Empire Exhibition Cup, like the Coronation Cup are both major honours won by Celtic

The Second World War was bookmarked by the blow to the royalists on this day in 1938 when Celtic won the Empire Exhibition Cup at Ibrox, followed by the Hoops lifting the Coronation Cup in 1953. After that they seemed to pack it all in.

And on a topical point both the Empire Exhibition Cup 1938 and the Coronation Cup 1953, had they been won by Rangers would have certainly been proclaimed as major honours and would the graphics of both cups would have been on display at both Ibrox and Murray Park where they proclaim their Most Successful Club in the world nonsense. They of course would have been right about one thing, these are major honours, winning cups against the best teams in England and Scotland is a pretty high standard.

Celtic has never much cared about counting up our trophies won. We celebrate Lisbon as a unique, ultimate achievement for a Scottish side. However since it’s topical there is absolutely no reason why Celtic should not include both these cups in our list of major honours won. Just saying…

Celtic Curio wasn’t celebrating the British Empire when he posted the above image a few years ago, he was celebrating Celtic’s GIRUY Cup win in a tournament they played at Ibrox. They must have been raging! To the critics Celtic Curio had this to say: “I understand where you are coming from. Like most Celtic supporters I am no fan of The Empire and the Monarchy.

“I think winning the Empire Exhibition and the Coronation Cup for that matter are Iconic! The irony of us winning both those one-off Trophies is very pleasing.”

Here’s Celtic Curio’s Empire Exhibition Cup winners images from earlier this morning, 10 June 2024.

Hard to argue with that. Let’s have a look in detail at the Exhibition Cup, with the valuable assistance of Celtic Historian, the late, great David Potter…

Empire Exhibition Cup and the Great Jimmy Delaney, ‘the best player of pure football that Celtic had ever had’…

“In 38 there was a show
Glasgow was the place to go
A model of the tower was football’s prize
England sent four of the best
They didn’t meet with much success
For the trophy ended up at Paradise”

1938 was a strange year in Great Britain. On the one hand there was the welcome return of full employment and a degree of prosperity, on the other there was the by now obvious danger from Europe as Germany was clearly girding itself up for another attempt on world domination.

Yet a war must be avoided at all costs. Only 20 years had passed since the last one, and a walk along any street in any Scottish town or city on any day would inevitably cause one to meet a man with one leg, perhaps, one arm or disfiguring facial injuries – all testament to the folly of war.

The Empire Exhibition was held in Bellahouston Park, near Ibrox. It was a much needed propaganda riposte to the vulgar, raucous, strident displays of nationalism in Germany, and it was a celebration of the British Empire with Tait’s Tower at the very centre of it. More importantly, perhaps, it was a way of attracting money to the city of Glasgow, and now in summer of 1938, there was more money around than there had been a few years previously.

Football, appropriately for this “fitba-daft” Second City of the Empire, played its part. Eight teams, four from Scotland – Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts – took on four from England – Everton, Chelsea, Sunderland, Brentford in a straight knock out tournament with the prize being a cup in the image of the Tait’s Tower.

All games would be played at Ibrox Park because of its proximity to Bellahouston Park. This annoyed Queen’s Park who might have offered Hampden but was very much to the delight of the Rangers Establishment who saw themselves as the home of the Scottish branch of the British Empire.

They would be less happy with the way that things turned out!

Celtic had had a fine season. They were League Champions and winners of the Glasgow Charity Cup and the only blot on the copybook had been a surprise defeat to Kilmarnock (now managed by, of all people, Jimmy McGrory) in the Scottish Cup.

1938 was also their Golden Jubilee season and a Dinner had been planned at the Grosvenor Hotel for a few days after the end of the Empire Exhibition Tournament. Willie Maley, the manager of the club and one of the very few survivors of the early days would be there, and what a great thing it would be if the team could lift the trophy that would make them the unofficial champions of Great Britain!

The loss of McGrory (to become manager of Kilmarnock) and Buchan (to Blackpool for £10,000) had been hardly noticed, for Johnny Crum had been moved to the centre forward position, and two new inside forwards had been introduced in John Divers and Malky MacDonald.

MacDonald in particular had been a revelation. He had been with the club for a few years and had been tried in the defence and the half back line without any great success, but now at inside right alongside the great Jimmy Delaney, he had taken on a new lease of life, becoming in the opinion of many, “the best player of pure football that Celtic had ever had”.

That would be an ambitious claim considering that that would make him better than the likes of Jimmy McMenemy and Patsy Gallacher, but “Callum” (as he was nicknamed) was worthy at least to be mentioned in their company. Jimmy Delaney himself, ever modest and shy, when told that he has the best player in the Celtic team, replied “Hoo could I be, when Malky MacDonald’s in that team?”

Celtic’s first opponents were Sunderland on Wednesday 25 May 1938 before a large crowd of 53,971.

Without MacDonald from the start, Celtic soon lost Jimmy Delaney to injury and with MacDonald’s deputy Joe Carruth limping all of the second half, they were probably lucky to get off with a 0-0 draw, being indebted to the fine defensive work of the ever calm Willie Lyon and the immaculate goalkeeping of Joe Kennaway.

The replay was held the following night in torrential rain – often conditions in which Celtic play their best football. This time MacDonald had returned, and Matt Lynch played well in place of Delaney. But it was the inspirational play of John Divers – “Divers played the sort of football that money can’t buy” (says The Glasgow Herald) which won the game for Celtic. He scored twice himself after Crum had equalized Sunderland’s early strike.

The Semi Final was against Hearts on Friday 3 June. Johnny Crum scored the only goal of the game, largely dominated by Hearts who had a goal disallowed. Hearts fans alleged discrimination (they often do!) but the result meant that the Final on Friday June 10 1938 would be contested by Celtic and the most illustrious of all the English teams – Everton.

Everton had been known as the “Bank of England” team because of their riches. Clearly the better side on Merseyside, their stadium, Goodison Park, was generally reckoned to be the best in England. The immortal Dixie Dean had now retired but they still had fine players like Tommy Lawton, Joe Mercer and of course ex-Celt Willie Cook at right back.

Cook had of course played at Ibrox before, not least on that terrible day in 1931 when John Thomson had met his death. Everton had won the English League in 1928 and 1932 (and this fine side were destined to win the League in 1939) and the English Cup in 1933.

Over 82,000 made their way to Ibrox that beautiful summer Friday evening.

The fine conditions sparked off a debate about why football was not played oftener in conditions like this rather than the grim winter conditions so prevalent in Scotland? The answer was provided in the other main topic of conversation that evening, namely the progress of the England First Innings at Trent Bridge that day. Len Hutton had scored a century. Was he the answer to Australia’s Bradman? Even in Scotland, Test Matches were followed avidly.

For those unable to attend the game, a commentary was broadcast by the BBC to all of Great Britain, the commentator being Rex Kingsley of The Sunday Mail.

By 1938 most houses could afford a “wireless” as they were called, although it would be another couple of decades before the transistors or portable radios would make their debut. Reception was now better than it had ever been and Celtic fans, therefore, who lived some distance away from Glasgow, clustered round their “wirelesses” and felt every bit as much of the action as those who were at the game.

Celtic were given a great boost by the return from injury of Jimmy Delaney to the right wing. Jimmy was fast and intelligent with the ability to “skin” a defender, leave him for dead and then deliver a telling cross.

Arguably he missed McGrory to take advantage of his openings, but he was still the best winger in the business. Torry Gillick, a Scotsman who would later play for Rangers was out for Everton, but this was hardly a disadvantage for Everton had so many fine reserves.

Tommy Lawton, the centre forward was the key man for the Liverpool side, but not for the first time, Celtic realised what a great centre half they had in Willie Lyon (ironically an Englishman from Birkenhead which was not too far away from Liverpool). Willie was immense as he led by example, getting to the ball before Lawton did, keeping himself between Lawton and the goal and inspiring his defenders to do their utmost.

This was indeed a fine Everton side, and it was generally agreed that they had the better of the first half. In the second half, they were handicapped by the injury to inside right Cunliffe who (as usually happened in those days when there were no substitutes) played on the right wing and Celtic gradually took command with wing halves Geatons and Paterson slowly gaining control of the midfield, without however being able to manufacture the goal that the supporters craved so much. Full time came with the score at 0-0.

Extra time was played and the stalemate continued. Celtic, clearly by now the better side pressed and pressed. The menace of Lawton had now been snuffed out, but Everton retreated more and more into defence hoping for the full time whistle which would give them a replay and the chance to have Gillick and Cunliffe recovered from injury.

The goal came from the hard-working John Divers seven minutes into extra time. He picked up a loose ball in midfield, beat a man, feinted to send a long ball over to Delaney on the wing, but then slipped the ball through to the alert Crum who had made some space for himself. Crum’s shot was parried by goalkeeper Sagars, but was so powerful that it spun behind him into the net. There then followed a great Celtic moment (albeit much disapproved by the Establishment) when Crum, with the crowd in ecstasy, ran behind the goal and performed an impromptu Highland Fling before being engulfed by his team mates.

The game indeed was not over, for Everton now redoubled their efforts against the mighty half back line of Geatons, Lyon and Paterson but with no success other than the time when, almost at the death, Stevenson scored for Everton but was “well offside” as The Scotsman put it. Rex Kingsley, broadcasting to the nation said the immortal words “it’s a goal … no it’s not” to those who were unable to see how “well offside” Stevenson was.

The final whistle blew, the crowd went delirious and then in a moment unusual for the time, the Cup was presented to Willie Lyon on the field of play as Ibrox resounded to the cheers and the “revolutionary songs” (as BBC TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme would put it years later) of the Celtic fans.

The team were, in all but name, the champions of Great Britain. It was a wonderful way to celebrate a Golden Jubilee. The Jubilee Dinner the following Wednesday was a double celebration for the hero of the hour, Johnny Crum. He had been married earlier that day!

The real significance of this game for supporters lay in what came later. Thirteen years would pass before Celtic would win another major honour, and these would be momentous in world history.

The grim days in Africa, Italy, Normandy, Burma and on the High Seas would now and again be lightened for at least a moment or so by recollections of this famous game. The cricket writer E.W.Swanton says that his awful days in a Japanese POW camp were rendered endurable by his possession of a 1939 Wisden and his reminiscences of cricket games he had attended.

The memory of the Empire Exhibition Trophy performed a similar service for thousands of Celtic supporters.

David Potter

CELTIC 1-0 EVERTON 10 June 1938 Empire Exhibition Trophy, Ibrox

CELTIC: Kennaway, Hogg, Morrison, Geatons, Lyon, Paterson, Delaney, McDonald, Crum, Divers and Murphy.

EVERTON: Sagar, Cook, Greenhalgh, Mercer, Jones, Thomson, Geldard, Cunliffe, Lawton, Stevenson, and Boyes.

Referee: Mr. T. Thompson, Northumberland

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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