Willie Savage

Willie Savage joined Queen of the South in 1932. For the rest of the decade he formed an outstanding full back partnership with Willie Culbert and enjoyed many of the greatest moments in the club’s history. This included Queens’ highest ever top division finish (fourth in 1934) and many other landmark events in the history of QoS FC.

 
 

 (Queen of the South, 1935/36. Willie Savage is 3rd left in the back row)
 
Early days
 
Willie Savage was a native of Burnbank who began his football carer as an inside forward at the local St Cuthbert School and representing Lanarkshire elementary schools against Glasgow. On leaving school he played in the junior league as centre forward for his local club Burnbank. Three seasons later he went to St Cuthbert C.Y.M.S. This was a one season stay before returning to Burnbank for a further season. The next season was with Falkirk side Shieldhall Thistle. He played for the Hamilton ’A’ team before rejoining the junior league with Motherwell Juniors.
 
Queen of the South
 
Willie Savage was a 1932 Queen of the South signing from Motherwell Juniors. Savage’s full back partner for the rest of the decade, Willie Culbert, was another 1932 signing (Culbert joined from Clyde). Savage made his debut as a trialist on October 1st 1932 in the league thrashing of Bo’ness at Palmerston Park. Queens were already seven up when Bo’ness lost their goalie to injury. Unperturbed, Queens continued as before racking a double figure win of 10 – 0, surpassing the 9-1 win against Brechin the previous month. Bo’ness were a club not without their troubles to seek and shortly after withdrew from the league. The result took Queens to the top of the table with 16 points from 10 games. The top placing was short lived but Queens maintained decent form to stay firmly in the promotion hunt.
 
A second trial for Savage followed two weeks later against Albion Rovers and he was signed immediately after that game as other clubs took an interest in him. Despite the barbaric overtones of his family name, Savage was a scrupulously fair tackler quickly earning respect among players and fans. He would also keep his team mates amused on away trips with his skill on the mouth organ. With Savage’s career at Queens lasting until 1947, there would be many a moment for listening to Savage’s virtuosity on the moothie.
 
On Feb 18th Albion Rovers were beaten 4-1 at Palmerston to put Queens on to 42 points with seven games to go. Hibs were runaway leaders, with a nine point lead from the same number of games. Also with seven games to go were third placed Stenhousemuir who had 39 points.
 
The week after the Albion Rovers game, Queens and Stenny both lost allowing Dunfermline to close the gap on them both. Then came something of a showdown between Queens and the Larbert side on March 25th. Queens keeper John Smith was twice treated for injury but continued playing on until the final whistle. Queens ran out 5-2 winners. Queens had a four point cushion ahead of Dunfermline with the Pars having a game in hand. Then a home draw against Raith Rovers was followed by a game of much drama away at Alloa. Queens were 2 -0 up with half an hour to go. Alloa pulled a goal back when Smith gathered a high ball only to be barged along with the ball into the goal by the Alloa centre forward. The ref signalled goal. Then with three minutes to go, the ball played Irvine on the arm when he was in the Queens penalty area. The ref pointed to the spot and the penalty was converted. Alloa won 3-2.
 
The wheels were firmly falling off. Dunfermline also dropped a point but were still in the driving seat. Queens had one game to go, away to the divisional champions, Hibs. Even if Queens won, Dunfermline would need to drop at least a point for Queens to go up. The Fifers were also in a better position should a level on points tie breaker be needed (goal average).
 
Hibs had lost only once at home all season, 1-0 back in September. The Queens cause wasn’t helped when a selection change was forced when a train carrying one of the players to Edinburgh broke down. When the game started Queens had a dream start. After four minutes Tommy McCall went on a run through the Hibs defence before lobbing the keeper to put Queens 1-0 up. Connolly equalised for Hibs shortly before half time. Burt then latched on to Irvine’s pass to put Queens 2-1 up with a low left footer. The second half saw Hibs very much in the ascendancy but the Doonhamers defence held out to end the season with a 2-1 win at Easter Road. McCall’s goal created a new goal scoring record in Scotland for a left winger, 32 (McCall is seventh in the club scoring charts with 93 in total). However in terms of the promotion campaign, Queens’ season was over. Now it was down to Dunfermline.
 
On the day of Queens win against Hibs, Dunfermline rattled up a 4-0 victory against another Edinburgh club, St Bernard’s. Dunfermline’s game in hand was scheduled for the following Saturday, away to Kings Park. During the game crowds started to gather outside the offices of the Dumfries press on the High Street, desperate to get updates as best as possible on the game that would have such a massive impact on football in Dumfries. Half time news that Kings Park were ahead had the excitement heating up further. The Dumfries police started to encounter issues, as the increasing size of the throngs of interested fans caused problems for passing traffic. With the Midsteeple providing time keeping for all, the phones of the ‘Standard’ were red hot as call after call was made by supporters looking for the latest on the big game. Among those in the crowd was the Queen of the South chairman, Jimmy Jolly. With the tension at fever pitch, the final result came in: Kings Park 2, Dunfermline Athletic 1. Euphoria broke out with Jolly now the centre of attention as he accepted the good wishes of the ecstatic fans. 14 years after formation and now with 2 promotions behind them in the first decade after joining the Scottish League, Queen of the South were set to play top division football.
 
For the new season some new names appeared to strengthen the squad. The most notable was on board for the season’s start, Willie Ferguson, massively experienced after a decade at Chelsea and set to firmly leave his foot print on Queen of the South.
 
The team to play Queens on the Doonhamers first ever game of top divisional football was one to focus the concentration, Celtic. The landmark date in Queen of the South history was August 12th 1933 with the venue of Palmerston Park. With a crowd of 10,948 the team for this date in Queens history was as follows:-
 
Smith, Savage, Culbert, Russell, Irvine, Jenkins, Wales, Bell, McGowan, McDonald and Ferguson.
 
Celtic were the reigning Scottish Cup holders and while this was the first time Queens had played Old Firm opposition in the league, they had played against Celtic before in the Scottish Cup – Celtic had needed a replay to see off the Dumfries side. For the 33/34 season opener, Queens got off to a dream start just as they had against Hibs to end the previous season.
 
Wales fired in a low drive at goal with enough fizz on it to mean that dual intenationalist goalkeeper, Joe Kennaway, could only parry. John Bell did the rest to put himself in the record books as the scorer of the first ever Queens top league goal. Statisticians didn’t have to wait long for the name of the first player to score against Queens in the top league. It was certainly a distinguished name to score the goal – in the fourteenth minute a goal was scored by the player who has scored more times than anyone in UK football history, Jimmy McGrory.
 
The scores were level but not for long as Bob McGowan restored the advantage for the home team. However the lead was short lived when a McGonagle penalty made it 2-2; only 20 minutes on the clock. It stayed that way ‘til half time. Queens started the second half in the same explosive manner as they did the first; after link up play between Wales and McDonald, Bell added his name to the score sheet once again. Celtic were the stronger of the two sides for the rest of the game but the Queens defence stood firm. At the end of a milestone date in the history of Queen of the South football club, the final score read: Queen of the South 3, Celtic 2.
 
Tremendous stuff. There was of course plenty for the national press to feast on with a strong entry for the best headline from the Sunday Mail, “Queens brew hot stew, Celtic merely the gravy”. Credit must be given to the Parkhead club for the sporting comment in their match program for the game following their defeat at Palmerston: “We would be failing in our duty as Celts and as sportsmen if we omitted to congratulate Queen of the South on their victory over us. And we hope they will continue to serve up good, honest football which brought them their first victory in the league."
 
Queens’ first away game in the top division was at a ground behind the North Stand at Hampden Park, Cathkin Park. The opposition, like Kings Park, no longer feature in the Scottish League, Third Lanark. In the 28th minute, McGowan headed in Ferguson’s corner to equalise the scores at 1-1. The man of the match though was Smith in goals for Queens repelling attack after attack. If good teams score late goals then the signs were good for Queens when McDonald scored the winner with three minutes of play to go.
 
Things were looking rosy but the introduction to the real world was to follow, Queens lost five games culminating in a defeat to Rangers at Ibrox. The ship was then steadied with four straight wins (including another over Hibs) to position Queens in mid table.
 
November 18th brought Queens to Edinburgh to play a Hearts side defending an unbeaten record at Tynecastle that season. Queens thundered into a 3-0 lead within half an hour. Hearts could only pull one goal back for Queens to pick up another notable scalp. However in late December Bell left Queens to join Preston North End, a possible cause for concern with Bell already on nine goals for the season. The £1500 transfer fee beat the previous highest, the £1000 received from Newcastle for Billy Halliday. However new forwards had been added to the Queens attack since the season’s start.
 
Joe Tulip was from Mickley in Northumberland. A policeman from Dumfries on holiday in England’s North East had seen Tulip play and recommended the left winger to the Palmerston directors. Tulip had debuted on November 11th at home against Rangers. Another newcomer in 1933 was the journeyman and inside forward Laurie Cumming, three times capped by Ireland and future journalist and founder member of the Scottish Football Writers Association.
 
December 23rd brought the return game against Celtic. McGrory hitting the post was the closest Celtic came to scoring. With 14 minutes left to play Johnny Anderson of Queens passed the ball past two Celtic defenders to Willie Anderson. Anderson crossed to McGowan who headed the ball to an unmarked Joe Tulip. Tulip rifled the ball past Kennaway and a Celtic defender to give Queens the lead. The game finished, Celtic 0, Queen of the South 1. The billboards for the Glasgow evening press ran with the headline, “Tulip tiptoes through the Shamrocks”.
 
Queens’ fine form continued and a quarter final appearance in the Scottish Cup followed. However as has so often been the case, this proved the end of the road for cup ambitions for the season – two deflected goals past another experienced journeyman, keeper Willie Fotheringham, were enough to decide the game. St Johnstone won 2-0 at home.
 
With league business left, Rangers and Motherwell were miles ahead in the battle for the title. The contest for the other places was much closer with Queens battling things out with Aberdeen, Hearts and Celtic. The week after the quarter final Queens were resounding winners by 4-1 against the Dons. A 3-1 win over Hearts put Queens into fourth place, the position in which they ended their first ever season in Scotland’s top flight.
 
Fourth place in Scotland’s top division in 1934 remains to this day the best ever Queen of the South league finish. The 45 points achieved was a new record for a newly promoted side. Among the scalps picked up along the way were victories against all but four of the other 19 teams in the division. Double wins were chalked up against Celtic, Hearts and Hibs. Laurie Cumming fired in 24 goals that season. The 75 goals for fourth placed Queens made them the division’s seventh highest scorers. However the 48 goals against was the third most miserly defence in the league. So often forwards get the glory but the contribution of the likes of goalies Smith and Fotheringham and defenders Savage, Culbert and Adam ‘Skull’ Allan should not be over looked.
 
 
Position
Club
P
W
D
L
F
A
Pts
1
Rangers
38
30
6
2
118
41
66
2
Motherwell
38
29
4
5
97
45
62
3
Celtic
38
18
1
9
78
53
47
4
Queen of the South
38
21
3
14
75
48
45
5
Aberdeen
38
18
8
12
90
57
44
6
Heart of Midlothian
38
17
10
11
86
59
44

 

Savage like many of the players listed above was part of the 16 player squad for the 11 game 1936 overseas tour to France, Luxembourg and Algeria. Under George McLachlan’s management, Queens returned home with the Algiers Invitational Tournament trophy after beating Racing de Santander in the final.

  

Savage was Captain at the club for the 1937 Scottish Cup first round game against Rangers at Palmerston. Queens had enjoyed great success against Celtic since joining the top division and continued to for many years. Rangers were a different story with Queens having registered no better than a draw up to this point. The Doonhamers could at least go into the game with some confidence after wins against Dundee (3-1 at Dens Park) and Hibs (1-0 at Palmerston).
 
13,000 fans watched the game unfold. Joe Tulip was injured in the 12th minute and forced to leave the field of play for treatment. Long before the introduction of substitutions, he returned on the half hour mark. Despite Tulip’s good intention, the injury severely hindered his efforts and he was pretty much a passenger for the rest of the game.
 
Despite Tulip’s predicament, Queens continued to look solid in a game that was mostly defences on top. The key moment arrived with nine minutes left of play.
 
Laurie Cumming latched on to a loose ball and drove forward. Spotting an unmarked Renwick, Cumming picked out his man with a pass of military precision. Renwick pushed on controlling the ball on the move to which the Rangers goallie came out to meet him and narrow the angle. Renwick elected to lob. The ball went up before on the drop it drifted under the cross bar and into the back of the net. Queen of the South 1, Rangers 0. This was the finest domestic result in the reign of George McLachlan at the club.
 
 
At the final whistle jubilant Queens fans poured on to the pitch to accolade their heroes. The man of the moment, Renwick, was carried from the pitch shoulder high. The Evening Times reported:
 
"Fotheringham here was the great goalkeeper I have always considered him to be. In front of him Savage and Culbert gave a perfect display of sure and resourceful defence. Allan simply struck the best game of his long and honourable career. It was more than a merited win for Queens, it was a triumph."
 
Queens progressed to the quarter finals that season once again.
 
Under Jimmy McKinnell Snr’s management, Savage and Queens finished 6th in the league in 1939 with another Queens great now on board, Jackie Oakes. Queens again enjoyed some Scottish Cup respectability making the quarters for third time in six years.
 
During the war Willie Savage guested for St Mirren, Albion Rovers and Dumbarton. Savage returned to Palmerston at the war’s end to play for Queens until 1947.
 
Savage was a tremendous player and Captain at Queens making 369 appearances. After the promotion in his 1st season, all of Savage’s time at Queens was spent in the top division. He was the first ever player to reach 300 first class games for Queen of the South - a feat even today achieved by less than 20 players. Willie Savage is ninth in Queens’ all time appearances list. This is all the more commendable for Savage as all but his last season were in the era before the formation of the League Cup.
 
Kirk McLean

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