Tortured: The Sam English Story by Jeff Holmes is published this week and tells the story of the Rangers striker who was involved in a collision with John Thomson that tragically claimed the life of Celtic and Scotland keeper.

In this exclusive extract from the new book, Holmes reveals how English had been injured in the build-up the fateful Old Firm game at Ibrox in 1931 and had initially been left out of Bill Struth's starting line-up.

THREE days before the first Old Firm game of the season, Sam had starred for Rangers against Falkirk at Brockville.

It was just his sixth appearance, but after scoring in the midweek 2-1 win, he had taken a kick to the ankle. It was a painful one, and even though he carried on after treatment, manager Bill Struth had decided to leave him out of the home match against great rivals Celtic.

It was the second time in just six games that he had been singled out for rough attention, and it was a theme which would continue throughout his career. In deciding to replace him with Jimmy Smith for the Old Firm encounter, perhaps Struth was trying to ‘manage’ his precocious young talent as best he could.

On the morning of the match, the Glasgow Herald printed the team line-ups. Smith was listed at centre-forward. There was no place for Sam, which would have disappointed thousands of Rangers supporters, and no one would be more disappointed than the player himself.

Barring a last-minute injury to someone listed, those line-ups were taken as gospel. But this was one of those days. When Smith reported for duty at Ibrox, he was quite clearly suffering from a heavy cold, or even flu. As a precaution to ensure no other players became infected, he was immediately sent home.

Struth then asked his trainer to scour the corridors of Ibrox to find English and tell him to prepare for action – and a painful ankle wasn’t about to keep this hungry youngster from missing out on the biggest game of his life. Sam was in.

And then the nerves started. English explained: "During that last midweek match at Brockville I picked up an ankle knock. There were stories in the newspapers that Jimmy Smith would be in the middle for the Saturday game. Despite my injury, I hoped not. I had been looking forward to my first meeting with Celtic."

Despite being in a strong position to win the first Old Firm match of the season, English recalled nerves being present in every corner of the Ibrox changing room. He said: "Personally, I had never been so nervous, but before the match, even veterans Davie Meiklejohn and Bob McPhail showed signs of strain, and there was certainly none of the usual dressing-room joshing. Dougie Gray looked jumpy as a cat. Dougie was on edge before every game. He had to hit turf and kick his first ball before he settled, but that day was as tense as I’d seen him.

"Only Sandy Archibald, who wasn’t playing, managed a joke. He told wee Alan Morton 'if you behave yourself, son, we’ll mebbe let you have a game with the big yins today'.

"On the quick, thin burst of laughter the quip raised, I went out for a look at the crowd. From the lip of the tunnel it looked like a vast tidal wave moving down the terracing. Already there were about 60,000 in the bowl, filling out the empty spaces with slow, massive impatience.

"I hurried back to my place in the dressing room. We always stripped in team order. Goalkeeper Jerry Dawson had the first position. The rest sat round the room through to Alan Morton. I hung my coat on the peg between Bob McPhail and Dr Jamie Marshall. Getting ready, I tried to keep a hold of myself, draining my thoughts of everything except the simple business of getting ready.

"I hadn’t long turned 23 and this was my first big game. Rangers against Celtic at Ibrox. League champions versus the cup holders.

"From the dressing room the crowd was a distant, growing murmur. 'Well, you know what this means to you,' Mr Struth said briefly as we filed out. Under the marble stairway. Across the indoor running track. Through the tunnel. Then the roar as we came out, blinking a little, into the sunshine. I had never seen so many people. Eighty thousand towered above us under a thick halo of cigarette smoke." And then the referee, William Holborn, emerged from the tunnel. This was it; the latest instalment in the finest club match on earth. It was just a few moments from starting but also light years from anything Sam had experienced while playing for Yoker.

Sure, there had been crowds of 10,000 crammed into Holm Park, but this was another level, not just from anything else in Scottish football, but the world over. Mr Holborn put the whistle to his mouth, and with a single burst of wind, the pea shot round the inside of the vessel and the game began.

Before the match, Celtic were being touted by some as title favourites, but there were two hurdles over which Celtic would have to scramble before they would be able to fulfil that prophecy; namely Rangers and Motherwell, who had arguably the most dynamic team in their history.

Some suggested the size of the Ibrox attendance for this Old Firm game – in the region of 80,000 – was down to the resurgence of Celtic, but there was little evidence to support this. The Old Firm was always well patronised. The spectators were clearly looking for thrills; for first-class football, and for a battle of craft and cleverness.

On all accounts, they would come away both disappointed and disgruntled, as though being cheated out of something. And no wonder. Of thrills there were none, of scientific football a complete absence, of craft and cleverness hardly a hint, but there were never any guarantees when the Old Firm met. What they did see, though, according to a Sunday Mail reporter was "stuff that was a blot on the fair name of sport".

The reporter added: "Early in the game the old Celtic–Rangers weakness of 'footbody' instead of football was evident. It didn’t creep into the proceedings: it completely enveloped them from the outset, and not a minute passed without the referee’s whistle blowing for some sort of infringement or other. Trainers and assistant trainers were the busiest men on show."

The first half was something of a non-event, with very little football played and the stop-start nature of this clash of the giants infuriating. It was hoped, at least by the large crowd, that the second 45 minutes would be far more entertaining.

Five minutes after the re-start, Celtic were pressing high in an attempt to get an opener. The ball was in Rangers’ quarter of the field when Marshall managed to steal possession. He transferred at right angles to Meiklejohn, who slipped it forward to Fleming, standing on the touchline a few yards on the Celtic side of the halfway line. McGonagle came tearing across, but Fleming dodged him and sent the ball low up the centre to be chased by English.

The middle of the Celtic defence had a gaping hole and, with McStay in a hopeless position to catch him, Thomson decided to leave his goal in an effort to halt English. Just inside his penalty area, the keeper, with that bravery which was one of his greatest attributes, dived for the ball.

Slightly beforehand, English made to shoot, and Thomson seemed to get the slightest of touches on the ball which sent it spinning past the outside of the goal. But in following through, the goalkeeper’s head made contact with the inside of English’s leg. He lay motionless on the turf. Almost immediately, a stretcher was summoned.

Tortured: The Sam English Story, published by Pitch Publishing, is now available from all good bookshops, or by contacting the author, Jeff Holmes, via Twitter at @JeffH1960 or through his website at

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