Putting Them Out of the Scottish Cup…
Scottish Cup semi-final, 21 March 1925
Celtic: Shaw, W McStay and Hilley; Wilson, J McStay and McFarlane; Connolly, Thomson, McGrory, Gallacher and McLean
Rangers: Robb, Manderson and McCandless; Meiklejohn, Dixon and Craig: Archibald, Cunningham, Henderson, Cairns and Morton
Referee Mr Peter Craigmyle, Aberdeen
Celtic were an annoying team to watch in the mid-1920s. They were a curious mixture of men like Patsy Gallacher, as great a player as anyone had ever seen, and youngsters like Peter Wilson, Alec Thomson – both good, emerging players – and a prodigiously talented young goal scorer called James McGrory. Yet they never seemed to be able to string together any consistent form. Since the War they had won the Scottish Cup only once in 1923, and the Scottish League twice in 1919 and 1922. For a club of Celtic’s pedigree and for supporters who recalled the great Celtic teams of before the war, this was all very disappointing.
It was probably true to say that Rangers, man for man, were better than Celtic in those days. A solid defence, some good midfielders (although that area of the field was possibly their weak link), a talented forward line which included Alan Morton “The Wee Blue Deil” and Tommy Cairns “Tireless Tommy” – all added to a grim Presbyterian determination to win, whatever the cost, meant that they had won the League for the past two years (and would do so this year as well) to the delight of their manager, the tyrannical and terrifying Willie Struth.
But two things had changed about Rangers of late. One was the now blatant identification with the cause of Protestantism, and the equally blatant (although never overtly stated) policy of refusing to employ anyone of the Roman Catholic faith. This policy brought them great credit in the eyes of all those who feared that Roman Catholics were about to take over the country, a belief that even found root in the Church of Scotland whose 1923 blood curdling denunciations of that other Christian faith are quite astonishing for anyone in the modern world to read. But because the Church of Scotland said what it did, and because Rangers did not employ Roman Catholics, bigots found a home at Ibrox. It must however also be stressed that the Rangers support also contained many decent people, attracted by success and the undeniably good players that Rangers possessed.
The other thing about Rangers was their growing obsession with the Scottish Cup, and their need to win it. 1903 had been their last success in that tournament, and although some of these intervening years had seen the Great War, 22 years was still a long time. Since 1903, Celtic had won the Scottish Cup in 1904, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1914 and 1923, and Rangers had appeared in five finals, losing in 1904, 1905, 1921 and 1922 while the 1909 final had been abandoned after the Hampden riot. It was a poor record, and the Glasgow music halls (of which there was a veritable plethora in the 1920s) had much fun at Rangers express.
Rangers had reason to believe however that this could be their year. They had beaten Celtic three times this season already, and assuming they beat Celtic today, they did not expect a great deal of bother from the winner of Dundee and Hamilton Academical in the Scottish Cup Final. They approached today’s match with a degree of confidence, bordering on arrogance. They were, after all, Rangers, and Mr Struth was always very good at telling them how good they were.
Celtic had needed three games to get the better of St Mirren in the quarter-final and even then, the game had ended controversially. But Jimmy McGrory had scored the only goal of the game, and Celtic had only a few days to prepare themselves for Rangers. But they had Patsy Gallacher, not only the best player of them all, but also a superb tactician and in this case a motivator of others.
At Hampden Celtic used the dressing room on the right as you entered the Main Stand. This was because it was nearer the east where Celtic’s ground was, and of course in the 1920s it was not unknown for players to turn up in dribs and drabs accompanied by and escorted by their fans. From this, Patsy Gallacher got an idea of just how much the supporters wanted to win a trophy and exactly what it meant to so many.
Patsy allowed Mr Maley to say his piece, and then captain Willie McStay said his bit before Pasty, with the full blessing of Maley and McStay, took the floor. He said that he was a great believer in hoodoos and jinxes and that they should remind the Rangers players of their jinx in the Scottish Cup. Rangers full backs Manderson and McCandless, fellow Irishmen and possibly, said Patsy with a twinkle in his eye, more given to supernatural beliefs, might be susceptible to being reminded of such things. Dixon and Craig were the two weak links, Morton and Cairns could be neutralised by effective marking by Willie McStay and Peter Wilson, while Henderson in the centre was a provincial who had simply over-reached himself. He also suggested that Celtic should lie back, take things easy and not try anything silly for the first quarter of an hour at least. The longer the game went on without Rangers scoring, the more they would become nervous, as indeed would their fans in the massive crowd.
The crowd was given as 101,714, a record for a game that was not an International in Scotland, and the first time that a six figure crowd had been recorded for a domestic game. The day was bright and sunny but with a coldish east wind blowing towards the Mount Florida goal, the goal that Celtic defended in the first half. Celtic had already surprised Rangers by winning the toss and choosing to play against the wind, then Celtic did as Patsy had suggested, allowing Rangers to come to them up to a point, but then crowding them out and not allowing a shot at goal. Rangers were clearly bewildered by all this, for they had expected Celtic to come at them out of the traps. But it never happened and then in the 30th minute, Celtic went ahead. Paddy Connolly, not without cause called the “greyhound”, sprinted down the right wing, lofted a ball over to young McGrory who finished things off with little bother.
Half time came, and Celtic left the field with a spring in the step. They had weathered the worst of the storm, they would now have the wind at their backs, and more importantly, they had Patsy Gallacher!
At the start of the second half came Rangers big chance. It was a double chance in fact. Davie Meiklejohn hammered the ball against the Celtic bar with Shevlin beaten and the ball rebounded to Tommy Cairns with the goal at his mercy and plenty of time for him to choose his spot. Incredibly, to the relief of the green and white hordes behind that goal, “Tireless Tommy” headed weakly into the arms of Peter Shevlin.
It was Rangers only real chance in the game, for Celtic now took the game by the scruff of the neck and pressed forward on the attack. Soon “Erin’s Green Valleys” was being belted forth from the King’s Park end of the ground as the goals began to go in. A Connolly corner kick looked destined for McGrory, but McGrory was simply the decoy, taking Meiklejohn and Dixon with him while Adam McLean headed home. The third goal was a delight to watch. McGrory swung a ball out to the feet of Connolly and charged forward to take the return ball, delivered with astonishing precision by “the greyhound”.
20 minutes remained and the exit gates at the Mount Florida end opened to allow home the bewildered Rangers supporters. Some of them were out of the ground when they heard another roar from the deliriously happy Celts at the other end – goalkeeper Willie Robb had fisted a cross ball out to Alec Thomson who made it four, and then Celtic went “nap” when Robb made a further mistake in a pass back from Bert Manderson, and Adam McLean nipped in to score his second.
Full time came and Hampden presented an amazing scene. Half the 101,714 crowd had gone home or were going, while the other half stayed and cheered on their favourites, with all the old favourites being churned out by fans with tears in their eyes. In the stand, old favourites like Quinn and McMenemy stood to applaud their successors, and Maley looked like the cat who had got all the cream!
Apart from anything else, this win had given Celtic the opportunity to win the Scottish Cup for the 11th time on 11 April.
Their opponents would be Dundee, and once again Patsy Gallacher would play his part in winning this game. But for the moment, Glasgow belonged to Celtic, and the song to commemorate this game lasted on the terracings of Celtic Park for forty years after this…
“Hello, Hello, we are the Thimmalloys
We beat the Rangers in the Cup
Twas great to be alive,
Not one, not two, not three, not four, but five!”*
* (Yes it was a Celtic song first!)
This game was good, and things got even better three weeks later when Celtic beat Dundee in the final to win the Scottish Cup for the eleventh time.
Coming soon on Celtic Star Books…