A first Celtic honour for Alec McNair, as the title is clinched in a sudden-death play-off

Alec McNair’s is probably the greatest ever Celtic story never told, until now. He is a Celtic legend, up there with the likes of Billy McNeill and Scott Brown for appearances and honours won while playing for Celtic….

“A first Celtic honour for Alec McNair, as the title is clinched in a sudden-death play-off”…an extract from the fast selling new biography, Alec McNair, Celtic’s Icicle by David Potter. The Celtic Historian’s latest book has already completely sold out of the initial print run but has been re-ordered and copies will be available next week from The Celtic Star and also the official Celtic stores and online shop, a perfect gift for Father’s Day on Sunday 20 June….

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It was in February 1905 that the next opportunity presented itself for Alec in the first team. Sunny Jim Young had been given a lengthy suspension after an incident with Doug Sommen of Partick Thistle, and after Willie Black had been given a couple of games and had failed to impress anyone with his fitness, Willie Maley turned to Alec McNair, now well enough known by everyone to be called ‘Eck.’ As it happened, the game on Saturday, 18 February was the replay of the New Year encounter with Rangers. This time, there was no problem with the crowd; the problem was the wind and the rain. But Eck had seen some rain in his time at Stenhousemuir and was magnificent at right-half as Celtic lashed Rangers 4-1, Jimmy Quinn and Davie Hamilton with two goals apiece.

There followed progress in the Scottish Cup, as Celtic, with McNair outstanding as they beat Partick Thistle 3-0 – “Young was hardly missed.” And then he scored his first goal for the club on Saturday, 4 March 1905, as Celtic won 6-2 at Motherwell on a muddy pitch. This was, in fact, the club’s final Scottish League fixture of the season (There were only 14 teams in the League and so 26 matches were played). At that stage, Celtic had reached 41 points, but Rangers still had three games to play.

Alec would have been disappointed to miss out on the Scottish Cup semi-final at Celtic Park against Rangers on Saturday, 25 March 1905, when Jimmy Quinn was unjustly sent off, and the angry crowd invaded the park, however, he was probably better out of that game. He continued playing the occasional friendly and Glasgow League games (an insignificant tournament used by clubs to blood their reserves) and then at the end of the season, he was given a great opportunity.

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The Ibrox side had lost the 1905 Scottish Cup final to Third Lanark but had won their three remaining League matches. This meant that Celtic and Rangers were tied at the top of the table on equal points, and as no-one had yet thought of goal difference or goal average in those days, the precedent based on the first-ever year of the League in 1891 seemed to be to declare the teams as joint champions. But it so happened that Celtic were due to play Rangers on Saturday, 6 May 1905 in a Glasgow League game. The Scottish League decided to make this match the League decider as well, both teams agreed, and it was duly moved to Hampden.

To some supporters, this had all the hallmarks of a device to earn more money, and in spite of a fine day, only 30,000 spectators appeared. Sunny Jim Young seems to have picked up an injury in the Holiday Monday game, the week before against Queen’s Park, and thus Alec McNair was given an opportunity to play in his first game where a trophy was at stake. He may have been nervous, but The Scottish Referee states that “McNair was in great form for Celtic at right-half,” the ever-modest Alec himself later singling out right-back Hugh Watson as the best player on the field. In the event, Celtic won 2-1 with goals from Jimmy McMenemy and Davie Hamilton.

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Although the game itself was, in some ways, an anti-climax, Alec had the satisfaction of knowing that he had played his part in Celtic winning their fifth League title. He had, technically, not played enough games to earn himself a Scottish League medal, nevertheless, he had played in a Celtic team that had beaten Rangers twice, and because he had played in the League decider, he was most probably given a medal. That was a source of some happiness to Alec, as he boarded the LMS train to Larbert that night at Buchanan Street Station. The team also won the Glasgow Charity Cup that season, beating Partick Thistle 2-0 in the final at Hampden, on Saturday, 27 May 1905, albeit Alec was not chosen for that game. There was a McNair listed on the right-wing, however, that appears to have been Alec’s namesake, the unrelated Willie.

Celtic had, thus, won three competitions out of four in this season, and it was clear that this was indeed a splendid team. Alec was, of course, happy to be part of all this, but the very success of the team was what caused him a problem. How was he to break into this great side? He hated the thought of being a permanent reserve, waiting (and in spite of himself, perhaps hoping) for someone to get injured so that he could get a game. He felt that he was worth regular first-team football, and Willie Maley agreed. He kept telling Alec to bide his time and that his great days at Celtic Park were yet to come. It was a mark of McNair’s character that he did not throw a tantrum, demand a transfer or storm out. Sometimes in football as in life, one simply has to show patience.

David Potter

* An extract from Alec McNair – Celtic’s Icicle by David Potter, published by Celtic Star Books, May 2021. Initial print run has sold out but a new order arrives next week. Thanks to everyone who has already ordered.

* Next up on Celtic Star Books later this year is the Harry Hood Biography, officially approved by the Hood family and that’s been written by Matt Corr.

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About Author

I am Celtic author and historian and write for The Celtic Star. I live in Kirkcaldy and have followed Celtic all my life, having seen them first at Dundee in March 1958. I am a retired teacher and my other interests are cricket, drama and the poetry of Robert Burns.

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