Dr Adam Little: Rangers footballer turned GP

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The Independent Online

As a 12-year-old, I was the only Scots boy at Harecroft Hall, a small preparatory school near Drake, which became Calderhall, now Sellafield, a school convenient for the children of the "atomics", as they were known locally. One lad, later to become a distinguished professor of physics, bestowed on me the nickname that stuck for a few months, "nought-eight".

The circumstances were that one torrid October Saturday afternoon in 1944, we boys had been huddled round the wireless, to listen to the excited, never-to-be-forgotten, tones of Raymond Glendinning, describing the wartime international match in which England trounced Scotland 8-0 at Maine Road, Manchester. The hapless Scottish left-half was Capt Adam Little, Royal Army Medical Corps, of Glasgow Rangers. He was detailed to mark Squadron Quarter Master Sergeant PTI Horatio ("Raich") Carter, of Sunderland, Derby County and England.

That Carter, one of the greatest ever inside-rights, was flanked on the right wing by Stanley Matthews, the wizard of dribble, and Tommy Lawton, Everton and England, with assistance from the inside-left Jimmy Hagan, Sheffield United and England, and Denis Compton, then of Arsenal and England, later a Test cricketer, added to Little's woes. Years later, when I met Dr Little, then a general practitioner in Port Glasgow, in the company of his MP and friend Dr Dickson Mabon, he reflected ruefully:

That afternoon at Maine Road, on paper, we had a great Scots team. Tommy Walker [Hearts] and Tory Gillick [Rangers], were great international inside-forwards for Scotland. Willie Waddell [later manager of Rangers and Scotland] was a powerful right-winger. George Young [Rangers] and Jimmy Carabine [Third Lanark] were great players. It was simply that Stan Cullis's England team were among the all-time greats.

Adam Little was born in the mining community of Blantyre, famous as the birthplace of David Livingstone, as he would often point out, and educated at Rutherglen Academy where the long-serving rector, Walter Paterson, encouraged Little's obvious football talent, but made sure that the boy put his nose to the academic grindstone. Later, Little was to say that had it not been for Paterson and teaching colleagues at Rutherglen Academy who really cared about their pupils, that he might have frittered his life away after his football days were over. He came to the attention of Bill Struth, the great, long-serving, fastidious manager of Rangers (his players had to be immaculately groomed at all times, in collar and tie) who placed the young Little with Blantyre Victoria in the days when the senior clubs believed their future players should do a hard apprenticeship with junior sides. Little thought that today's prima donnas could have benefited from such an upbringing.

He played in the Scottish Emergency War Cup when Rangers beat Dundee United at Hampden Park in May 1940 before a crowd of 90,000. For a period, Little guested with Arsenal and linked up well with Bernard Joy and other famous players in wartime football. Before leaving for the Middle East for service with the RAMC, he was a member of the Rangers team which, on New Year's Day 1943, beat Celtic by eight goals to one, the biggest margin ever in an Old Firm game.

When peace came, Little, then a full-time doctor, found it difficult to hold his place in the Rangers side and left Ibrox in 1951, to play for Greenock Morton, where he remained until retiring from football in 1955. He was something of a local hero at Cappielow Park and settled down to practice in neighbouring Port Glasgow. He was among the early advocates in Scotland of preventive medicine, with special attention to the problems arising from working with asbestos, the scourge of the shipyards.

Tam Dalyell

Adam Little, footballer and medical practitioner: born Blantyre, Lanarkshire 1 September 1919; played for Glasgow Rangers 1937-50, for Greenock Morton 1950-55; married (one son); died Erskine, Dunbartonshire 12 June 2008.