DCSIMG

George Niven

Goalkeeper for Glasgow Rangers for ten years

Born: 11 June, 1929, in Blairhall, Fife.

Died: 17 July, 2008, in Kingussie, aged 79.

GEORGE Niven, who has died after a two-year battle against lung cancer, is best remembered for a decade of service to Rangers, as goalkeeper. But those years and his subsequent career with Partick Thistle were just a part of a full life well lived.

The years between his joining Rangers from Coupar Angus Juniors in 1951 and leaving Firhill in 1968 were good ones. Nearly 600 first team games, plenty of medals and memories, with only injury denying him a place in the ranks of full Scotland internationals. But these years do not tell the whole story.

Towards the end of his Rangers career Niven joined his former team-mate, legendary Scotland captain George Young, in running a successful coffee bar in Glasgow's city centre.

After this business was sold, Niven returned to his native Fife to run a bookmaker's shop and a public house in Kelty with his wife, Nessie. However, in the mid-1970s he joined a friend from Kelty working on the upgraded A9 in the Highlands – he was never to leave there.

George and Nessie had four children, twin boys, David and George, a daughter, Fiona, then a third son, Kenny. They never divorced, but George spent the last 33 years of his life, living happily in Dulnain Bridge with his devoted partner, Ann.

With the A9 open, George transferred to British Rail, driving the permanent way maintenance gang around the Highlands. He also found his football knowledge used in the service of Carrbridge Welfare, a local amateur side. In fact, in an emergency he signed-on and played for the club. This was a move which had repercussions, since he had inadvertently signed on the wrong form, an oversight which cost the club a hefty 30 fine for fielding a professional. Niven was in his fifties at the time.

With the club he and his fellow official George Stephen were known as Staedtler and Waldorf by the local referees. Like the Muppet characters, their advice from the sidelines wasn't always appreciated.

Taking early retirement aged 63, Niven turned his sporting attentions to the bowling green, playing outdoors at Grantown-on-Spey and, in the winter, short rink indoors at Carrbridge.

Former Rangers team-mates such as Eric Caldow were always welcome visitors when heading north, while a chance meeting with former Rangers centre-half John Valentine, now living in Inverness, allowed the pair finally to have a laugh about their darkest day, Celtic's 7-1 League Cup final win in 1957, a game which marked the end of Valentine's first team career with Rangers.

That defeat sparked the old Glasgow joke: "What's the time?"

"Seven past Niven," was the response.

He enjoyed the quiet life in Strathspey, where he was simply George Niven rather than George Niven of Rangers.

In 2006 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, but while further medical problems made his final months difficult, he bore his troubles with cheerfulness before transferring to St Vincent's Hospice, Kingussie, for the final six weeks of his life.

His funeral, on Tuesday, was well-attended, with the old Rangers double act of Ralph Brand and Jimmy Miller among those paying their last respects to one of the true gentlemen of Scottish football.

George Niven was one of the last of the old-style Rangers players of the Struth era. The standards of behaviour and loyalty to which he and his contemporaries adhered are light years away from those expected of today's "stars".

Niven was never a public figure; he has not yet been elected to Rangers' Hall of Fame, partly perhaps because he was never a showy player. In the second half of his life, amidst the beauty and serenity of the Highlands, he found contentment and peace, so different from the clamour of the full-houses at Ibrox, Parkhead and Hampden of his footballing days.

His heart was in the Highlands and there he will remain, at rest in Grantown-on-Spey cemetery.

MATTHEW VALLANCE

 
 
 

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