Ian McColl: Rangers stalwart and successful Scotland manager

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The Independent Online

When Ian McColl left school, he headed for the gothic tower of Glasgow University. It is a measure of how well he embraced one extra-curricular activity while there that his life would eventually be better known for his achievements under the rather different Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium. For any Scot, playing against England is the stuff of dreams. To manage a Scotland side that beats the auld enemy in their spiritual home, however, is rare indeed. McColl oversaw a 2-1 triumph over England at Wembley in 1963 which made Scotland the British champions.

Wembley was not the only citadel stormed that year. McColl's men went to Madrid's Bernabeu and thrashed Spain 6-2. The rich talent at McColl's disposal was indicated by the fact that two of his men, Denis Law of Manchester United and Jim Baxter of Rangers, were back at Wembley a few months later to play for the Rest of the World against England in celebration of the centenary of the Football Association.

McColl's four-year tenure, between 1961 and 1965, saw him establish the second-best record of any Scotland manager, losing only eight of his 28 matches. He failed to deliver qualification for a World Cup, but that was partly the result of wretched luck. In 1962 an injury-hit side lost a play-off to Czechoslovakia, who went on to reach the final in Chile, losing to Brazil.

What made McColl's managerial career all the more remarkable was that running the national team was his first job and that he acquired it at the age of just 34. He had, however, spent 16 years in a Rangers side which won six Scottish League championships.

Learning was McColl's speciality. The Vale of Leven Academy pupil left his Dunbartonshire home in 1943, when he was accepted by Glasgow University to study civil engineering. Once he got there, the teenager's talent for football saw him recruited by Queen's Park, the Glasgow club who were the pioneers of the British game but remain amateur to this day.

McColl swiftly earned a place in the Queen's Park team, at right-half, playing 57 games. Two years later, in June 1945, he turned professional, with Rangers. However, McColl had continued his degree and he was a part-time player during his long career at Ibrox, working for Rangers and FJC Lilley, civil engineering contractors.

Ian McColl (christened John Miller McColl – Ian being a Scots form of John) was the grandson of William McColl, who played for the Dunbartonshire side Renton in the 1895 Scottish Cup final and was capped by Scotland. Ian made his Rangers début on 16 August 1945, in a 4-2 win over Partick Thistle and went on to make 647 appearances, 538 of them in competitive matches. He won six League titles, five Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups.

McColl was an elegant player, yet his fame was established in the unglamorous trade of defending. He was part of a unit that was dubbed "The Iron Curtain" by the press as they kept out opposition forwards with such ease that Rangers conceded less than a goal a game en route to the title in 1949. This group of men – the goalkeeper Bobby Brown and the full-backs George Young and Jock Shaw, with McColl, Willie Woodburn and Sammy Cox in front of them – played 353 out of 360 League games between 1948 and 1950.

McColl scored 15 times for the club and was a member of the first Rangers side to participate in the European Cup, in 1956-57. He went out on a high in 1960 when he played in a Scottish Cup final win over Kilmarnock. He then took charge of the Rangers reserves before replacing Andy Beattie as Scotland manager.

The appointment reflected McColl's international experience – he won 14 caps over eight years, three against England – but also the fact that he helped out, as a player-assistant, in the successful 1958 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, in those days the role of national manager was merely to suggest players for inclusion – the final selection was made by a committee at the Scottish Football Association.

McColl's advice was good enough to set up wins over England in the Home International Tournament for three successive seasons between 1962 and 1964 and a 2-2 draw at Wembley in 1965, a few weeks before he resigned to be replaced by Jock Stein, who combined the role with his job at Celtic.

McColl, though, was still in demand. A month later he took charge of Sunderland, a club then nicknamed "The Bank of England", for their spending prowess. His first large cheque was issued to Rangers for the talented but wayward Baxter. The player, however, never hit the heights at Roker Park that he had at Ibrox and he left the club before McColl did, in 1968.

At 41, McColl returned to Scotland and went into business as a civil engineer. He then became a coal merchant and, latterly, ran a guest house in Milngavie near Glasgow.

John Miller McColl (Ian McColl), footballer and manager: born Alexandria, Dunbartonshire 7 June 1927; married (one son, one daughter); died Glasgow 24 October 2008.