THEY are one of the world’s best-supported football teams with fan clubs girdling the globe from Tasmania to Tampa Bay, Bahrain to Boston, Winnipeg to Wellington and Katowice to Calgary.

But where did the institution that is Rangers Football Club – winners of 54 domestic league titles, more than any club in the world – get their name?

Why from Swindon, of course.

The origins of this massive Scottish sporting organisation – or at least, its world-renowned name – has of late been the subject of a spate of queries on fans’ forums.

For such a vast footballing behemoth where every trophy, player, goal and all manner of what – for most of us – would seem inconsequential data is feverishly racked up and pored over, the club’s very name is bizarrely shrouded in mystery.

However, the consensus is that Rangers owes its moniker to a bunch of Great Western Railway workers letting off a little steam, if you’ll excuse the pun, on a field in Swindon – or Gorse Hill, to be precise – around 140 years ago.

Four enthusiastic young sportsmen founded Rangers in 1872: brothers’ Moses and Peter McNeil, and friends Peter Campbell and William McBeath.

They had been galvanised after watching a local Glasgow team Queen’s Park – the “Pride of Scotland” – playing a new-fangled form of football.

This revolutionary variety of a previously haphazard, frenetic chase-ball activity followed a controversial rule change stipulating that the ball could not be “carried or hacked”… otherwise the game would become “more like wrestling than football”.

But what shall we call our brand new sports club, mused the Glaswegian quartet? It was Moses who came up with the answer.

A studious fellow, Moses had been reading a book called the English Football Annual written by Charles Alcock, founder member and later secretary of the Football Association, and also the creator of the world’s first knock-out competition of its kind, the FA Cup.

In his book, published every year since 1868, Alcock mentioned an English rugby team of the era, Swindon Rangers, who played in white socks, white shorts and white shirts with a blue star on the breast.

It struck an instant chord with Moses. Rangers! Wow, what a great name for a football team.

The founders of Rangers were not only inclined to nick the name of Swindon’s Victorian rugby pioneers but also copied the kit – an exact replica of which Rangers donned in the 1876/77 Scottish Cup Final (beaten 3-2 by the Vale of Leven in a twice replayed match.) It was later said that Moses loved the name he had plucked from Alcocks’ annual because “Rangers’ rhymed with strangers,” symbolising the bringing together of men from all over the city – or at least the Protestant half – who fancied a game of soccer.

Moses, incidentally, played many times for Rangers and became the club’s first player to represent Scotland.

A Swindon Rangers exists today in the form of a North Wilts League football team established eight years ago.

But unlike its illustrious Glaswegian namesake, the original Swindon Rangers has long since vanished, although the institution that arose in its wake, Swindon Rugby Club, continues to thrive.

No-one, apparently, knows when Swindon Rangers formed, but one of the club’s driving forces was John Armstrong, son of the eminent Great Western Railway engineer Joseph Armstrong – one of the key players in Swindon’s growth and pre-eminence as a railway town.

John, who also went on to become a big wheel at The Works, initially played for Swindon Rangers Cricket Club, from which the rugby club emerged. He was said to have captained the latter for seven years.

Astills Original Swindon Almanac of 1881 lists the Rangers’ President as none other than the Superintendent of the Swindon GWR works, William Dean, with the man he succeeded – John’s dad Joseph – as Vice President.

According to Swindon Rugby Club’s official history, the home of Swindon Rangers in 1870 was an edge of town field in Gorse Hill – probably their first ground.

They later went on to play at The Croft in Old Town – which also became home for 11 years from 1884 to Swindon Town Football Club – and also The Sands in Bath Road, site of the former Victoria Hospital.

During this era the Swindon Advertiser reported on numerous Rangers matches as the team attracted crowds of 300 or so to the Croft, including – now here’s a shock – members of the “fair sex.”

Playing away to a rampant, unbeaten Gloucester in January 1883, Rangers pulled off a famous victory. The club’s first and second teams also played two games, one after the other, on January 31, 1885.

The second side took on Purton which was swiftly followed by the first XV’s match against Bath Volunteers. Two Rangers’ players – Brunsden and Horsington – played in both victories.

Sadly, the axe fell on Swindon Rangers in January 1895 due to “lack of support at committee level”.

Months later Swindon Rugby Football Club was formed, pretty much by the same group of people, and today it proudly holds its place in our town’s sporting community.

But following its brief history – maybe around 40 years – Swindon Rangers did not die without leaving a remarkable, you could possibly say unique, sporting legacy; the name of a football team known throughout the world and housed in a grand old stadium approximately 314 miles north of Swindon. How weird is that!

  • Gers fan Andy Goran, writing on the Rangers Media Forum, says: “Say there was still a rugby club in the Swindon area called Rangers; a bit of clever marketing about the origins of the name of our famous club would earn them a fortune. I know I’d buy a Swindon Rangers rugby top if such thing existed… unless of course they play in green” (a reference, I feel sure, to their Old Firm rivals Celtic)

THE chairman of Swindon RFC Stuart Cock has been aware of the apparent origins of Rangers’ name for some time.

That a Victorian rugby club in Swindon gave its name to one of the world’s best supported sporting institutions has virtually become part of the club’s unwritten folklore.

Stuart says: “Some of our older guys are absolutely convinced that Rangers got their name from Swindon Rangers rugby club – in other words, our club.

“I don’t really know myself. Some say the name came from Swindon Rangers but I’ve also heard that Glasgow Rangers got it (their name) from a rowing club.

“Obviously, it’s something we would be very, very proud of – that we spawned such a huge, world famous football club.”

Like many other members of Swindon RFC, Stuart considers the present club and Swindon Rangers to be one and the same, making it – at around 160 years old – one of the oldest sporting institutions in the country, possibly the world.

However, the rugby authorities refuse to recognise this and mark the beginning of Swindon RFC as 1895… a few months after it arose from the ashes of Swindon Rangers.

Stuart says: “It’s a shame really; it was formed by the same group of people. It was the same club really but with a different name. We’re still one of the oldest clubs in the area, though.”