census. (Norman died in Glasgow, aged eighty-three, in 1973. He had not married.)
William last years make unpleasant reading. He moved from town to town, found himself in court on charges of fraud (of which he was acquitted) and married for a second time.
There is no record of him divorcing Jeannie before his marriage to Sarah Ann Lambert in Bradford on Boxing Day 1898. He recorded he was a “widower”. It was probably only fair that evidence suggests Jeannie appears as “widowed” in the 1901 census!
The deterioration in William McBeath’s life continued until his death in the workhouse at Lincoln in 1917. He was “certified imbecile”. The evidence of his state of health suggests he had suffered from Alzheimer’s.
William was buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave in Lincoln Cemetery. There is some form of happy ending to his story. During his research for his wonderful work, “The Gallant Pioneers”, Gary Ralston found William’s grave. The grave is now marked with a stone paid for by a group of Rangers’ supporters.