THE RUSSELL CASE – FALKIRK MANAGER SUSPENDED SINE DIE
Those interested in the history of the club will look at the fixtures for season 1935/36 and the eagle-eyed amongst them will spot a missing Saturday. The blank space conceals a major scandal that seriously damaged the reputation of Falkirk F.C. and ended a life-long passion for the game of a man who had been a great player and very successful manager before coming to Brockville. The events surrounded what came to be known as “The Russell Case.”
Falkirk played Ayr United at Somerset Park and both clubs were in relegation trouble. The only teams that Falkirk could realistically catch were Albion Rovers, Queen of the South, St.Mirren- and Ayr United.The game at Somerset Park was a “must-win” for Falkirk.The Bairns went down with some confidence, especially knowing that they had beaten Ayr 8-1 at Brockville earlier in the season, and manager Willie Orr knew just how much was at stake. A sizeable away support saw Falkirk win a great game 3-2 and give themselves a chance of avoiding the drop. That result however does not appear in the record books. And the reason why is the subject of this week’s article.
There was an investigation after a complaint had been received from Ayr United alleging that one of their players, Robert Russell, had been given a payment from the Falkirk manager Willie Orr not to play in the game.
Willie Orr was well-known in the game on both sides of the Border, and he been a player and manager of some note.He started his career with Airdrie before moving South to Preston North End in 1894. It was at Parkhead though where he established himself as a real star, helping Celtic to the Scottish title in his first season there. He was a powerful full-back and a natural leader, becoming captain in 1902, leading the club to three league titles and two Scottish Cup wins. He led them to the double in 1906/07.
As a manager, he started his career at Broomfield and under his leadership, the Diamonds enjoyed their best spell ever. Airdrie surprised many by finishing runners-up in Scotland in his second season, the club’s highest- ever league finish. It was no one-off achievement and he repeated the feat in each of the following four seasons, narrowly missing out on the title each time. Willie led the club to their only Scottish Cup win in 1924.
Leicester City appointed him to succeed Peter Hodge and he built on the foundations, progressing every season, until in they finished as runners-up to Sheffield Wednesday in 1928/29. Until the 2016 Claudio Ranieri-led season this was the highest ever finish in the top flight for The Foxes. A slump in form led to a depressing winter and in January 1932 he resigned on the back of six straight league defeats. Leicester City were in deep relegation trouble.
He arrived at Brockville and hopes were high that he might take the club back to the kind of early -century success under Willie Nicol. Season 1934/35 was to prove his downfall- all because of a mere £3.The story goes that Willie Orr had been keen to sign Robert Russell and had held exploratory talks with the player and might even have played him in a bounce game. Some suggestions were made that the Bairns manager had arranged to get Russell a job with Alexander’s Coachbuilders at Camelon.The key events took place in the days leading up to the match at Somerset Park. Allegedly Russell had visited Brockville to meet with the Falkirk manager on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th March with the vital relegation battle due to take place on Saturday March 8th. Only two men know the content of these conversations and there were no witnesses to what was discussed.
Russell claimed he was offered money by Willie Orr not to play in the Saturday game against Falkirk. Orr claims the conversations related to his job with Alexanders,and told Russell that he was not going to sign him, advising him to take any other offers that might come along. The game on the Saturday had ended with Ayr deeper in relegation trouble, yet Russell met again with Orr on the Monday afterwards. Again- there are no witnesses to what transpired. The football authorities handling of the subsequent investigation and tribunal was to say the least, shambolic.
The council chambers in Carlton Place Glasgow was packed to see the “Russell Case” unfold. It was agreed that both clubs could present their case and could call witnesses- with cross-examination possible. For Ayr, there was their manager Thomson, trainer Dalziel and Russell himself along with Mr.Abbott the president of Galston F.C. Falkirk were represented by Willie Orr and Mr.J. Marshall their treasurer. Two directors one from each club assumed the roles of prosecution and defence lawyers with Mr.Kirkwood from Falkirk facing Mr. Lockhart from Ayr. The proceedings were chaotic and witnesses who had given their testimony were allowed to converse with those waiting to go into the chambers. The Falkirk director argued that the entire proceedings were against the rules and regulations, but was overruled. The two sides presented their cases and it became obvious that it was a case of one person’s word against another’s. The committee preferred Russell’s version of events and his account was backed up with witness statements. The Falkirk Treasurer’s account was not seen as pertinent to the case. Falkirk’s directors had no knowledge of the payment being alleged by Russell and Willie Orr vehemently denied all the “charges” being made. Orr was left in an ante-room as the deliberations continued and no SFA official had the decency to inform him of the outcome. A Falkirk Herald reporter was left to break the news to him of the verdict.
The result was devastating for Willie Orr. Falkirk F.C. was fined £25, Willie Orr was suspended from all forms of football without limit of time- and more crucially from a football point of view- the 3-2 Falkirk win was deleted from the record books and the game ordered to be replayed. Orr was crestfallen and realised that his career was over. His comments to the Herald reporter gave an indication of his shock,” Surely not out of the game for good? How could they do that? All along, I’ve denied the allegations because on all conscience they are not true. Really, it is too terrible.” He had been found guilty of “inducing a player to abstain from playing in a game.”
Falkirk were held accountable for the actions of their manager, even although the directors had no knowledge of any payment. Robert Russell was fined £10 and suspended until the end of the season.Willie Orr was relieved of his duties and the game was declared null and void. The replayed game took place on Wednesday April 10th and this time, Ayr United won 3-1. A crowd of 10,000 saw a great game, played in sporting fashion given what was at stake and the handshakes between the players at the final whistle were genuine. Falkirk’s team was :- Milton, Nesbit and Hamill, Batchelor, Low and Murray. Wilson and Ballantyne, Bartram, Shankly and Dawson. The proceeds of the game were given to the Scottish League who distributed it to the hospitals in Falkirk and Ayr.
The two points were like gold-dust for Ayr and Falkirk found themselves rock bottom of the league with 21 points. St.Mirren were two points ahead on 23, with Ayr, Queen of the South and Albion Rovers all on 26. At the end of the season, Falkirk and St.Mirren went down and the relegation was to prove a blessing in disguise as new manager Tully Craig built a great side. Willie Orr’s sine die suspension was lifted in 1937, but he never became involved in football management again. The Russell Case was a sad way to finish a great career for the man- and all for the sake of £3- allegedly. He died in 1946 aged 72.