Moses McNeil was born October 29, 1855, Rhu, at Belmore House, in Rhu on October 29th 1855 to John and Jean McNeil. His father John was gardener at the residence, the summer retreat of Glasgow corn merchant, John Honeyman. Mother Jean Bain was from Downpatrick in Ulster. Moses had ten siblings, including brother Peter, two of whom died in infancy.
Moses grew up in the Helensburgh area until the end of 1871, when he followed his brothers and sister to Glasgow, moving in with his sister Elizabeth and fellow siblings at No. 17 Cleveland Street, then just around the corner at No. 169 Berkley Street.
During his youth, Moses has displayed all the hall marks of a natural athlete, he was powerful, had a low centre of gravity, and displayed both pace and stamina. The trophy room at Ibrox contains a cup that Moses won in 1876 for the half mile at the Garelochead Athletic Sports event held on 1st January. He was also reputed to be a keen oarsman.
In early March 1872, inspired by seeing the Queens Park play, Moses, his brother Peter, and friends William McBeath and Peter Campbell discussed forming a football team whilst walking along Glasgow’s West End Park, now known as Kelvingrove.
The team that the men were to form was Glasgow Rangers, allegedly named after a prominent English Rugby team of the era, ‘Swindon Rangers’, who had featured in a copy of a sporting annual that Moses had been reading at the time. Not only did the men select the name for their team, but the early Rangers kit was evidently based on Swindon’s all white strip, complete with blue star on the left breast, that the first Rangers team adopted for the 1877 cup final.
Rangers played their first ever match against Callender F.C. at Glasgow Green’s Flesher’s Haugh in May 1872, which resulted in a 0-0 draw. Rangers played one more match in 1872, an 11-0 win against Clyde – not the present Clyde F.C.
In 1874 Rangers played their first ever Scottish Cup match and McNeil scored in a 2-0 win over Oxford, with Rangers then losing to Dumbarton in the second round. Rangers reached their first Scottish Cup final in 1877 but lost to Vale of Leven after two replays.
McNeil’s Rangers reached the Scottish Cup final again in 1878 but, after Rangers refused to play in the replay following a 1-1 draw at Hampden, the trophy was awarded to Vale of Leven. Rangers won their first trophy in 1879, the “Glasgow Merchants’ Charity Cup” after beating Vale of Leven 2-1 in front of 11,000 spectators at Hampden. Moses was to finally lift the Scottish Cup after a 3–1 win over Celtic in 1894.
McNeil won two caps for Scotland, the first Ranger to represent his country, the first on March 25, 1876 in a 4-0 win over Wales and the second on 13 March 1880 in a 5-4 win over England, in which he played alongside his brother, Henry. Henry McNeil won a total of 10 caps for his country and scored 5 goals.
Moses McNeil’s last recorded appearance for Rangers was on September 30, 1882 in a Scottish Cup replay defeat to Queen’s Park at Hampden.
After his footballing career ended, Moses spent much of his working life as a clerk, and later a commercial traveller for Hugh Lang Junior, a commission agent, based at No. 70 Union Street Glasgow.
In 1896, Moses and his brother Harry took over the running of the ‘Royal Hotel’ in Bangor, in Ulster until 1901, when they both returned to Scotland. Moses then became an oils and brush salesmen, whilst lodging in a house at Stanley Street, Glasgow.
In 1930, Moses moved back to the Helensburgh and Lomond area when he moved into his sister Isabella’s cottage in Roseath, where he was to spend the rest of his life.
Moses, that last of the McNeil siblings, died a bachelor on 9th April 1938, of cardiac disease aged 82, his sister Isabella having passed away in 1935.
Moses was buried in Rosneath graveyard, sharing a grave with his sisters, Isabella, Elizabeth and her husband Duncan Gray. His name was sadly never added to the family gravestone.
Interest in Moses McNeil’s life was heightened in 2009 when the journalist Gary Ralston published a book ‘ Rangers 1872, the Gallant Pioneers’ which told the remarkable story of how two men from Rhu co-founded one of the world’s most famous football clubs.
Images courtesy of Glasgow Rangers Football Club.