The Second World War with all its horrors had meant that Celtic had won nothing of note since 1938. Granted, 1938 had been a great year but memories were now wearing thin, and thirteen years down the line an increasing amount of younger supporters had no great recollection of seeing their favourites with silver in their hands.
Yet the support had remained faithful, astonishingly faithful in view of the poor fare sometimes offered to them. Relegation had briefly threatened in 1948, but even then the support stayed with them ignoring the snide comments in newspapers that Celtic should no longer be part of the O*d F*rm, for their place was being taken over by Hibs, then enjoying the best period of their history.
But Celtic, although struggling in the League, had made it through to the 1951 Scottish Cup Final to play Motherwell for the third time at that stage in twenty years. Their adventures had included a grossly overcrowded Tynecastle when young goalkeeper George Hunter had to fend off not only the Hearts forwards but it seemed also the crowd which had spilled over the wall onto the running track. Celtic had won that game then beat a robust Raith Rovers in the semi-final and now they had the steel men of Motherwell between them and their 16th Scottish Cup.
As one would have expected in these halcyon days of Scottish football, the crowd was huge – 131,943 – most of them bedecked in green favours that bright and breezy April day. The game was spoiled to a certain extent by the wind but there was one piece of brilliance and that was Celtic’s goal on the quarter-hour mark scored by captain John McPhail (whose place had been in doubt through injury).
A long ball from defence, McPhail won the header, then evaded the challenge of another defender and as the goalkeeper came out, lobbed the ball over his head. It was a fine goal, arguably one of the best ever in Celtic’s long and glorious Scottish Cup history.
But those who expected some champagne football from the fine ball players like Charlie Tully and Bobby Collins were to be disappointed. It was grim defending that was the order of the day with the two full backs Sean Fallon and Alec Rollo, their hair brushed back in the style of the early 1950s, who “kicked everything that came over the halfway line – paper bags, stray dogs, linesmen, trainers and balloons” in the words of one supporter with a gift for hyperbole, and as for Evans, Boden and Baillie, “the wind hardly got past them” in that long tension-ridden second half when the final whistle was so yearned for by the Celtic supporters.
To those supporters who were not at Hampden, there was a radio commentary on the Scottish Home Service on the second half which was also broadcast on the BBC World Service for supporters even further afield.
As the game reached its closing stages, both teams had chances but both defences held firm with young George Hunter in the Celtic goal earning his place in Celtic immortality. Referee Jack Mowat’s whistle came at last to signal an enormous roar as Celtic were welcomed back to glory by their exuberant supporters. It was as if Mowat had ordered the beginning of a massive street party, for the joy and the dancing were unconfined for several days in the Celtic heartlands!
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