Jimmy Gribben has Celtic – and love – on his mind

Jimmy Gribben has Celtic…and love…on his mind!

Jimmy and Jock with the Scottish Cup in Glasgow’s Central Hotel in April 1965

Despite his perfect attendance record in 1926/27, Jimmy Gribbin would not feature much in Bo’ness’ maiden – and as it turned out only – season in the big time. Only two of the previous year’s title-winning team – Christy Martin and Tom Cottingham – were selected as the Blues opened that campaign with a 2-1 win over Falkirk at Newtown Park on Saturday, 13 August 1927, and indeed six of the side made their senior debuts that afternoon.

But Jimmy did manage four League appearances in the opening months of the campaign, the first of those at right-half in a 3-1 defeat to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on the opening weekend in September. He was recalled to the team in his normal inside-right berth for the trip to Broomfield to face Airdrieonians on Saturday, 22 October 1927, Jimmy’s 32nd birthday, but there would be no celebration following a 4-2 defeat in Lanarkshire.

Jimmy Gribbin’s third appearance for Bo’ness that season would be perhaps the most significant, as the Scottish Cup-holders Celtic travelled to Newtown Park for the second time in eight months on Saturday, 26 November 1927, for the first-ever League clash between the clubs. Celtic were without injured skipper Willie McStay as the teams lined up as follows.

Bo’ness – Dempster; Hume & Ramsay; Duff, Walker & Thomson; Martin, Gribbin, Heeps, Cottingham & Oswald.

Celtic – J. Thomson; J. McStay & McGonagle; Wilson, Donoghue & McFarlane; Connolly, A.Thomson, McGrory, McInally & McLean.

Jimmy plays for Bo’ness v Celtic, November 1927
Alec Thomson scored

The game was settled by Alec Thomson’s goal just after the half-hour, albeit Celts owed much to his namesake John for keeping Bo’ness out at the other end, whilst home keeper Dempsey saved a Peter Wilson penalty kick. ‘Waverley’ of The Daily Record and Mail mentioned Jimmy Gribbin as one of four ‘clever forwards’ and commented that’ Bo’ness will never have a better chance of beating the Celtic.’

Despite that performance, Jimmy would be missing from the side which lost 5-0 to Hearts at Tynecastle seven days later. He was recalled for the clash with Partick Thistle at Newtown Park on Saturday, 10 December 1927, the Blues taking an early lead before conceding four to drop into the relegation places. That would be a disappointing end to Jimmy’s Bo’ness career. On Friday, 30 December 1927, 32-year-old Jimmy Gribbin signed for Clyde, at that time one place above second-bottom Bo’ness in the so-called safety zone.

Jimmy made his debut for the Bully Wee the following day, the toughest of fixtures as Clyde faced a Motherwell side currently going neck-and-neck in the title race with holders Rangers. The Steelmen would flex their muscles with a 5-0 victory, thanks largely to a hat-trick from their legendary winger Bob Ferrier. Englishman Ferrier holds the all-time appearance record in the Scottish League with 626 games over 20 years at Motherwell, and with over 250 goals is also one of the top 10 goalscorers in the history of the competition.

Motherwell would then move to the top of the table on Monday, 2 January 1928 following their 5-1 derby win over Hamilton Academical and Jimmy McGrory’s winning goal for Celtic against Rangers before 70,000 in Glasgow’s east end. Over in the west of the city, Jimmy Gribbin’s second match for Clyde again ended in defeat, this time by 2-1 to Partick Thistle at Firhill.

Jimmy’s home debut for Clyde took place on Saturday, 7 January 1928, a 2-2 draw with fourth-placed Hearts. Next up was the long trip to Aberdeen, seven days later, the return journey no doubt a miserable one after the Dons scored six without reply. It was a day of high scoring in Scotland, none more so than at Celtic Park where Jimmy McGrory set a new top-flight Scottish League record by netting no fewer than eight of Celtic’s nine goals against bottom-of-the-table Dunfermline Athletic, a milestone which stands to this day, almost a century later. Jimmy’s eight goals equalled the overall Scottish League mark set just four months earlier in the Second Division by Arthurlie’s Owen McNally against Armadale. As it happens, the men were friends and teammates, as McNally was actually on loan to the Barrhead club from Celtic at that time.

4 January 1928: The Great Jimmy McGrory scores eight goals against Dunfermline to create a record which stands to this day

That defeat at Pittodrie would pretty much be it for Jimmy Gribbin in terms of his Shawfield career. He missed out on Clyde’s only Scottish Cup tie that season, a difficult fixture against 1926 winners St Mirren at Love Street on Saturday, 21 January 1928, and was still absent for the League visit to Celtic Park three weeks later. Jimmy would remain on the sidelines as Clyde survived in the top-flight by finishing in 15th place in the table, whilst his former club Bo’ness took the drop to the Second Division with Dunfermline Athletic.

By this time, Jimmy had love on his mind. On Friday, 29 June 1928, in St Paul’s RC Church in Shettleston, he married his sweetheart, Margaret McRanor, a 26-year-old brickfield worker currently living at The Birks in Barrachnie, a small village just west of Baillieston. Like Jimmy’s father, Margaret’s dad Michael McRanor was also a coalminer. 32-year-old Jimmy’s own occupation was stated as Engineer’s Labourer, rather than his part-time role as a footballer.

That summer would bring more change in terms of Jimmy’s football career. One month later, on Sunday, 29 July 1928, as the ninth Olympic Games opened in Amsterdam, Jimmy Gribbin joined his third and final senior club, a return to West Lothian with Second Division Bathgate.

If the challenges at Bo’ness and Clyde had been difficult, then the situation at Bathgate was perilous. They had survived a re-election vote with West Lothian neighbours Armadale in the summer, the aforementioned Nithsdale Wanderers again the club to miss out, and meetings throughout the close season had suggested that the financial position of the club would force their retirement from the League.

Nevertheless, Bathgate did host Dundee United on the opening day of the new Second Division campaign, on Saturday, 11 August 1928, Jimmy perhaps not making the best first impression by arriving at Mill Park 10 minutes after kick-off as they went down by four goals to nil. Three straight victories then had Bathgate in the top four of the Division before a calamitous run of 17 matches without a win – 15 defeats and two draws – saw them cast six points adrift at the foot of the table by Christmas.

Jimmy had featured in nine of the club’s 19 games up until the 2-0 home defeat by Clydebank on Saturday, 15 December 1928, scoring once, but two days later, his contract was cancelled and, by now 33 years old, his senior career was over. The club itself wasn’t far behind in that respect.

On Saturday, 23 February 1929, Bathgate played its 28th League fixture of the season, a 3-0 defeat by Dumbarton at Boghead, and it would prove to be their last in senior football. They formally withdrew from the Scottish League on Friday, 1 March 1929, 24 hours before the home clash with Forfar Athletic, the directors citing a lack of home support as the reason they could not afford to fulfil that or subsequent fixtures. Ten days later, the results of Bathgate’s 28 completed matches were expunged from the records and the table adjusted accordingly.

Within a month, Bathgate was followed out of senior football by Arthurlie, also for financial reasons, although curiously the results from the Barrhead side’s 32 fulfilled fixtures were allowed to stand. The two clubs who had resigned were replaced for the new season by Angus duo Montrose and Brechin City, the lack of any election process whatsoever once again seeing Borders outfit Nithsdale Wanderers fail to gain access to the Scottish League.

What happened next in Jimmy’s football career over the next decade or so – if indeed he had one – is not entirely clear. But given that Jimmy joined Celtic as a scout in 1940, it is likely he remained in the game in some capacity beyond his playing days. His granddaughter Margaret Gribbon confirms that in April 1930, when her own dad – Jimmy’s second son John – was born, Jimmy was a coal merchant living on the ground floor of ‘a four-storey building on Baillieston Main Street, on the site where Iceland currently stands just across from the Airdrie Savings Bank.’ Margaret states that the family occupied the entire ground floor with Jimmy – her Granda Gribbon – keeping his horses Rosie and Billy in stables at the bottom of the garden!

That mining link shared by Jimmy Gribbin and Jock Stein was again highlighted by Archie MacPherson in his biography Mr Stein, as he reflected on the events of December 1951. I am indebted to my good friend and Tour Guide colleague Manus Gallagher for providing this extract from that book, which also illustrates how highly Jimmy was respected in perhaps some slightly surprising circles.

“Stein had already talked to [Llanelly manager] Jack Goldsborough who, being a civilised man, accepted the inevitable, that his most respected player was going to leave the club and ‘go back hame.’ When Goldsborough asked him what he was going to do, Stein told him he would just quit football and go back to the pits. To all intents and purposes, he had given up. It was back to the pits, the bookies, the banter round the Cross, and possibly the terracing, where he might go and watch the Vics or the Rangers to while away his time. He was edging towards obscurity.

Billy McNeill, who was to become the greatest of all Celtic captains and the manager in succession to Stein, has often described the history of Celtic as a fairytale. Anyone with any doubts about that needs to picture a dejected Stein mentally packing his bags, feeling like the bankrupt whose investment has turned sour, bracing himself for heading back to a lifestyle he thought he had left for ever, and then to picture a man 500 miles away at about the same time who used to sell coal with his horse and cart around the village of Baillieston just outside Glasgow, and who just happened to let slip from his lips one day the words ‘Jock Stein.’ It was where it was said, and to whom, that made all the difference to Celtic’s history.

Jimmy Gribben became a Celtic scout in 1940 after a career in junior football in a rough-and-tumble era. It was, he used to tell his family, like taking part in a commando raid: on the final whistle it was a case of ‘grabbing your clothes and making a run for it to get out of the way of trouble.’ So respected was Gribben within the game that Bill Struth, the distinguished Rangers manager of the 1940s and 1950s, would have a ‘wee hauf’ of whisky ready for the Celtic man when he came with the team to Ibrox. In an age of discontent within the Celtic community Bob Kelly turned to Gribben for advice.

Jimmy Gribben had an obviously unique memory bank [but]it is not entirely clear what had been retained on the retina of [his]mind’s eye about Stein. Adam McLean, Stein’s Rovers colleague, has his own view: ‘I remember one night we played a reserve game at Celtic Park.

Celtic had fielded [John] McPhail at centre-forward and he was a handful as you would know. Well, Jock never gave him a kick of the ball. He out-headed McPhail, who was good in the air. All right, it was just a reserve game, but the way Stein played that night must have caught somebody’s eye.’

But perhaps even more significant was a game played by Rovers at Celtic Park in January 1949 when they played for an hour with only ten men. They were well beaten in the end, 3-0, but it could have been worse, and their defensive performance received wide praise, The Sunday Post identifying Stein as one of the ‘heroes.’ The Sunday Mail noted that ‘pivot Stein, along with Muir and English, looked as confident as if the score had been reversed.’ That game would possibly have registered on any football shrewdie like Gribben. Equally he lived only half an hour away from Coatbridge where Stein played his home games, and it is likely that he saw him more than once or twice in a season.

We have no clear idea how long it took Gribben to respond to the chairman’s request to seek out a player who would be required merely to be a useful stand-by player. But then he mentioned the name. They had a slight problem though, for they did not know where Stein was at that time. Even Gribben had lost his whereabouts. But it did not take them long to discover that he was in South Wales. They made an approach to Llanelly for him.”

The statement in that final paragraph re Jock’s current whereabouts being unknown does also cause me ‘a slight problem.’ In an article on Jimmy Gribben in The Shamrock magazine, the author states that “Gribben was aware that the former miner wanted to return to Scotland and the call went out.” With respect to Archie, I would suggest that Jimmy having knowledge of Jock’s situation at Llanelli seems more likely than the incredible co-incidence involved for him to have plucked his name out of thin air, completely oblivious to Stein’s stated desire to return home from Wales at exactly the same time. Either way, it was indeed a fairytale.

Hail Hail!

Matt Corr

With grateful thanks to Pat Woods, Tom Campbell, Manus Gallagher, Ken Ross, Nikki Guthrie, Elaine Currie, Margaret Gribbon, John Gribbon, John Tracey, Philomena Tracey and the wider Gribbon family.

Follow Matt on Twitter/X @Boola_vogue

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

Comments are closed.