Obituary: George Young

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The Independent Online
If, in the middle 1940s, I, or most other teenage boys in Scotland, had been asked the question: "What is the Iron Curtain?" the answer would have had little to do with Winston Churchill, Fulton, Missouri, Eastern Europe, or Stalin. Our answer would have been, "Dawson, Gray, Shaw, Symon, Young, and Cox." The Iron Curtain for us boys was most certainly the Rangers Defence, and any connection with the Soviet Union would have been in terms of their epic match at Ibrox in November 1945 with the visitors from Moscow Dynamo, who a week before had come to Britain as a goodwill gesture, and thrashed both Arsenal and Cardiff City.

Jerry Dawson was the safest pair of hands before or since ever to keep goal for Scotland. Gray and "Tiger" Shaw were superb old-fashioned, hard- tackling full backs. Scott Symon was later to be the Rangers' manager, and Sammy Cox one of the brainiest half-backs and feeder-in-chief of the great inside- forwards Tory Gillick and Alec Venters. But the epicentre of them all was George Young, just as he was in the early 1950s, when the curtain had somewhat changed to Bobby Brown, the international goalkeeper, Young and fellow internationalists Eric Caldow, Ian McColl and Willy Woodburn - a legendary defence still fresh in the memory of fans who saw them 40 years ago. It was the Young Curtain. "Corky" was what he was almost universally called by the players, because he kept a cork as a lucky charm from his first International against England in 1943.

In his playing days I did not know George Young, but applauded him often on the field. He has been described as a huge bear, 6ft 2in, and weighing between 15 and 20 stone. But if he was a bear he was an exceeding agile one. The dazzling Preston North End and England winger Tom Finney, whom Young referred to as "my friend the Preston plumber", had a more subtle description. Finney described Young as:

Like a giant octopus. You would beat him seven times in one move, and thought you were past him, then that eighth leg would come out to reclaim the ball.

Indeed, thousands of us would repeatedly watch Young uncoil his right leg with perfect timing to dispossess the most gifted opponent.

Second to Finney among those gifted opponents was Sir Stanley Matthews. Matthews said: "When I saw George in a Scotland line-up, I knew winning would not be easy." Young's greatest wins were the successive Scottish victories at Wembley in 1949 and 1951. To his eternal regret, he never took part, in any of his 53 international appearances (for 48 of which he was captain), in a Scotland victory against England at Hampden Park.

Young captained Rangers to six Scottish League Championships, four Scottish Cup triumphs and two League Cup wins. He was the epitome of fair play. The late Willy Ormond, one of the Hibernians' famous five - Smith, Johnston, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond - and later the Scottish team manager, used to illustrate Young's approach thus:

In my first game against Rangers at Easter Road, I was a cocky youngster. Willy Woodburn - the ferocious tackler and Rangers and Scotland centre- half in the early 1950s - yelled after I had gone past him with the ball: "George, get that little bastard!" At the first moment, after the ball had next gone out of play, Young put his massive paw on my shoulder and said gently, "Never mind, son, what Woodburn says, I'll deal with you in my own way," which I knew was fair play.

Young dealt fairly with even the toughest of opponents, Stanley Mortenson of Blackpool and England and Jimmy Hagan of Sheffield United and England, both of whom he particularly admired.

As captain, Young exercised far more relative authority than any modern skipper. Sitting next to him at an old-age pensioners' function, in Bo'ness, West Lothian in 1975, 30 years after he had worked in the town in a reserved occupation during the Second World War as a shipyard engineer, I asked him about whether he thought a captain should influence team selection. He replied:

In my day, it was a good idea. I played against the lads or with Rangers' lads week in and week out. Almost all possible candidates for international honours were in the Scottish League. Nowadays, it's not the same. Many players play in the English First Division, or even abroad. But there's something to be said for a captain making a judgement on the pitch and giving advice to be heeded by the selectors.

In the early 1950s his relationship with Sir George Graham, the powerful secretary of the Scottish Football Association, was a particularly close one. When it was suggested that Scotland needed a team manager along the lines of the role Walter Winterbottom had created in England, Graham famously replied: "We don't need a manager, we've got George Young!" And, in a sense, Graham was justified. Young captained Scotland and as undisputed captain of the side, had a major say in policy.

However, this was to have one unfortunate consequence. In the 1940s Young had made it known that on the Scotland right wing he had a preference for Jimmy Delaney, the Celtic and Manchester United wizard (who scored the winning goal in the last minute against England in 1949), rather than Rangers' own Willy Waddell, later to become manager at Rangers. This led to a certain sourness between Young and Waddell and to Young's great hurt, when Waddell was manager at Ibrox, Young's testimonial (a special fundraising match), which this generous man needed, was held at Brockville in Falkirk (which only had a capacity of 15,000) rather than at Ibrox (which then had a capacity of 60,000).

The lasting memory of George Young is of a stoically cheerful giant, unable to speak, disabled in his wheelchair, yet making it clear that he enjoyed the company of fellow footballers and friends.

George Young, footballer and football manager: born Grangemouth 27 October 1922; player for Rangers 1941-57; 53 Scotland caps 1948-57; Manager of Third Lanark 1959-62; married 1943 Zena Graham (died 1995; two daughters); died Slamannan, Central 10 January 1997.