We have read on The Celtic Star how Celtic won the Scottish League at Motherwell in 1966. They did the same 50 years earlier at the same venue. The circumstances, however, could hardly have been more different.
This was 15 April 1916. The Great War had been raging for over 18 months, and no end was in sight. Scottish football had, laudably, not closed down but had been severely restricted – no Scottish Cup, no Internationals, no full time football, and no midweek fixtures lest they disrupt the munitions industry by persuading men to stay off work to go to a football match. But Saturday afternoon football was allowed, as long as the players had done a morning’s shift in a war-related industry.
The problem in 1916 was that Celtic had had a game postponed against Motherwell on 25 March. Sunday football in Presbyterian Scotland in 1916 was simply unthinkable. There was only one way round the problem without asking for special permission to play in midweek, and that was to play TWO games on the ONE day.
Raith Rovers came to Celtic Park for a 3.30 pm kick off, then Celtic would embark on their charabanc to travel to Motherwell for a 6.15 pm kick off. With a bit of luck, simply turning round at half time, the game might finish in daylight. These were unusual times, and unusual times demanded unusual commitments.
On the morning of 15 April, Celtic had played 33 games out of 38 and had 58 points. Rangers had played 32 and had 50 points. Two points for a win in 1916 meant that if Celtic won both their games and Rangers lost to Partick Thistle, the title could be won on this day, although it was really only a matter of time. Maley’s side, after a few poor games early in the season, had looked more or less unbeatable. Maley had worked hard to locate all his players in industries close to Celtic Park, and had also made arrangements for his players to be transported to Celtic Park whenever the “hooter” went at 12.00 pm or whenever work finished for the day. And he also had Patsy Gallagher!
Not so Raith Rovers. The Kirkcaldy side had travelled to Glasgow with more or less the only 11 they could lay hands on. Some players were half-fit, some were callow youths not long out of school, and none had had the opportunity to train adequately. Celtic won 6-0 at a canter. Patsy Gallacher scored a hat-trick and was generally described as “irresistible”, Joe O’Kane in only his second game for the club scored twice, and Joe Dodds, a makeshift centre half today, scored the other. All this to the great enjoyment of the 12,000 crowd, and Celtic had now beaten Falkirk’s record of 103 goals in one League season.
By general agreement, referee Mr Binnie of Falkirk cut the game short after Dodds had scored the 6th goal to give Celtic the record. The players then walked off the park onto their charabanc (without changing, presumably) while some of the fans made their way to Dalmarnock Station to “entrain” (to use a World War One word) for Motherwell. On arrival at Fir Park, Maley and his men were informed that a “wire” had been received to the effect that Partick Thistle had beaten Rangers and that, consequently, a win would make Celtic champions for the 13th time.
Joe O’Kane had injured himself in the afternoon and was replaced by another Joe, the famous Joe Cassidy currently in the Black Watch and based in Perth at the moment. He would become a Celtic legend after the war. Motherwell had also played that afternoon, losing 0-3 at home to Ayr United. To their credit, Motherwell allowed those spectators who had paid for admission in the afternoon to stay for the evening performance, although many were so disgusted that they went home, clearly not fancying their team’s chances against the mighty Celtic. But Celtic fans soon began trickling in to take their place, and the crowd was given as 10,000.
Naturally the pace in the second game was a trifle slower. In any case, neither side had really been able to do much in the way of training and at times, the players were going at little more than walking speed. But with Patsy Gallacher and Jimmy McMenemy in the side, and the mighty Sunny Jim Young behind, this Celtic side could have beaten anyone. McMenemy scored one of the goals, left winger Johnny Browning scored another and the third was a penalty from Joe Dodds.
The moon was visible in the sky when referee Mr McKeane of Glasgow ended this rather remarkable day. Celtic were now the League Champions, and Mr Maley was always conscientious in sending a telegram to the War Office for distribution to those on the front line. He knew that there would be plenty of soldiers awaiting news.
The team on this great day in Celtic history was Shaw, McNair and McGregor; Young, Dodds and McMaster; McAtee, Gallacher, O’Kane/Cassidy, McMenemy and Browning.
The supporters left Fir Park, happy, no doubt, and singing their songs of “God Save Ireland” and “The Wearing of the Green”. Very few of them, however, could have guessed just exactly what was going to happen in Ireland a week come Monday, Easter Monday 1916.