His name needs no preliminary flourishes.
His name needs no preliminary flourishes. no false fanfares, for he long ago carved his way into Scottish football history . . . and the place of Jimmy McGrory among the soccer giants is secure for ever.
The statistic that won James Edward McGrory his way into football's hall of fame sounds so simple to say-550 goals in his career from 1923 to 1937-but is still almost incredible to comprehend by a modern generation reared on defensive tactics aimed at blotting out attackers. I must declare my interest straight away, before I upset any older readers who may lovingly cherish memories of watching McGrory in his hey-day. I never saw him play, indeed I was not even born by the time he had retired from his long spell as Celtic’s number nine.
However, all football memories are not just instant history, and in preparing this chapter I have been fascinated by the look back to the era of the ‘Golden Twenties’, of a Celtic ruled by Willie Maley and Rangers by Bill Struth . . . the giants who battled then, just as the clubs still do in the seventies, for the supremacy of Scottish football. As the sounds of a new Celtic generation echoed from a practice match on the car park outside, I talked recently to Jimmy McGrory in the Parkhead board-room, decorated by so many of the lovingly-cared- for trophies he had helped to win.
The famous pipe-his trade-mark as a manager-waved in his hand as he told me modestly: ‘I’m not much good at these interviews looking back.’ But the stocky little man, his shoulders and brow still as broad as the days when he was heading his way to a goals record, proved himself wrong as he spun me back to the days of names that still conjure excitement, though some, alas, are dead, and it's decades since any of them last kicked a ball in competition.
Names such as Patsy Gallacher and John Thomson, or the eternal Ibrox opposition from such men as Bob McPhail and Alan Morton. No computer could have answered more convincingly the question I put to Jimmy McGrory about the difference between present-day football and those days forty years ago when he was the hero of the Parkhead terracing. How would he have managed in today's fiercely defensive football. .could he still have created scoring records? The answer was as fimly placed as any goal he ever scored . . ‘I have no doubt I would not have got even half the number.
I feel sorry for the modern forward with all he has to combat from modern defensive methods. ‘I salute a player such as George Best when he scores six goals; even if it is against an English Fourth Division side it is still a marvellous feat in today’s defensive conditions.
’ Strangely enough, three times at the beginning of his career the pairing of the man and the club, McGrory of Celtic, which is now inseparable, almost failed to come about. Although he came from the Garngad area of Glasgow-a stronghold of Parkhead fans-and played for one of Celtic’s great nursery sides, St. Roch’s, he did not immediately fancy joining the club. Then he was inside-right and the holder of the position was Patsy Gallacher, and no youngster could possibly imagine taking over from that hero of heroes. Third Lanark wanted him, too, but then, as in later years, the financial affairs of the Cathkin club stopped them moving for the player. However, at 17 Celtic managed to overcome all his fears, and on 20 January 1923 he made his first-team début at Cathkin --at inside-right in place of the injured Gallacher-but Third Lanark marred it somewhat by winning 1-0. But it was in his third game, on 3 February 1923, that the first of the long, long line of goals, which was to stretch to over five hundred, was scored.
It was in a League match against Kilmamock at Rugby Park, and after ten minutes a shot from left-winger Adam McLean was blocked, and McGrory nipped in to score, the first goal in a 4-3 victory. But later that year he was farmed out to Clydebank, then newly promoted to the First Division, and managed by the old Celtic star, Jimmy Hay. ‘I was told I was going to gain experience, but quite honestly I thought they were getting rid of me in a nice way,’ he told me. The Clydebank chairman went on record as saying: ‘I hope Celtic forget all about this laddie,’ but the laddie soon made sure that was impossible. McGrory scored his hrst hat-trick in an 8-2 Scottish Cup victory against Blairgowrie on 26 January 1924 . . . and in March he returned to Parkhead for a League match, still a Clydebank player. He was now outside-left, and it was the sort of homecoming which seems now to belong to dust-covered copies of boys’ magazines, for he scored an equaliser, and Clydebank went on to beat Celtic 2-1.
Not surprisingly, that was the beginning of the end of his time with Clydebank. A couple of months later he was back at Parkhead where the rest of his career in football, apart from a spell with Kilmarnock as manager, was to be spent. And, within a few weeks of his return, he had won his first honour with Celtic, a Charity Cup-Winners medal, after his first-ever ‘Old Firm’ match. It was played at Hampden, the first goal scored by Patsy Gallacher, the equaliser by Alan Morton, and the winner by Willie McStay . . . all men who were giants of their era. Curiously, he returned to Celtic Park for £4 a week, a pound less than he had been earning with Clydebank.
And, in fact, he told me that his wage averaged out at no more than £7 a week during his entire playing career . . . What a pittance it seems beside today’s executive-size salaries! So, the start of the McGrory legend was forged! Naturally, even then, supporters compared the stars of that era with the pre-First World War players. Was McGrory as good as the legendary Jimmy Quinn?
Celtic chairman Tom White supplied the answer . . . "There will never be another Jimmy Quinn. But I tell you what we do have , a Jimmy McGrory.’ The records were soon falling. In February 1927 he beat the Scottish League record for goals in a season-which then stood at 43-by scoring four goals against St. Mirren at Parkhead . . . and jubilant fans carried him shoulder-high to the pavilion... The following year in a League match against Dunfermline at Parkhead he smashed the individual scoring record of six goals in a F irst Division game, by totting up eight against the Fifers, a record which still stands . . . and not one of them was scored with his head! It was at the end of that season that Arsenal, set to become the greatest English side of the thirties, made their famous bid for McGrory. Nearly 42 years later he recalled the moves when he said. ‘Three times, Herbert Chapman (who was then the Arsenal manager) tried to sign me.
But i never had any desire to move, and I never regretted it. ‘I suppose the club were short of money at the time, and that’s why they wanted me to go.
'I asked Mr. Chapman once , during the negotiations, what the fee was for me , but he just smiled and said it would not be fair to disclose it. ‘Some people said it was a blank cheque, others said it was £10,000; maybe that would be the equivalent of £100.000 today . . . I just don't know. 'It meant that I would have got only around £200 from the transfer, and I decided to stay. I honestly never had any desire to move. There was, and certainly still is, something about Celtic that made them different; few players ever wanted to leave. ‘Some people says it's religious , but that's just rubbish I think it's more of a family atmosphere. and it's always been like that.’ Then , on 21 December 1931, came the goal he now describes as the best he ever scored; naturally, it was a header. The match was against Aberdeen, and his goals total stood at 361 goals . . . one short of the then British record held by Hughie Ferguson of Motherwell and Cardiff. How many players can you recall from these teams? Celtic: Kennoway, Hogg, McGonagle; Morrison, Lyon, Paterson; Fagan. Buchan, McGrory, Crum, Murphy. Aberdeen: Smith, Cooper, McGill; Fraser, Falloon, Thomson: Warnock. McKenzie. Armstrong, Mills, Lang. He had equalled the record in seven minutes with the first goal of the game, but after Aberdeen equalised he had gone off injured when he clashed with ’keeper Smith and injured his back on the frozen ground. Soon after, he returned to bullet a cross from Frank Murphy into the net to set up a new record, but apparently it had not been too accurate a cross and one writer described it:
There was not a centre living that day who could have scored, except McGrory.’ Just to wrap things up neatly he scored a hat-trick , in a match which Celtic finally won 5-2. It was also at that time that one of football's greatest-ever tragedies occurred when Celtic ’keeper John Thomson died as the result of an accident in a match against Rangers at lbrox.
Jimmy McGrory told me: ‘He was not only the greatest goalkeeper l have ever seen , but the most natural athlete. He could have starred in any sport. ‘I remember not long after he joined us we were all at Seamill and we discovered he could not swim. I jumped into the pool , and shouted to him to join us.
'Most beginners would have jumped in feet first, but he executed the most wonderful dive you could ever want to see. ‘Another sport he didn't know anything about at first was golf. He used to caddy for myself or Johnny McFarlane, and sometimes Willie McStay. ‘I was amazed he could not play golf, coming from Fife. So one day i said to him to have a try. ‘And he just stood there and hit a perfect drive, and followed it up with another second shot.’ The man who is now Celtic’s public relations officer drew on his pipe and said reflectively: ‘Thank God there are few accidents as bad as that in football.
But what a pity it had to be him: he was so young.’ Step forward now to October 1937, and the last time jimmy McGrory was to wear the famous green-and-white hooped jersey of Celtic. The season before, he had scored his highest number of goals in one season, but as he explained to me: ‘I knew that it was becoming harder to chase after balls.
Passes that a few years earlier I had caught with ease had become an effort.’ Kilmarnock had made an offer to him to join them as manager. His boss , Willie Maley told him to turn it down, but one director advised him to accept . . . ‘You never know where it might lead,' were his prophetic words. So , after 410 League goals, the total swollen to 550 with Cup and international matches, seven full and six League caps, five Scottish Cup medals, two League championship awards, and several Glasgow Cup and Charity Cup medals, he stepped off soccer's stage as a player. And.0 , of course, by 1946 he was back as manager of Celtic to lead them to honours in the Scottish Cup, League Cup, League Championship , Coronation Cup, St. Mungo Cup, Glasgow Cup and Charity Cup.
Then, in 1965, he moved over to become the club's flrst-ever public relations officer, and Jock Stein was appointed the new manager. _ There was not a trace of bitterness about the move, none of the nastiness so often associated with these changes in one of the most ruthless jobs in any industry. His eyes twinkled as he quipped: ‘I retired at 60. When I look around now I'm sure it won’t be long before managers retire at 50.’ And who is to say he is wrong ?
McGrory as a player and manager spans nearly 50 years in football, and of today’s high-speed football he says: ‘There is no doubt it’s played far quicker today. ‘The styles have changed completely. I don’t look back with regret.
But I do feel a bit sorry that in some teams the individuals have given way to team plans. You used to be able to look at teams outside the “Old Firm” and they alwavs had a couple of players who were individual attractions; I don’t think that happens so much today.’ Yet, behind all the awards, all the honours, there is some thing much rarer about Jimmy McGrorv. He is that phenomenon in football, a man who has no enemies... When he was ill three years ago with a heart attack, one of his visitors in hospital was Rangers’ chairman, John Lawrence. . . . I wonder what the mobs who besmirch ‘Old Firm' games would have made of that! And today, at Celtic Park. everv member of the staff , his successor Jock Stein, the players from captain Billy McNeill down to the youngest boot-boy, still address him by the accolade: ‘Boss’
Playing for Celtic no2 By Rodger Baillie
Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 10 March 2020 - 12:29:47 | Comments (0) |
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