Jimmy Gribbin lines up against his Celtic heroes for Bo’ness

Jimmy Gribbin lines up against his heroes as Bo’ness face the mighty Celtic in the Scottish Cup…

James Gribbin, standing 5ft 8in and weighing 11st 4lb, was a talented footballer. The earliest tangible sign of that is a medal still proudly owned by the family which places Jimmy with Glasgow Juvenile outfit Townhead Emerald. It is engraved with the initials of the North East Juvenile Football Association and reflects that 21-year-old Jimmy and Townhead Emerald were ‘runners-up’ in 1916, although I am not certain in which competition. The medal is engraved ‘Gribben.’

Jimmy’s medal from 1916 – won with Townhead Emerald

As far as I can tell, he first came to prominence from a media perspective as an inside-forward with top Junior outfit St Anthony’s a few years later. The family also retain his Glasgow Charity Cup medal, earned with the Govan-based Ants in 1923/24, when they were beaten in the final by Rutherglen Glencairn. That medal is engraved ’Gribbon.’

Jimmy’s Glasgow Charity Cup medal, won with St Anthony’s in 1924
Caricature of Jimmy in the Hoops of St Anthony’s

Jimmy would enjoy further success the following season, wearing the green and white Hoops with which he would be synonymous in later years. St Anthony’s went all the way to the Scottish Junior Cup final in May 1925, drawing 1-1 with Saltcoats Victoria at Firhill then 3-3 at Love Street before succumbing 2-1 to the Ayrshire club in a second replay back in Maryhill. There is seven minutes of wonderful archive footage from all three games, preserved for all time on the attached link. At that time, neither Firhill nor Love Street had a covered terracing facing the main stand, but the outlines of the stadia are broadly familiar and easily recognisable to those of us of a certain vintage. Note also that the current main stand at Firhill was not constructed until 1927, two years after these games.

WATCH HERE. The first match took place on Saturday, 23 May 1925, in front of 18,000 spectators, with The Glasgow Herald reporting that Jimmy almost became a Scottish Junior Cup final goalscorer.

“St Anthony’s impressed at the outset, but Saltcoats, always playing to more purpose, scored after 16 minutes, J. McLellan giving Mills no chance. The Ayrshire team ought to have counted other three before the interval but failed to take their chances. The Glasgow lads were the more aggressive after the interval, but it was only in the last 15 minutes that they got their reward, when McNeill scored after Gribben had struck the crossbar. No further scoring took place but Saltcoats missed an open goal with two minutes to go.”

Mills; Shea & Bryers; McCabe, Gillon & Lochhead; McDonald, McNeill, Donnachie, Gribben & Brown.

St Anthony’s made a couple of team or positional changes for the replay, which took place seven days later before 12,000 spectators at Love Street, Paisley, the Ants lining up as follows.

Mills; Shea & Bryers; McNeill, Gillon & Lochhead; McDonald, Peelan, Donnachie, Gribben & Brown.

The Glasgow Herald report on the replay – which included an extra 45 minutes of play in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to secure a decisive outcome – was as follows.

“Saltcoats Victoria forced the play at the start and opened the scoring through W. McLellan after eight minutes following a corner kick. St Anthony’s equalised through Donnachie in half an hour and pressed for most of the remainder of the first half. Quiet play ruled at the resumption, but St Anthony’s pressed and Donnachie gave them the lead. Near the finish, W. McLellan equalised and as there was no further scoring before the expiration of time and extra half-hour was played. Immediately on restarting, Brown scored for St Anthony’s, but J. McLellan equalised again. An extra quarter of an hour was played but there was no further scoring.”

The Ants team was unchanged for the second replayed final at Firhill on Saturday, 6 June 1925, the last time to date they have competed in Junior football’s showpiece event. With 21,000 fans inside the stadium, The Glasgow Herald coverage of this match was as follows.

“At the third time of asking Saltcoats Victoria got the better of St Anthony’s in the Scottish Junior Cup final. Considering the weather conditions, it was a great game, the players comporting themselves in good style on the fast ground, and the light ball was controlled well by both sides. Saltcoats Victoria, the stronger team, had the pull throughout the first half. Barr had their goal in this half, but Donnachie managed to square the accounts. On changing over, however, St Anthony’s were seldom prominent as an attacking force, and Saltcoats only got what they were due when Brunton gave them the lead, which they retained to the close.”

There were a couple of other noteworthy items that day.

The announcement was made on the appointment of Celtic legend Alec McNair as Dundee’s new manager. ‘Celtic’s Icicle’ had played his 584th and final League game in the Hoops just two months earlier at the age of 42, both of these statistics club records to this day. Ironically, the previous Saturday, Alec had missed out as Celts won the Scottish Cup by beating that same Dundee in the final, thanks to THAT somersault goal from Patsy Gallacher and a last-minute winner from Jimmy McGrory. McGrory, of course, had won the Scottish Junior Cup with St Roch’s just three years earlier.

Ball used in the 1925 Scottish Cup final

The other snippet of interest also involved the city of Jute, Jam and Jim Spence. It was noted that a new company called the Dundee United Football Club (Limited) had taken over the assets of the Dundee City Athletic Club (Limited) as a going concern. Many Scottish football observers will be aware of the name change from Dundee Hibernian to Dundee United in the autumn of 1923, but perhaps fewer will recall that the club wished to change their name to Dundee City before that, and indeed played some matches as City before objections from neighbours and rivals Dundee FC forced them to adopt the United name instead.

Jimmy Gribbin would spend the next season at McKenna Park with the Ants, but 12 months after that Firhill defeat he made the step up to senior football at the ripe old age of 30, when he signed for Scottish Second Division side Bo’ness on 15 June 1926. The Linlithgowshire outfit had also secured the services of perhaps their greatest-ever player from St Anthony’s two years earlier, when they snapped up Irish centre-forward Christy Martin on 30 August 1924.

Martin would go on to score over a century of goals for Bo’ness in two spells over the next seven years and had a brief spell in the USA with Brooklyn Wanderers in 1931, although he did not face Celtic in the tour match between the clubs that summer. Whilst with Bo’ness, Christy Martin would become one of a select group of players who represented both Irish football associations. On 28 February 1925, he lined up alongside another of that group – the aforementioned Celtic legend Patsy Gallacher – and against Hoops captain Willie McStay, as Scotland beat the Irish 3-0 at Windsor Park, Belfast. Two years later, Martin became the first player from a Scottish League club to play for the Irish Free State, when he turned out at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road in a 2-1 defeat by Italy’s B team on 23 April 1927.

Christy Martin and Jimmy Gribbin would enjoy a highly successful 1926/27 campaign, Bo’ness ending the season as Second Division champions to become the first West Lothian club to compete in the Scottish top-flight. Gribbin was an ever-present in the League, scoring four goals in his 38 appearances – one of those being ‘an express drive’ which put the Blues 3-0 up against local rivals Bathgate on 6 November 1926, the club’s record 7-0 home win that day putting them top of the table – whilst Martin notched 29 goals in his 36 matches, taking his personal Second Division tally to 84 in just three seasons at that level.

Bo’ness also progressed all the way to the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup in 1926/27. Their first-round opponents on Saturday, 22 January 1927 were Scottish Football Alliance outfit Lochgelly United, the Second Division leaders easing through with a 3-0 win at Newtown Park. Another second-tier side, Queen of the South, came within an ace of knocking out Celtic at Palmerston the same afternoon, the game finishing goalless before the Hoops progressed with a 4-1 win in the midweek replay. As an aside, one of Jimmy’s Ants teammates from that 1925 Scottish Junior Cup team, left-back James Bryers, signed for First Division high-flyers Motherwell on the eve of those first-round ties, on 20 January 1927.

The next round brought top-flight opposition to Bo’ness in the shape of Cowdenbeath, at that time one of the country’s better teams. But Bo’ness continued their excellent home form by deservedly defeating the Fifers 2-1 on Saturday, 5 February 1927. Cowdenbeath’s goalkeeper that day was John Falconer, and within seven days a young keeper from Fife called John Thomson would make his Celtic debut at Dundee. Four years later, events would tragically transpire to link the pair for the saddest of reasons.

As Bo’ness were defeating Cowdenbeath in February 1927, Celtic had overcome non-League Brechin City at Glebe Park by 6-3, despite going behind early on to a goal from home winger Walter Gentles. Four goals from the mercurial Jimmy McGrory plus strikes from Adam McLean and Tommy McInally had the Celts 6-1 up before Gentles completed an unlikely hat-trick to end the scoring at 6-3.

Both Bo’ness and Celtic would travel north for third-round matches on Saturday, 19 February 1927. Willie Maley’s men made their second trip in seven days to Dens Park to face a Dundee team under his old defender Alec McNair and featuring former cup-winning Celt Joe ‘Trooper’ Cassidy in attack. John Thomson had replaced Peter Shevlin to make his Hoops debut in the previous visit there and the teenager was again between the posts as Celts won 4-2 to move through to the last eight in front of a record Dens attendance of 38,000.

Up on the shores of the Moray Firth, Jimmy Gribbin was on target with the second goal as Bo’ness beat Highland League Buckie Thistle 3-0 at Victoria Park to join the Hoops in the midweek quarter-final draw, and no doubt there was elation and excitement in his Celtic-mad household when the sides were paired together, with Bo’ness having home advantage.

As a Second Division side, Bo’ness had created a great shock in the Scottish Cup second-round tie of January 1923, defeating the mighty Hearts 3-2 at Newtown Park, but they would not repeat the feat four years later against a rampant Celtic, on Saturday, 5 March 1927. The hosts were on an unbeaten run in all competitions which stretched back to early October and had not suffered defeat at home at all in the campaign to date. Jimmy Gribbin was partnered on the right wing by Jimmy Smith, another former St Anthony’s player, signed on loan from Hearts the day before and who had been a teammate of the young Jimmy McGrory at Clydebank in 1923/24. The teams lined up as follows in front of 9,000 spectators, another record attendance.

Muir; Young & Ramsay; Falconer, Walker & Thomson; Smith, Gribbin, Martin, Cottingham & Oswald.

J. Thomson; W. McStay & Hilley; Wilson, J. McStay & McFarlane; Connolly, A.Thomson, McGrory, McInally & McLean.

The Glasgow Herald reported on proceedings as follows.

“Bo’ness started promisingly but were repulsed by McStay and Hilley. Keeping up the attack, however, they forced a corner, but after Thomson had cleared, Cottingham sent the ball over the bar. Thomson partly cleared another shot, and the save was completed by McStay. After a quarter of an hour’s play McLean opened the scoring for Celtic. Bo’ness continued to press but Celtic were now playing with confidence, and just before half-time Thomson scored. In the second half Celtic scored another three goals, the scorers being McGrory (2) and McInally. Near the finish Martin scored for Bo’ness and a second goal was added by Oswald.”

Over at Brockville, Rangers required a late penalty to salvage a draw against a Patsy Gallacher-inspired Falkirk. The Bairns would win the midweek replay at Ibrox, thus the Ibrox club’s wait for success in that competition would stretch to a quarter of a century, but Falkirk succumbed to Celtic in the semi-final at the same venue later that month. Celts then beat East Fife 3-1 at Hampden in the final to give John Thomson the first of his two Scottish Cup-winners’ medals.

Bo’ness would not let the disappointment of that 5-2 Scottish Cup defeat by Celtic halt their progress in the League, the Blues clinching promotion within three weeks then the title itself in early April, thanks to a last-gasp equaliser at bottom club Nithsdale Wanderers. The Dumfriesshire side had won the short-lived Division Three just two years earlier, but their failure to gain re-election to the Second Division in 1927, then on several later occasions, would signal the end of their participation in League football. By 1951, Nithsdale Wanderers would be competing at Junior level and in 1964, sadly the club folded completely.

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.

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