Obituary: Samuel ‘Sammy’ Cox, footballer

Sammy Cox (right), Scotland international and member of Rangers' famous Iron Curtain defence. Picture: Contributed
Sammy Cox (right), Scotland international and member of Rangers' famous Iron Curtain defence. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 13 April, 1924, in Darvel, Ayrshire. Died: 2 August, 2015, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, aged 91.

Sammy Cox was one of the best and most important players for Rangers in the season during which the Ibrox club won its first domestic treble of Scottish League Championship, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup.

It was the era of Rangers’ famous “Iron Curtain” defence and the versatile Cox usually featured at left half wearing the number 6 shirt in the days of the 2-3-5 formation. Alongside him at half-back were Willie Woodburn and Ian McColl, while the full backs were George Young and Jock Shaw with Bobby Brown in goal.

Brown joined Rangers on the same day as Cox, both men having had their football careers rudely interrupted by the Second World War. Both had also played for Queen’s Park in wartime matches, Brown being given permission by the Royal Navy, in which he was a PT instructor, to play for Scotland in wartime internationals as well.

Cox had not quite reached those international heights when he joined Rangers after service in the Gordon Highlanders, a regiment in which he served – also as a physical training instructor – under a Colonel McGregor. He was so proud of those associations that he later called his third son Gordon McGregor Cox.

Born in Darvel to John and Margaret Cox – he was given the middle name of Richmond after her maiden name – Sammy Cox was an outstanding schoolboy footballer who was good enough to be selected by Ayrshire junior side Glenafton at the tender age of 13.

He was signed by Darvel Juniors in 1940, and then played for senior sides Queen’s Park, Third Lanark and Dundee while serving with the Gordons.

Cox was signed for Rangers by legendary manager Bill Struth in May 1946, immediately playing his first match for the club in the 4-0 defeat of Airdrieonians in the Victory Cup on 4 May. Rangers progressed to the final, beating Celtic in the semi-final, and won the “one-off” tournament on 15 June, beating Hibs 3-1 to gain Cox, playing at right back, his first honour.

Though naturally left-sided, his versatility showed the following season when he made 13 appearances for Rangers, playing in four different positions, before tying down a place in the first XI the following season when he played in every league match and gained a Scottish Cup winner’s medal in the replay victory over Morton.

His form was recognised by the Scotland selectors and he made the first of his 25 appearances in the dark blue shirt in the 3-0 defeat by France on 23 May, 1948.

In season 1948-49, the almost permanent switch to left-half was the making of Cox, and the Iron Curtain also came into being, with Rangers winning the first domestic treble in Scottish football history – the League Cup had only come into being in season 46-47.

Cox was a vital member of the treble-winning team, his hard tackling and reading of the game proving major assets. Though no giant – he was just 5ft 8ins tall and weighed less than 11 stone – Cox had a brilliant grasp of positional play that marked him as a player ahead of his time.

In that season 48-49, the League title was won by a point from Dundee, the League Cup was won against Raith Rovers and the Scottish Cup won against Clyde. He also starred for Scotland in the 3-1 defeat of England at Wembley on 9 April, 1949.

Cox was again ever-present when Rangers retained the League title the following season, but there followed a couple of barren seasons with Hibs and their Famous Five in the ascendancy. Cox continued to be selected for Scotland, however, and gained his last cap against England in 1954 when he was made captain of the side. He had also been selected 13 times for the Scottish League XI in its various international fixtures.

By then, he fell out of favour with new manager Scot Symon and though he had won the last of his three league winner’s medals in season 52-53, and played 44 games out of 47 in 53-54, by the following season he was no longer a permanent fixture in the side and in February 1955, he played the last of his 310 games for Rangers.

Cox then played a couple of seasons for East Fife, but like so many Scots of the time, he needed to travel west to find work – footballers in those days were paid little more than the average skilled worker, so Cox and his family emigrated to Canada where, having retired from full-time football, he went to work for Fischer Bearings Manufacturing in Stratford, Ontario, where he and his family made their home.

He would work for the company for 35 years until his retirement.

In the late 1950s he continued to play regularly in the National Soccer League for Toronto Ulster United in 1958, Toronto Sparta in 1959 and was player-coach of Stratford Fischers in 1960. He was also selected for the Ontario All-Stars against West Bromwich Albion in Toronto in May 1959, when the English tourists included no less a personage than Sir Bobby Robson in a side that beat their hosts 6-1.

Cox continued to follow Rangers and was a much-loved member of the North American Rangers Supporters Association, which has created a special banner in his honour. He was also inducted into Rangers Hall of Fame.

Latterly, Cox was cared for by his wife and the staff of the Spruce Lodge nursing home in Stratford, where he passed away at the weekend.

He is survived by Jean and by their sons Graham and Gordon, his other son Allan having predeceased him in 2009. He is also survived by his grandchildren Janna and Rachel and his great-grandchildren Kayden, Meleena, and Vayda.

Rangers have announced that a minute’s silence in memory of Cox will be held before Friday’s match against St Mirren at Ibrox.