The late 1920s and early 1930s had not been happy years for Celtic. There had been some great moments, notably the Scottish Cup win over Motherwell and the American tour in 1931, but that had been overshadowed by the tragedy of John Thomson in 1931, and then Peter Scarff in 1933.
On a more general note, this was the time of the economic depression and Celtic supporters were hit hard, and had less money to attend football matches, while Celtic themselves, although by no means poor, had incurred a huge expense in the construction of their new grandstand in 1929.
But in addition to all this, performances on the field were far from satisfactory with Rangers winning every Scottish League title between 1926 and 1936 with the exception of 1932 when Motherwell’s excellent team of that era became champions instead.
Thus, Celtic have Motherwell to thank for preventing Rangers doing 9-in-a-row long before Celtic did!
1934 and 1935 in particular were dreadful years. Maley, now in his late 60s and not easy to live with, kept beating on about the “Celts of old” and comparing the present team unfavourably with them, but seemed now to lack the drive to do anything about it. Those of us who lived through the early 1960s and early 1990s when Celtic refused to rise to the domination of Rangers will know exactly what life was like in the early 1930s!
It was not that there weren’t good players at Celtic Park. It was simply that there was little leadership or guidance. But then Celtic appointed Jimmy “Napoleon” McMenemy as trainer.
The job of trainer was, on the surface, a fairly menial one involving, mainly, the treatment of injured players and the organisation of running round the track at training sessions. In fact, Napoleon became de facto Assistant Manager (although he was never so called and the humble McMenemy would have abhorred anything so pompous) and it was he more than Maley who was responsible for the great success of the later 1930s as Celtic recovered spectacularly.
But the hero of the 1935/36 season was undeniably James Edward McGrory who scored 50 League goals, and not until Henrik Larsson in 2001 would we see such prolific scoring again. Yet, as McGrory would himself say, he could only score goals if the other members of the forward line did their job as well – and he had men of the calibre of Jimmy Delaney, Willie Buchan, Johnny Crum and Frank Murphy – around him.
A feature of that forward line, much encouraged by McMemeny, who himself played in a great forward line of 30 years previously, was the frequent interchanging of position with Delaney suddenly appearing on the left wing for example, and McGrory himself on the right wing and Johnny Crum in the centre. Thanks to McMenemy’s excellent training regime, the players were all superbly fit and could do this to perfection.
By 1935, the worst of the recession seemed to be past, and slowly, gradually things began to pick up. More and more goods began to be made, and more and more workers had money in their pockets wherewith to buy such goods. More importantly as far as Celtic were concerned, there was more money for railway travel and for admission to football matches.
The season started badly with a defeat at Pittodrie, a place where Celtic seldom did well. Indeed the black and golds of Aberdeen were to have themselves a great season, but the next League defeat was not to come until December. Celtic beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox in September (even without the injured McGrory) and the victory was due in no small measure to the saving of a penalty kick by Canadian goalkeeper Joe Kennaway, and some fine defensive work organised by captain Willie Lyon, the Englishman who had joined Celtic from Queen’s Park.
The impression that this might be Celtic’s year grew during the month of November when Celtic swept everyone aside (two successive 5-0 wins over Hibs and Arbroath, for example) and McGrory rampant. He beat Steve Bloomer’s goal scoring record in October and then on 21 December in a 5-3 win over Aberdeen at Celtic Park he became the all-time best goal scorer when he beat the 362 scored by Hughie Ferguson
“Midwinter gloom at Celtic Park
December’s frost hung hoary
But you can keep your Santa Claus
We’ve got James McGrory”
and this was after a curious result when they had gone down 0-1 to an incredulous Dunfermline at East End Park. It was a perfect bounce back.
The loss of the New Year Day game to Rangers by 3-4 in the drenching rain at Celtic Park was not considered a great disaster, and the team came roaring back, beating St Johnstone, Queen of the South and Albion Rovers. But then, they hit a wobble, by losing to Hearts at Tynecastle and then, disastrously and unpredictably, to St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup.
It was then that Maley delivered a few stern words and McMenemy a few wise ones. Celtic were still in the best position to win the League. They were ahead of Rangers and three points behind Aberdeen, but had two games in hand. All Celtic had to do was win their remaining 11 games, none of them against their two main rivals. In any case both Aberdeen and Rangers, still involved in the Scottish Cup, might “crack”. But irrespective of all that, the destination of the Scottish League flag was all about Celtic, and both Maley and McMenemy agreed that if there was any doubt about what to do, give the ball to McGrory!
Celtic did indeed win all their remaining games, some of them with a bit of bother – narrow 3-2 wins at Queen’s Park and Airdrie for example – but others gloriously, none more so than on 14 March when in a game against Motherwell at Parkhead, McGrory scored a hat-trick in less than three minutes!
“Wait a bit, don’t be so fast
We’ve left the star turn to the last
There in the midst o’ a’ his glory
Goal a minute, James McGrory”
A week after that, Celtic got over a difficult hurdle at Dens Park, with Delaney and McGrory taking full advantage of two defensive errors, then Hibs were dispatched 4-1 with McGrory scoring again (incredibly, he was not chosen to play for Scotland against England at Wembley!) and then came the holiday weekend in which Celtic won both their games. The first one was away at Arbroath and was characterised by a diving header by McGrory amidst a ruck of legs to bullet home, and then at Celtic Park on the Monday, Celtic beat Clyde 2-1 not altogether convincingly, it has to be said, but goals by Frank Murphy and (inevitably) Jimmy McGrory saw them through.
James Edward McGrory
The League was effectively won on the Saturday when Ayr United were beaten 6-0 at Celtic Park. Jimmy McGrory scored a hat trick
“Tell me the old, old story
A hat-trick for McGrory!”
and even missed a penalty kick! Willie Lyon, Frank Murphy and Willie Buchan scored the others and this result meant that Celtic needed to lose their last game and Rangers to win their remaining three games by astronomical scores for the Championship to be lost. In the event, Rangers (who had won the Scottish Cup on the same day that Celtic beat Ayr United 6-0) drew in midweek, and by the time that Celtic went to Firhill on 25 April, they were the champions of Scotland for the first time since 1926.
It had been a hard fought championship much cherished and celebrated by the faithful who now began to see the sunny uplands of hope after a decade of dreadful under-achievement. Maley revelled in the glory once more while the more modest architects of the League winning – the three Jimmies, McMenemy, McGrory and Delaney – smiled happily, but typical of the men, stressed that it was a team performance.
Celtic also won the Glasgow Charity Cup this year (Delaney scoring a hat-trick in the final against Rangers), and the summer of 1936 was spent in glorious happiness. Trouble was however brewing in Spain, and that Hitler fellow in Germany was now beginning to look dangerous as well as foolish. And what were these silly rumours in the American magazines about the King and some wealthy American divorcee?
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