At three stages in history, there have been British Cup competitions won by Celtic. The first was the British League Cup (1902), then the Empire Exhibition Cup (1938), and most famous of all the Coronation Cup (1953).
One may wonder what the relevance the above facts have. Indeed, today does not mark an anniversary of any triumph. However, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed this morning, I was mentioned in the below Tweet by @hailhailhistory, who sought to clarify what happened in the 1902 British League Cup final.
In 1902, @CelticFC beat Rangers after a replay to win the British League Cup.
The first game was 17 June; the replay said to be 19 June. W Maley’s book says it was two nights later.
But The Herald of 19 June has the replay result, suggesting the replay was 18 June.
— Hail Hail History (@hailhailhistory) June 4, 2021
Other Celtic historians, alongside myself, unanimously agreed that the final was won by the Hoops in extra time and that no replay ever took place. The following article from the Scottish Referee newspaper on 20 June 1902 confirms as much.
I had looked into the story of the British League Cup and included it as one of the events in a recent book that I published in 2019 – Take Me To Your Paradise: A history of Celtic-related incidents & events. Therefore, in light of today’s Twitter discussion, I have decided to re-publish the relevant chapter and share the tale with readers:
In 1901, eight Scottish clubs were invited to compete in the Glasgow Exhibition Cup as part of the cities’ International Trade Fair. Celtic reached the Final at Ibrox Park, drawing 2-2 with Rangers in a match that attracted a crowd of 40,000 and fetched £1067 10s 9d in gate receipts. The Ibrox meeting room was the scene of a bitter argument in the aftermath of the game as officials from the Govan club demanded that the replay be staged at Ibrox once more. In contrast, Celtic’s representatives insisted on the game taking place at Parkhead. A settlement could not be reached so the matter required the interjection of the Glasgow Association, who deemed Celtic’s refusal to return to Ibrox as a forfeiture of the competition. Crucially, the tournament was won by Rangers FC.
Following the first Ibrox disaster in 1902, in which 26 people died and 547 people were injured during an England v Scotland international; (Rangers had been able to host the match by virtue of a single vote favouring Ibrox to Celtic Park) Rangers put on a competition with the trophy from the Glasgow Exhibition Cup offered as the prize. As English champions, Sunderland were invited to participate and were joined by Everton, who finished the season three points behind the Black Cats, in second spot. Scottish runners up, Celtic, were invited; whilst the champions, Rangers, partook themselves.
The competition, aptly named The British League Cup, was altruistically designed to raise funds for the families of the Ibrox disaster victims. In the opening game, a Celtic side spearheaded by Johnny Campbell, thrashed a Sunderland team consisting of nine Scotsmen (5-1 at Ibrox). Meanwhile, Rangers scored two goals in the last ten minutes to see off Everton by three goals to two, in a replay at Celtic Park. The pair had drawn the first game 1-1 at Ibrox.
The stage was set for a Glasgow derby finale, though the match was delayed by a month until 17 June 1902, to coincide with the coronation of Edward VII. Cathkin Park was the venue for the Final, where 12,000 people were treated to a tense tussle between the Scottish giants. Jimmy Quinn netted a quick double for the Hoops, but Rangers were level pegging before the interval. This was how the score line stayed until the end of normal time. Interestingly, multiple newspaper reports across England and Scotland reported upon the game as a draw. However, Celtic did go on to win the match 3-2 in the final minute of extra time, courtesy of the lethal finishing of hat-trick hero, Jimmy Quinn. (The mix up was because extra time had allegedly not been planned).
The Bhoys celebrated becoming the champions of Britain by parading the very same trophy that Rangers had held aloft a year earlier when they triumphed in the Glasgow Exhibition Cup. Celtic felt they had suitably earned the prize on offer by beating the champions of both England and Scotland. Thus, the club deemed the trophy theirs to keep. On the other hand, Rangers contested that they had offered the silverware as a mere showpiece item to display to the crowd. The matter came to a head when directors from Rangers Football Club visited Celtic Park to collect the trophy but were sent away by Willie Maley in a less than phlegmatic manner. After legal exchanges, which are rumoured to have continued into the 2010s, the trophy remains in Paradise. It is still engraved with the words ‘Won by Rangers FC’.