Max Murray, scorer of Rangers’ first Euro goal, finds his loyalties divided

Former Rangers and Scotland forward Max Murray. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Former Rangers and Scotland forward Max Murray. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE name Murray has loomed large over Rangers in recent years, from Sir David, who built the empire which so spectacularly crumbled this year, to Malcolm – the current chairman trying to help rebuild the club in its “newco” form.

However, long before either man set foot in Ibrox, another Murray had etched his name into Rangers’ history.

Max Murray scoring for Rangers.

Max Murray scoring for Rangers.

Max Murray, a cultured centre forward in Scot Symon’s eminent Rangers side of the Fifties and Sixties, was the man who had the honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal in European competition – the equaliser in a 2-1 victory over Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice at Ibrox in the 1956-57 European Cup.

History will be thick in the air at Ibrox again this afternoon when the world’s oldest city football derby is renewed in peculiar circumstances Murray thought he would never see – Rangers welcoming his first senior club, Queen’s Park, to Ibrox for a league fixture in Scotland’s bottom division, with the latter topping the Third Division and the Govan giants playing catch-up on their amateur neighbours.

“Yes, it’s safe to say I didn’t think I would ever see anything like this,” says 76-year-old Murray. “It’s hard to believe what has happened to Rangers over the past year. The whole thing has been a shambles. From what I have seen of them this season they will need to start improving fast, or it will be difficult for them to get back to where they want to be.”

Murray, who prefers attending his local golf course in Falkirk to football matches these days, will sit down in front of a television at 4.45pm to catch the result, and admits he has divided loyalties. “It’s six and half a dozen for me. I always look out for both their results, but I am glad to see Queen’s doing so well this season.”

Murray was signed by Queen’s Park as a teenager from Camelon in 1953 and has warm memories of wearing the famous black and white hoops of the country’s oldest club. “We trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that meant getting a train from Falkirk, then a bus from George Square, but the travelling was always worth it because in that team, the company was good,” he recalls. “We split our home matches between Hampden and Lesser Hampden, but I don’t think there was ever more than 1,000 at a game. You could hear every word that the supporters were shouting sometimes.”

Much like this season, Queen’s Park were punching above their weight and Murray was at the forefront of their push up the old Second Division, managing a scoring ratio of a goal every two games for the Spiders. “I actually started out as an outside left, but the problem was I couldn’t kick the ball with my left foot! So, I was moved to centre forward, and it seemed to suit me well,” he says.

Rangers were keeping tabs on the emerging talent on the other side of the city, and the young Murray was offered a part-time contract with Symon’s team for the 1955-56 season, combining his time at Ibrox with an apprenticeship as a chartered accountant. The slim centre forward’s goalscoring numbers added up too. He made an instant impact, scoring on his debut – ironically away to his home town team, Falkirk – a thumping 5-0 win in the League Cup, then hit the mark on his home debut against the Bairns four days later, scoring in a 4-3 win. Murray was in a battle with South African forward Don Kichenbrand for the No 9 jersey, and while his appearances and goals were limited in his first campaign, it proved a championship-winning season – and one that earned them a spot in the European Cup, which had been created the previous season with Hibs blazing the trail as Britain’s first participants.

Now it was Rangers’ turn to get a first taste of continental competition, and it was to prove a truly bizarre experience.

The first leg against the French took place on 24 October, 1956, and despite a foul night of driving rain and hailstones, it didn’t prevent Rangers setting what was then a record attendance for a Scottish floodlit match, with 60,000 huddled inside Ibrox. With Kichenbrand sold to Sunderland, Symon had turned without hesitation to Murray as his first-choice centre forward that season. The striker would reward his faith by finishing top goalscorer, a feat he would repeat twice more in seven years at Ibrox, a period which also saw four league championships.

Murray had to work hard to make an impact against Nice. “Playing against continental opponents was a new thing for us,” he says. “We used to play home and away each year against Arsenal in challenge matches, so that had prepared us a little bit for playing against a team from another league, but this was different – it was a competitive match and it was physical.”

Despite dominating the early stages, Rangers went behind after 23 minutes, but four minutes before half-time Murray’s historic moment arrived, slamming the ball high into the net after Sammy Baird had bamboozled the French defence. “I am very proud to have scored that goal, given its place in history now,” says Murray. “The goal calmed the manager [Symon] down. He could be a nervy, twitchy character if we were losing at half-time, so at least my goal saw us go in level.”

The referee, Englishman Arthur Ellis, also demonstrated a nervous disposition, and in a bizarre display of officiating, he halted the game early in the second half to deliver a stern lecture to all 22 players on what he perceived to be some over-zealous challenges. Rangers got their noses in front within minutes after the unscheduled dressing down, courtesy of a Billy Simpson header, but Ellis created more chaos by blowing for full-time five minutes early.

Murray remembers the blunder well. “We had trooped off the park, pretty pleased and excited at winning the match 2-1. Some of the boys were changing and I was just about to jump in the bath when he came in and told us we needed to get back out and finish the game. It was crazy!”

The tie had a few twists and turns before it ran its course. The return leg was due to be played a week later, but was postponed after a deluge. Heavy rain again greeted Rangers 12 days later for the re-arranged tie, and Murray found himself in the thick of a brutal match. He was hacked down in the 40th minute, allowing Johnny Hubbard to put Rangers ahead from the penalty spot, then had the ball the net himself on the stroke of half-time, only for the referee to disallow the strike, ruling he had already blown the whistle. Two goals by the French on the hour levelled the aggregate score, and a third match was needed to decide a winner. Nice won 2-1 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The first European foray was over, but Rangers and Murray were back the following season, getting past Saint-Etienne before losing to AC Milan.

It will be a longer wait before the present-day Rangers are on the European stage again, and they could use a player with the predatory goalscoring instincts of Murray, although he modestly dismissed the notion, saying: “I just was in the right spot at the time.”

Murray left Rangers in 1962, moving to West Brom, the only time he left his home town other than during his National Service with the RAF, when he fittingly trained with Rangers - the Stafford version - when posted south of the Border. At West Brom he played under another Falkirk product, Archie Macaulay, then headed home and played the rest of his career with Third Lanark, Clyde and Distillery in Northern Ireland, which allowed him to indulge his other passion of golf by playing at Portrush. Murray jokes he was “a lazy bugger” at training, but he worked hard as an Edinburgh-based breweries sales manager before his retirement.

Murray treasures his days with Rangers and Queen’s Park, and though he maintains an interest in Scottish football, he admits: “I’m not a big fan of the modern game. Nobody is willing to take defenders on the way they used to, and there is too much passing sideways and backwards around the halfway line. I much prefer golf, but I’ll be watching out for the result on Saturday though.”