Celtic 5-0 Rangers – Our Greatest Ever Scottish Cup Semi-Final Victory

ACTUALLY IT’S CELTIC’S GREATEST SCOTTISH CUP SEMI–FINAL EVER…Saturday 21 March 1925,  Hampden Park – Celtic 5 Rangers 0…


Celtic: Shevlin, W McStay and Hilley; Wilson, J McStay and McFarlane; Connolly, Gallacher, McGrory, Thomson and McLean
Rangers: Robb, Manderson and McCandless; Meiklejohn, Dixon and Craig; Archibald, Cunningham, Henderson, Cairns and Morton
Referee Mr P Craigmyle, Aberdeen

It was the spring equinox of March 1925, more or less half way through the decade known as the “Roaring Twenties”, and the years were beginning to Roar. The early 1920s had been so poor, so bogged down in remembrances of that dreadful war that no-one could forget, and so full of strife – labour problems in Scotland and political ones in Ireland where a nation had been born – the “terrible beauty” of WB Yeats. But now this breezy spring day, it felt as if the world was wanting to move on, the winds almost betokening a new age.

It was a notable sporting day in Scotland. Across in Edinburgh, the new rugby stadium at Murrayfield was being opened as Scotland beat England 14-11 to win the Calcutta Cup. 60,000 were there, all impressed by the new stadium and Scotland’s win.

Across the railway, 29,000 were at Tynecastle to see the 1-1 drawn Scottish Cup semi final between Dundee and Hamilton, but no-one could have predicted that 101,714 would be at Hampden to see Celtic v Rangers. It was the biggest non-International crowd at Hampden, and the huge crowd was the result of good weather, the fact that most people were now in work, and the great advantage that the trains were running on time, something that could not be guaranteed in the troubled 1920s. But the game was also an attractive one.

Rangers were clear favourites. Celtic had had a poor season, and Rangers, competent, ruthless, determined, lucky, had already beaten Celtic three times this season. They were quite simply better – a rugged pair of Ulster full backs (their provenance was no accident and they symbolised the new era of intolerance) a good half back line and a superbly talented forward line, they looked set to win their third League title in a row. Tommy Cairns – “Tireless Tommy” was a great inside left, and of course, their left winger was the great Alan Morton.

But there was a chink in their armour. 1903 had been the last time they had won the Scottish Cup. They had shared the frustration of Celtic in the riot of 1909, and had lost the finals of 1921 and 1922, but had never won it for 22 years. There was talk of a “hex” or a “curse”, something to do with the Ibrox Disaster – and of course, in the 1920s the world which had lost so many young men, was possibly more inclined to believe such nonsense.

So could Celtic take advantage of the hoodoo? On the face of it, probably not. Gallacher, brilliant though he was, was now in his mid 30s and prone to injuries and bad days. The young goalscorer McGrory showed promise, but how would he fare against the mercilessly brutal Rangers defenders? On the other hand, several players were developing – Peter Wilson the splay-footed bucolic lad from Beith, Alec Thomson the grim faced lad from Buckhaven and Jean McFarlane, another Fifer, Paddy Connolly the slim, fast but apparently fragile right winger called the “greyhound”.

The brain of Patsy Gallacher won the day

In fact, it was the brain of Patsy Gallacher which won the day. He persuaded his captain Jimmy McStay to play into the wind in the first half, and he and McStay cooked up a plan to drop back for the first half hour. No fouling to give away needless free kicks, but holding on to the ball. McStay himself would take Morton, and Peter Wilson would shadow Tommy Cairns. Loads of talk – Patsy himself knew how to wind up the other Irishmen in the Rangers defence by talking about hoodoos and curses – even from the more normally taciturn Celtic players, Wilson, Thomson, McLean – and give the impression of confidence and optimism.

Thus the first half hour saw play more or less entirely in the Celtic half, but the defence on top, and cries of frustration from the Rangers end more and more obvious. But Celtic were organised and calm, until in the 30th minute, Rangers forgot to mark Paddy Connolly who dashed up the field “with all the speed of Eric Liddell” (Scotland’s Olympic runner of the previous year) and crossed to McGrory who put Celtic 1-0 up.

And Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up…he also scored Celtic’s third goal 

This was a “steal” but Celtic didn’t let it go to their heads and stuck to their plan. The half time whistle was greeted with huge relief and cheering from those on the eastern terraces with the green and white rosettes.

Now Celtic had the benefit of the breeze, a psychological rather than a real advantage one felt. Rangers had one chance early in the second half. Meiklejohn shot from well outside the penalty box, and the ball hit the bar, bounced back to Tommy Cairns who headed weakly into the welcoming arms of Peter Shevlin.

Adam McLean scored number two

It was at this point that Rangers began to believe in hoodoos and hexes, and now Celtic, with Gallacher majestic in midfield, took command. The key goal was the second, Adam McLean rising “like a bird” to head a Connolly corner. The third was a classic – McGrory swinging the ball out to Connolly, both made ground, then Connolly swing in back for McGrory to finish off. Alec Thomson scored the fourth after Rangers defence failed to clear, and then the grossly under-estimated Adam McLean nipped into between Robb and Manderson to take advantage of some hesitation in the panic stricken Ibrox defence which had clearly fallen out with itself.

Alec Thomson scored Celtic fourth goal
Adam McLean scored number five

The Sunday Post tells us that the Celtic fans “made the welkin ring” with their songs of triumph. “God Save Ireland” and “Erin’s Green Valleys” were belted out as the Mount Florida end resembled first a public library in total silence, then a cemetery at a funeral, and finally a desert with no-one there.

For Celtic, the triumph was as comprehensive as it was unexpected, and a new song was born…

“Hello, Hello, We Are Thetimmalloys
Hello, Hello, You’ll Know Us By The Noise
We beat the Rangers In The Cup, Twas Great To Be Alive
Not One, Not Two, Not Three, Not Four, But FIVE”

David Potter

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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