The Celtic captain, a biased, probably drunk referee and the Scottish FA

“The most unfair punishment ever meted out by the referees committee was to George Paterson. The cruelty of his sentence was shattering to both player and club,“ the Celtic Chairman Robert Kelly stated. Here is the story of how George Paterson’s Celtic career was effectively ended by the Scottish FA…

George Paterson’s last game for Celtic sort of sums up best the entire backdrop to the Rangers v Celtic rivalry over the decades and how the men with the whistle and their bosses at the Scottish FA have always bent over backwards to assist the clubs from Govan.

We are grateful to the Bhoys at The Celtic Wiki for their permission to run this article on The Celtic Star. Thanks to @JoeBloggsCity for the green light and TheHumanTorpedo who wrote the biog on George Paterson, where this extract is from.


Few Celtic careers have been ended by such a great injustice as that which befell gifted wing-half George Paterson. Indeed rarely in the history of football has someone so decent been treated so indecently.

Denny-born Paterson arrived at Celtic Park from junior side Dunipace in March 1932. Originally signed as a centre-forward he made his first team in April 1933 when, as a replacement for the injured Jimmy McGrory, he scored a debut goal in a 2-1 home league victory over Airdrieonians.

The following season saw George Paterson make a solitary first team appearance and by the start of the 1934-35 campaign he had been converted from a centre-forward to left-half. It was in this position that Paterson would establish himself as one of the finest talents in the Scottish game.

Coupling hard-work and intelligence George Paterson became an integral part of the great Celtic side of the mid to late 30s. Composed in possession, Paterson’s fine touch and excellent vision were to be the cornerstone for many Celtic victories.

There was arguably no finer passer in the game. His distribution was graceful, precise and frequently effective. He would zip the ball across the turf with pin point accuracy. Passes were rarely wasted and possession seldom surrendered. George Paterson was a natural athlete and off the ball his tireless running and tenacious tackling meant their was few weaknesses to his game.

Away from the field George Paterson was a well mannered, modest and easy-going gentleman. He carried an air of assured authority but possessed a calming rather than daunting presence. An officer in the Boys Brigade, Paterson was regarded as the very personification of fair-play and honesty.

A ready-made idol, the Celtic support were quick to take George Paterson to their hearts.

Alongside Chic Geatons and Wille Lyon, Paterson formed a formidable midfield triumvirate. By the autumn of 1938 George Paterson was a Scotland international and had helped Celtic claim two league championships, a Scottish Cup and the Empire Exhibition trophy.

It was an impressive haul of honours for the 25-year-old. But the battles of the football field were soon to take on a grave irrelevance.

The outbreak of the Second World War caused an abrupt interruption to George Paterson’s Celtic career as he swapped his hooped jersey for the uniform of the RAF. During the war years he would make sporadic appearances for the Bhoys but also played as a guest for the likes of Arsenal, Leicester and Blackpool.

The highlight of George Paterson’s nomadic wartime football career came on New Year’s Day 1945 when he scored a stunning long range goal at Ibrox to give Celtic a then all too rare victory over Rangers. In 1946, with the war ended, George Paterson returned home to Parkhead on a full-time basis and this hugely popular figure succeeded Bobby Hogg as Celtic captain.


To celebrate the end of the war the Scottish FA had organised a one-off Summer tournament called the Victory Cup. Celtic’s record in unofficial wartime competitions had been abysmal, so it was a considerable surprise when the Hoops impressively progressed to a semi-final showdown with Rangers on 1 June.

With keeper Willie Miller in supreme form Celtic would hold out for a 0-0 draw and a replay was organised for a few nights later. On a blustery evening a crowd of 45,000 took their place on the vast slopes of Hampden. What they were about to witness was not just one of the most infamous Glasgow Derby clashes of all time but also the sad end of George Paterson’s Celtic playing career.

The replay would be officiated by referee Matthew Dale. An unpopular figure among the Celtic support, shipyard-worker Dale was a pompous and petty official who was well known for his strong affinity to Rangers.

Indeed during a game between the Govan side and St.Mirren some years earlier an array of shocking decisions by Dale had provoked the outraged Buddies into threatening to walk off the field. Celtic should have heeded the lessons from that day.

Soon after blowing for the start of the Victory Cup replay Dale caused concern among the Celtic ranks with a string of highly dubious decisions in favour of Rangers. Then after just 10 minutes the Ibrox side scored the opening goal. The Hoops cause was damaged further when forwards Jimmy Sirrell and Jackie Gallacher were left hobbling and ineffective after robust challenges from Rangers defenders.

Indeed Celtic’s anger was inflamed by the fact that Dale had ignored the obvious foul by Rangers full-back Shaw which had left Sirrell limping. Dale then awarded another dubious free-kick to Rangers. It was at that point George Paterson began to realise that it was more than bias that was influencing the referee’s performance.

When placing the ball for the free-kick Dale lost his balance and fell to the floor. Paterson leaned down and helped the referee to his feet. As he pulled the official up from the turf the Hoops skipper caught the smell of alcohol from Dale’s breath. George Paterson immediately inquired of the ref if he was feeling alright. Dale responded to this request by issuing Paterson with a caution.

By half-time the entire Celtic team were adamant that Dale was in no fit state to continue. They complained bitterly to manager Jimmy McGrory and Parkhead board member Robert Kelly immediately sought out SFA secretary George Graham.

Kelly informed Graham of his players suspicions and requested urgent action be taken. Graham assured Kelly the matter would be dealt with promptly. But as the teams took to the field for the second-half they were joined once again by Mr Dale.

With twenty minutes of the match remaining Celtic were still trailing Rangers by that early goal. The Hoops were becoming increasingly frustrated as Dale continued to give virtually every decision in favour of Rangers. If that wasn’t enough they were now playing with nine men following the withdrawal of the injured Sirrell and Gallagher.

The sense of injustice carried by the Celtic team since the earliest moments of the match then became simply too much to bear when Dale awarded Rangers the softest of penalties. The official had pointed to the spot after Rangers forward Willie Thronton attempted to connect with a cross by diving head first towards the ball.

It was the final insult for George Paterson. He collected up the ball and refused to hand it over to Dale until he had made his protest to the referee. Unimpressed with this challenge to his authority Dale ordered the Celtic man from the field.

Exactly what George Paterson said to Dale remains uncertain. Contemporary accounts claim he simply told Dale: “Why don’t you keep the ball, you deserve it.” Later re-telling of the event suggest George Paterson was a bit more direct in his language, instructing Dale to shove the ball up his rear-end.

While the Celtic captain had been protesting with the referee Hoops full-back Jimmy Mallan – an infinitely more fiery figure than his skipper – furiously scrubbed out the penalty spot with his boots. When Dale eventually went to place the ball for the kick Mallan innocently declared: “There’s no penalty spot ref!” and then booted the ball down the pitch.

He too was ordered off. By now chaos reigned on the terraces and the pitch. As the Celtic players debated the prospect of walking off, a Celtic fan ran onto the field and swung a bottle towards Dale before eventually being wrestled off the park.

Rangers would finally net the penalty and play out the next 15 minutes against the seven men of Celtic quite happy not to inflict any further damage on their stunned opponents. What should have been an enthralling cup tie had descended into farce. Celtic were furious at the actions of Dale and at the fact the SFA had allowed him to take charge of the game when he was clearly in no fit state to do so.

However any hope that the SFA would belatedly put right this wrong was soon dashed.

Dale would go unpunished while at the next meeting of the SFA’s referee committee George Paterson and Jimmy Mallan would each receive a 3 month ban. Mallan had some history as a hot-head but Paterson’s suspension was ridiculously harsh for a man who had played for 11 seasons without picking up a single caution.

Now he was suspended for three months for what was little more than dissent. It was a terrible and appalling injustice. George Paterson was a man of proven integrity and fairness. In contrast the incompetent and morally corrupt Dale was a disgrace to his profession.

Yet to the SFA only one of these men were worthy of punishment. The SFA might argue that the actions of Paterson provoked the pitch invasion that followed the sendings off. But to do so would be a shocking abdication of their own full responsibility for the entire farce. Indeed it has to be asked if George Paterson was punished not for his dissent but for potentially embarrassing the SFA by revealing that Dale was officiating under the influence of alcohol.

Whatever the real reason behind this draconian act the effect of the suspension was devastating. A man who prided himself on his honesty and decorum George Paterson fell into a depression. Deeply distraught he struggled to come to terms with his treatment and questioned his very future in the game.

Celtic – out of genuine concern for the players well-being – believed that it would perhaps be better for George Paterson if he continued his career outside of Scotland. Before his ban was over he was reluctantly transferred to Brentford in exchange for Jerry McAloon on 4 October 1946. Reports are that he already had work in London, so these events likely accelerated any moves to down south. It was a cruel and bitterly unfair end to George Paterson’s playing career in the Hoops. He would however remain a hero to the Celtic support and they were delighted when he returned to Parkhead as a coach in the early 1950s.

It says everything of George Paterson’s integrity and honesty that Robert Kelly – that most strict of disciplinarians – would comment years later:

“The most unfair punishment ever meted out by the referees committee was to George Paterson. The cruelty of his sentence was shattering to both player and club.“

TheHumanTorpedo – The Celtic Wiki.


Following on directly from his playing career, George Paterson had a more than decent run as a manager and trainer with Yeovil Town and Stirling Albion up to 1952.

He was called back to Parkhead in 1952 and worked as a trainer and scout with the reserves.

George Paterson passed away in 1985 soon after emigrating to New Zealand. He is a man who should be remembered with pride and affection by every Celtic fan. A gentleman, a true Celt and an all time great.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who 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


  1. What a brilliant article. I wonder if mr Dale the ref has any relative’s working as referees in this era ? Madden and Beaton spring to mind