Scotland’s (and Glasgow’s in particular) love of the game of football surprised even its own devotees in spring 1937. A world record crowd was set up on 17 April 1937 when 149,407 (and some sources give a lot more than that) attended the Scotland v England International, and then a week later 146,433 (at a conservative estimate) came to see the Celtic v Aberdeen Scottish Cup Final.
In both cases thousands climbed over the wall, and indeed there were some spectators who attended both games and claimed that the Cup Final actually housed more. No-one will ever know, but when one considers that there were also 76,000 at the Celtic v. Clyde Scottish Cup Semi Final a few weeks earlier, it would be fair to say that Scottish football was enjoying a boom.
1937 was Aberdeen’s first ever Scottish Cup Final. The Black and Golds, (they didn’t adopt the now more familiar red until after the Second World War) under ex-Celt Paddy Travers, had built up a fine side and had mobilised their huge, albeit normally latent support for this game. As early as Thursday evening, shoals of buses had left the Granite City and the surrounding villages hoping to see their favourites, Willie Mills and Matt Armstrong beat the mighty Celtic whom they usually did well against at Pittodrie but seldom lived up to their capabilities in Glasgow.
Football had come late to Aberdeen. Aberdeen themselves had been founded as late as 1903, an amalgamation of sundry small clubs, and the city had arguably suffered in that, unlike the other three large Scottish cities, there was no significant Irish population. This meant that no “Celtic” had emerged, and therefore no rivalry against a “Rangers” as was the case in Edinburgh and Dundee as well as Glasgow, but it did mean that Aberdeen Football Club enjoyed the more or less undivided love of the whole city.
Their nearest rivals were 65 miles away in Dundee, and this probably meant that the difference between home form and away form was far more accentuated in Aberdeen than in any other team. Success had been difficult to come by, but it was the unanimous opinion in the Granite City that this was to be the year.
Celtic had slipped slightly from their brilliance of 1936, and the support was divided on Jimmy McGrory. By some distance the greatest goalscorer ever to have donned the green and white (or indeed any other colour) McGrory was now into his 30s and clearly aging. Yet Maley still believed that he could yet produce the goods, and was reluctant to axe him.
Last year 1935/36 had in fact been an annus mirabilis for McGrory when he had overtaken the records of Steve Bloomer and Hughie Ferguson. It did however seem to be clear that this would have to be McGrory’s last Scottish Cup Final. Could he score in this one as he had done in 1925, 1931 and 1933?
Celtic had some great players – Jimmy Delaney on the right wing was as good as one would get, and it was hard to spot any weakness in Willie Buchan, Johnny Crum or Frank Murphy.
Behind them was the mighty half back line of Chick Geatons, Willie Lyon and George Paterson, with Willie Lyon, in particular, proving to the world that not being born a Celt was no obstacle in the gaining of the love and affection of the Celtic fans. He was an Englishman, and had joined Celtic from the unlikely source of Queen’s Park, but he was a commanding centre half and captain.
Full backs Bobby Hogg and Jock Morrison were grim, rugged determined characters in the traditional Scottish mould, and in goal was the much under-rated Canadian called Joe Kennaway. Joe had taken over the mantle of the late John Thomson after the tragic events of 1931, and had performed so well in the Celtic goal that he had been capped for Scotland, and some felt that he should have been given more International honours than the solitary cap that he had won.
Glasgow had groaned under the influx of visitors the previous week for the International. This week was the same, as Aberdeen supporters and Celtic supporters (some of them from Ireland, England and parts of Scotland other than Glasgow and its immediate environs) mingled happily together, joking in friendly banter, exchanging drinks and listening with respect to the ardent speeches of the soapbox orators who were inviting everyone to join the International Brigades and fight against the Fascists in Spain. “The bombs that fall on Madrid today will fall on London and Glasgow tomorrow” proclaimed the posters with chilling accuracy.
But even that consideration took second place to Celtic v Aberdeen. As a rule, there was a tremendous respect between supporters of both these clubs, simply because their traditions are so radically different. It was also true that this particular combination of teams in a Scottish Cup Final always has produced more interest worldwide than any other combination, simply because of the diaspora of the Glasgow Irish and of the douce folks of rural Aberdeenshire in the early years of the 20th century.
The Irish had had no monopoly of suffering and poverty in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Life had been hard in the North East of Scotland as well, as one can deduce from a reading of the books of Lewis Grassick Gibbon. Emigration had been a common phenomenon and the result was that in places like Canada and Australia, news of this match would be awaited with much interest.
Some places could hear the BBC commentary. Others would depend on newspapers the following day, but the game would be important to those who still dreamed of home. Aberdeen, indeed, planned to tour South Africa after the Cup Final and would dearly love to take the Scottish Cup with them as Celtic had done to the USA and Canada in 1931.
Half an hour before the start, the decision was taken to close the turnstiles. The result was that thousands were left outside, including many who had travelled some considerable distance to attend this game. They could do little else in this era before television and the portable radio than hang about outside, judge the progress of the game by the noise of the crowd and wait for the opening of the exit gates so that they could rush in and see the last ten minutes.
The decision to close the turnstiles was the right one, for even the huge Hampden was clearly struggling to cope with the massive crowd, swaying dangerously at several points on the higher areas of the terracing. There was probably enough room near the bottom, but such is the obstinacy of human nature, the crowd would not move down, even when it was so obviously in their interests to do so.
Willie Buchan, Celtic’s inside right, who was destined to play a crucial part in the destination of the Scottish Cup tells about the “wall of sound” that met the players as they emerged from the tunnel. The noise was intense, ferocious and would have been quite intimidating had it not been for the fact that at least half the crowd was supporting his side. The division was possibly 50/40 in favour of Celtic with the other 10% made up of those who were, quite simply, football fans, and went to see the game without any clear commitment to either side.
It was indeed Willie Buchan, according to The Glasgow Observer who won the game for Celtic for he “orchestrated a change of tactics that kept Aberdeen guessing and unsettled.” One suspects that he did this on the prompting of the wily old Jimmy McMenemy, the Celtic trainer who of course knew and had played with Aberdeen’s manager Paddy Travers.
Travers had been a good enough player for Celtic in the early 1910s but had not been able to displace the young Patsy Gallacher at inside forward and had moved to Aberdeen in summer 1912. If Travers had any fault, it was that he had a plan and stuck to it, whereas McMenemy was far more flexible and had the players who could interchange at will. By this time it was the astute but self-effacing McMenemy who made most of the onfield tactical decisions, leaving the brooding, despotic but still incredibly vain Willie Maley to reap the rewards and bask in the glory.
Celtic opened the scoring at the Mount Florida end of the ground when a Paterson free kick found the head of McGrory but the ball rebounded off a defender to Buchan. Buchan drove hard, the goalkeeper could only parry it and the ball broke to the gallus Glaswegian Johnny Crum who put Celtic in front.
Hampden erupted, but it erupted again a minute later when the Dons equalised. Matt Armstrong picked up a cross from Benyon and tried a snap shot which Kennaway would have saved if it had not hit the unfortunate Lyon on the way and deflected into the net.
Thus the score remained until half time with the huge crowd in perpetual fervour as the game ebbed to and fro. The second half saw a lessening in the intensity of the play, but no lessening in the commitment of both players. McGrory was tirelessly belying his 32 years by foraging for the ball when he had to, by being in the penalty box for whenever the ball might break to him and lurking ever dangerously at free kicks and corner kicks.
It was Chick Geatons’ best ever performance in a Celtic jersey as he kept surging forward, almost himself an extra forward as he left George Paterson and Willie Lyon to deal with the menace of Mills and Armstrong.
It was about the 70th minute when McGrory chased Temple for a ball near the corner flag. McGrory won the ball fairly with his chest, but Aberdeen made the fatal mistake of appealing for hand ball, and lost a few vital seconds as McGrory slipped the ball to Willie Buchan who ran through the defence and scored what would prove to be the winner.
The Celtic fans roared their appreciation of all this, but knew that Aberdeen would now throw everything at the Celtic defence. It would have been nice for McGrory to score in his last Final, but that would have been a luxury for Jimmy was required (as was everyone else) to man the barricades and keep out the Black and Golds.
But the Canadian accent of Joe Kennaway and the English tone of Willie Lyon (in a few years time, he would become an excellent officer in the British Army) calmed the troops and the steady tackling of Hogg and Morrison kept the Aberdeen forwards at bay.
After what seemed to be an eternity, Mr.Hutton blew his whistle, the players shook hands and trooped off. Aberdeen fans were naturally disappointed but knew that they had been present on one of the really great occasions of Scottish football.
Celtic received the trophy in the Committee Room at Hampden and then after the huge crowd had gone home had their photographs taken at an empty Hampden with only a few seagulls watching them. It was a shame that the huge crowd did not see the Cup being presented, but they did bring Glasgow to a standstill that night as they thronged Willie Maley’s restaurant – The Bank – hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes and the piece of silverware which they had now won for the fifteenth time.
As for Aberdeen, they went home disappointed but with every right to feel proud of what they had achieved. Very sadly, there were to be two tragic aftermaths for the Dons. Director Bill Hay died the following day, and then a month or so later when the team were on their tour of South Africa, their Welsh right winger, Jackie Benyon, who had played well in the Final without ever totally getting the better of Jock Morrison, contracted peritonitis and died. It was a dire time for men from the North, but for a long time after this game, they retained the affection of the Celtic support.
CELTIC 2 ABERDEEN 1 – 24 April 1937 – Scottish Cup Final, Hampden
CELTIC: Kennaway, Hogg, Morrison, Geatons, Lyon, Paterson, Delaney, Buchan, McGrory, Crum and Murphy.
ABERDEEN: Johnstone, Cooper, Temple, Dunlop, Falloon, Thomson, Benyon, McKenzie, Armstrong, Mills and Lang.
Referee: Mr.M.Hutton, Glasgow