Tribute to War Hero Willie Lyon, Celtic’s Bayard

Inspired by the wonderfully talent Celtic Curio, reminded that on this day in 1912, Celtic legend Willie Lyon was born,  we thought we should look through our archive to remind ourselves about the late, great David Potter’s contributions on Willie Lyon. We know for sure that David would appreciate sharing these again this evening.


“Willie Maley looking grumpy as ever behind Captain Willie Lyon. Lyon is holding the Empire Exhibition Trophy won by Celtic after a tournament between Scottish & English clubs. You can still see the model of Tait’s tower in the Celtic trophy room,” Lisbon Lion @ tirnaog_09

Our legendary manager Willie Maley nicknamed Willie Lyon: “Celtic‘s Bayard – The knight without fear and beyond reproach,” CelticFC_Francophone tweeted today.

“There is surely no denyin’, wi’oor captain Willie Lyon, we will win the Scottish Cup once again,” a pre-war Celtic chant – David Potter

FIR PARK 1937 – One of Celtic’s greatest ever Scottish Cup victories came at Fir Park in the 1937 quarter final on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 March. It followed a 4-4 first game at Celtic Park, and in the 1930s Celtic v Motherwell games were more or less synonymous with thrilling, attacking football.

Both teams had fine players, and both managers knew more or less everything that there was to know about the game. Celtic’s manager was Willie Maley, and the man in charge of Motherwell was John “Sailor” Hunter, a man who had won an English League medal with Liverpool in 1901 and a Scottish Cup medal with Dundee in 1910.

Celtic had a great team in 1937 but it was beginning to look as if they were not going to repeat last year’s Scottish League triumph.

The Scottish Cup therefore assumed more importance, but the fans were confident with their slogan “There is surely no denyin’, wi’oor captain Willie Lyon, we will win the Scottish Cup once again.”

Lyon, an Englishman who had joined Celtic from Queen’s Park was indeed an inspiring centre half and captain, and there were also the two Jimmies in the forward line – McGrory and Delaney. It was another Jimmy who effectively ran the team – this was Jimmy “Napoleon” McMenemy, in theory just the trainer but increasingly left in charge of the team by Willie Maley who was beginning now to show signs of feeling his age.


On the way to Motherwell that Wednesday afternoon, the team bus became aware of heavy pedestrian traffic in the same direction. This was supporters who had taken the day off, and needed all their money to play the admission money. They therefore did not have any cash to pay a train or bus fare. Such devotion to the club was pointed out to the players, who, if they did not know it before, now knew very well just exactly what Celtic meant to so many people.

The Sky Sports Yearbook will tell you that the record crowd for Fir Park was against Rangers in 1952. This is not true. Fir Park that day in 1937 held a lot more than that, even though so many of them (as was the custom in the 1930s) climbed over the wall, while others climbed the nearby trees to see at least part of the game, and still more clustered outside the exit gates waiting to be admitted in the last 10 minutes when they opened the gates to let the crowd out.

The turnstiles had been closed before the teams came out, and at several points the crowd spilled over on to the field, such was the crush on the terracing. This meant that the crowd was “five or six deep” on the side of the field opposite the main stand, and the police had to work very hard to keep the crowd back and allow the linesman to do his job. But the crowd, at least, got a great view of the trickery and genius of Jimmy Delaney!

The Celtic team was Kennaway, Hogg and Morrison; Geatons, Lyon and Paterson; Delaney, Buchan, McGrory, Crum and Murphy.


It was Motherwell who scored first – a speculative lob from Hugh Wales of Motherwell. It looked as if it was sailing harmlessly over the ball until it suddenly dipped and went over Joe Kennaway’s head. That was the score at half time, and following more crushing and re-arranging of spectators by the police, the teams re-emerged.

Now Celtic took command. A corner kick on the left from Frank Murphy found the head, not of James McGrory but of Johnny Crum who diverted the ball onto McGrory who hammered home. That was the equaliser, and the winner was a free-kick taken by Charlie Geatons which did indeed find “the golden crust” of McGrory and his head found the onrushing Willie Buchan who put Celtic 2-1 up.

Celtic’s goals were scored by Willie Buchan and Johnny Crum. By coincidence it was the same two who scored in the Scottish Cup final itself against Aberdeen in 1937.

Both Celtic goals had brought mini crowd invasions, but the full time whistle brought a major one, and fears were expressed in the stand about the danger to the players, but the invasion was a benevolent one, and the fans actually made a point of carrying Jimmy Delaney and others to the pavilion.

Such was the love that they held for their team. No-one was harmed, and the semi-final that year saw a crowd of 76,000 against Clyde, and then the final was 147,000 (and a great deal more who climbed the wall) against Aberdeen.

Such was the magic in 1937 of “the Celtic”. The photographs used in this feature are from the 1937 Scottish Cup Final win over Aberdeen.

David Potter, writing on The Celtic Star

Willie Lyon, Born on this Day – 7th March 1912

“Without fear and beyond reproach,” Celtic’s Captain Willie Lyon awarded Military Cross in North Africa in 1943…

WILLIE LYON was anything but a Celt in background, ethnicity or even (in his early days) inclination. He was an Englishman whose family had moved to Scotland and he found himself playing for Queen’s Park and indeed had a few jousts with Celtic between 1933 and 1935 before he joined the club.

His transfer to Celtic in 1935 was unusual in that Celtic did not usually buy many players from anyone, and certainly not Queen’s Park, a club that Celtic supporters looked upon with suspicion for their perceived middle class base.

But Celtic needed a centre half now that Jimmy McStay had gone. Malky MacDonald had been tried in that position but was a different kind of player, and the tall, rangy and mobile Lyon seemed a good idea. Most of the credit for this decision, one feels, must go to the newly appointed trainer Jimmy McMenemy who had played alongside Willie Loney and Alec McNair and knew what a good defender looked like.

If McMenemy was beginning to take over the tactical side of things from the ageing and increasingly out-of-touch and set-in-his-ways Willie Maley, then Celtic also needed inspiring leadership on the field.

This came from Lyon who was, like Jock Stein and Billy McNeill in later years, was quite clearly a leader, and was made captain from an early stage.

The effect was electric and immediate.

The Scottish League was won in 1936 after a decade of disappointment, the Scottish Cup the following year as crowds returned in huge numbers and then in 1938 a glorious treble of the Scottish League, the Glasgow Charity Cup and the all-British Empire Exhibition trophy, making Celtic the best team in Great Britain and causing the half back line of Geatons, Lyon and Paterson to roll off the tongue in the same way as Young, Loney and Hay had done a generation earlier.

It was not just the cool, inspirational and re-assuring presence of Willie Lyon that mattered. It was also his ability to read a game, to encourage the hugely talented MacDonald and Delaney, to supply the ever eager McGrory and Crum, and to perfect a “special relationship” between himself and goalkeeper Joe Kennaway which was neither Scottish nor Irish, but English and Canadian!

Hitler saw to it that this great team did not last. Indeed it had waned by 1939, but Lyon deserves great credit for his leadership of one of the best teams in Celtic’s history.

We are hardly surprised to learn that his bravery and leadership manifested themselves in a different form a few years later, for Major William Lyon won the Military Cross in North Africa in 1943.

After the war, he was assistant manager with Dundee, but did not find that job to his liking and returned to England and a life outside of football.

He was only 50 when he died in 1962.

David Potter, writing on The Celtic Star

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds 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

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