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Jimmy Delaney Looks Back
He moves smartly across the trim living-room of his home to show me his unique collection of Cup medals.

He moves smartly across the trim living-room of his home to show me his unique collection of Cup medals.

He’s maybe not as fast as in his soccer hey-day, but for Jimmy Delaney the fact that he can walk normally is one of his greatest triumphs. A few years ago a crippling illness in his hips threatened to do what few full backs at the peak of his career ever achieved . . . bring him shuddering to slower than walking-pace. Fortunately an operation restored him almost to full health, a vast improvement on the pain that lived with him for so long and became as persistent and difficult to shake off as a shadow. Jimmy Delaney is unique in many ways, his Cup-winners’ medals won with Celtic in Scotland, Manchester United in England, Derry in Northern Ireland and runners-up medal with Cork in Eire prove that.

But what additionally fascinated me is that his career stretched from the pre-war days of Willie Maley with Celtic to Matt Busby with Manchester United in the post-war period, and then beyond. And that encompassed a totally different style of managership. Maley, remote and impressive, Busby, impressive by bringing the then new concept of track-suit and tactics to the boss’s role.

Delaney slips smoothly into gear as he strips away nearly forty years and recalls as if it had happened last week when he first joined Celtic.

He was originally signed from an East of Scotland side, Stoneyburn Juniors. It seemed strange to me that he had not gone to the prolific nursery of the many Lanarkshire junior clubs which had bred so much football talent. But, of course, there had to be a Lanarkshire connection, and Stoneyburn was run by a man from Delaney's home village of Cleland. It's the same place today, where Scotland centre Joe Jordan was born, where you don't need the great man's address, you just ask where he stays and you are given immediate directions. So it was Jimmy Delaney of Celtic, yet it might so easily have been Jimmy Delaney of Hibs, for the Easter Road side had actually asked him to play a trial before Celtic came on the scene.

But when the Parkhead side asked him they had arranged their trial game a few days before Hibs, and they immediately signed him . . . to launch him on a career which earned him enduring fame as one of Scotland’s most famous-ever right-wingers. That was season 1933-34, the signing-on fee was £20, and when he broke through a year later into the first team the wages were around £3 or £4 a week. It was also the time of the great depression, and football, with its mass appeal, was not untouched, although the wages might have been a bit higher than the average worker.

Jimmy Delaney etches a vivid picture of the life of a footballer in those grim depression days when a player could easily be the breadwinner for the entire family. ‘That wage, with a bonus of maybe £2, put us higher than the working man, but there weren’t very many working at that time.’ he said. Many of us had to keep the whole family going, there might be seven or eight in the family, and none of them would be working.

We simply couldn't save . . . everything had to go for the upkeep of the family . Yet he adds with firm conviction : ‘They were happy days, too. We all enjoyed our football, and we depended on our own ability. We went out and read the game for ourselves, there weren't so many coaches then.’ We then talked about Malay, and the legend he built when he made Celtic one of the all-time Scottish greats. Jimmy described his manager of those far-off days: ‘He was physically a big man. He was the sort of man that when he said something you didn't talk back. ‘He didn't talk football much to us.

The only time that happened was maybe on a Monday after a game you would be told: “The boss wants to see you.” ‘Then he would ask if everything was all right at home, and try to find out why your game might have gone off. “To be honest even the toughest characters in the team quaked when they got that call to the boss. They always thought they would get laldy, and at the very worst would be put on the transfer list. ‘He never came into the dressing room.

On a Friday the secretary used to come in and pin up the sheet, and we all used to rush over to see whose names were on it. ‘Mr Maley was at the ground every day, but he didn’t personally supervise the training, that was left to the trainers. We met him in his restaurant every Saturday before a game. It was called the Bank, and was a very famous place in those days. ‘We had the usual light lunch, and we talked about the game among ourselves, or on the tram going to the ground. But it was never like a modern team talk.’

The whole set-up must seem light years away compared to the attention modern managers give their players. But Maley's ways, so typical of his era, still impresses Delaney and he says now: ‘I thought he was one of the greatest managers ever, certainly one of the best I played under. He was a great man, a gentleman. In fact, he was a father to me. I would never say anything against him; He was the greatest of a great bunch of managers at that time, men like Bill Struth of Rangers, John Hunter of Motherwell, Pat Travers of Aberdeen who later went to Clyde. ‘They didn't buy many players.

They picked them from the juniors, and moulded their own teams.’ Maley’s final achievement of a momentous career for Celtic was to fashion the side, who like their great counterparts thirty years later, will forever be identified simply by their nicknames. To my generation you have only to think of the name ‘Lisbon Lions’, and the picture of Jock Stein’s greatest team winning the European Cup on that summer night in Portugal springs back.

Similarly for the pre-war fans the Celtic team of the late thirties were forever labelled ‘The Exhibition Team’. The nucleus of the team won the league championship twice. the Scottish Cup once and the Exhibition Cup, a considerable achievement at any time, but even greater in the face of a challenge of one of the most powerful periods in Rangers’ history. Delaney says firmly: ‘That team was the best of my time at Celtic Park. It was not only that we played as a team, but we had some great individuals in the side, Malcolm McDonald, John Divers, Johnny Crum and Bobby Hogg‘.

‘We were a great combination. We really understood each other’s play. No matter where you were on the park the ball always seemed to be passed. We were a great Cup-fighting team. If the war had not come along I don’t think there was any barrier we would not have overcome.’But their greatest achievement was undoubtedly the Empire Exhibition Cup, really an unofficial championship of Britain, which even then was being discussed by football legislators. It was football's contribution to the Empire Exhibition, which was held in Glasgow in 1938 , and brought a, carnival atmosphere to the city.

The flavour of that last interlude of joy before the Second World War still came through when I looked in yellowing newspaper library volumes to catch up on some of the details.

The top teams of Scotland and England took part and in the first round Celtic beat Sunderland after a replay, then Hearts and finally Everton 1-0 in the final. The Goodison side included such names as Joe Mercer, Tommy Lawton and Torry Gillick, although the man who began and finished the major part of his career with Rangers missed the final because of injury.

A 70,000 plus crowd watched the final at Ibrox and the team which won a place in football history was: Kennoway, Hogg, Morrison; Geatons, Lyon, Paterson; Delaney, McDonald, Crum, Divers, Murphy.

The trophy, in the shape of the main tower at the exhibition at Bellahouston Park, still has a prominent place in the Parkhead presidential room. And the players were given a unique souvenir of their victory, silver replicas of the trophy, instead of the usual Cup-winners medals Delaney smiles as he remembers the team spirit of that side, which played such an important part in their success ‘We had two great jokers, goalkeeper Joe Kennoway and striker Johnny Crum.

They kept the whole team going they could have been on the stage instead of playing football. ‘But the man who had the biggest influence on us on the field was our skipper, Willie Lyon.

He was a wonderful centre-half a great inspiration, and one of nature’s gentlemen. As Delaney said if the war had not intervened who knows what heights that Celtic team would have climbed.

But even if there had been no war the side would still have had to do without their star right-winger, for two seasons anyway. For on April 1, 1939, playing against Arbroath at Parkhead Jimmy Delaney met with the accident that was to put his career in serious doubt, and even threatened him with the loss of a limb.

He fractured his arm in so many places , the specialist said ‘It was like a jig-saw puzzle to fit together the pieces.’Jimmy describes the incident in an action replay which is obviously still fresh in his mind. ‘Frank Murphy was taking a corner kick, and as the ball came over I tried to get away from the Arbroath full back Becci, I believe he was of Italian extraction.

‘Anyway he was the sort of defender who followed me all over the place. He happened to turn round just as I was running in, I was going in fast and he gave me a nudge . . .I went up and landed down on my arm.’ The sad result was that he faced two major operations, and he did not know until long afterwards that the specialist’s grim news to the Celt’s wife was that if Delaney had not been a football player, and dependent on it for balance, they would have amputated the arm. For nearly two years he went with the arm in a sling, but all the time he kept training . . . ‘I was determined not to give up.’Then came a new specialist, another operation this time a bone graft and finally the great test to see if he had recovered his fitness. It was in August, 1941 and the occasion was the Rangers sports, and Delaney was a member of the Celtic five-a-side team . . . for one of those occasions that at one time carried almost as much prestige as league matches. He takes up the story: ‘We beat Rangers in the final. But before that I was just as pleased because during the tie Jock Shaw tackled me, and I went up in the air and then came down on my arm. ‘For a second I hardly dared to flex the arm to see if it was all right.

I was so glad when I got up and there was nothing wrong . . . so Jock did me a favour with that tackle, for it proved everything was all right! Delaney was so elated he jumped into a taxi - still clad in strip and football boots - was driven across Glasgow to Celtic Park and ran right on to the pitch to take part in Celtic's trial match that night. Then in 1946 Jimmy Delaney made the first of the moves that was to whirl him around Britain, when he decided it was time for him to move from Celtic.

Matt Busby swooped to sign him for Manchester United his first signing and so Jimmy Delaney helped to lay the foundations for the success that was to make them one of the best-known clubs in the world. It was a very different old Trafford then from the palatial soccer cathedral it is today . . , Delaney remembers that the year they won the FA. Cup, in 1948, the ground was so badly affected by the after-effects of the war that they did not play once at home on their march to Wembley. However gradually the greats of that Cup team, captained to victory against Blackpool by Johnny Carey, were phased out, as the United manager daringly started the youth policy that was to produce the immortal ‘Busby babes'.

Delaney moved on to Aberdeen, then Falkirk, then Derry, then Cork and finally hung up his boots after a spell in the Highland League with Elgin. _ Football has always traded in nostalgia - and why not - and Jimmy Delaney says with a laugh: ‘I'm sixty years of age and I get more invitations to go to functions now than when I was playing.’He has been to the famous Celtic Supporters Club in Kearney. New Jersey, in the USA , and when I talked to him he had just returned from a stay as guest of the Luton Celtic Club. And the goal of the many he scored he is most asked about is the winner for Scotland in the 1946 victory international against England at Hampden. Looking down memory lane I can never understand why these games did not count as full caps, certainly from the crowds who watched them, and the passions they generated, they could not be termed friendly games. Jimmy can recall it vividly: ‘There was a minute to go and we were awarded a free kick. All the players were shouting to Jackie Husband to hurry up and take it. ‘He put it high across goal, and Willie Waddell outjumped them all to head it downwards. The ball hit the ground and bounced right in front of me.

‘I was just two or three yards from England 'keeper Frank Swift, so I just put it in the net.’ And he adds with a disarming grin: ‘It was that simple.’ Some of the present-day football scene saddens him, but he does not live so far in the past that he is blinded to what is going on today. He says generously: 'The European Cup-winning side was the greatest ever in Celtic's history.

Maybe not as good individually as the Exhibition team, but better allround. Still it would have been marvellous to have played the two teams at their peak against each other.’Naturally as a former winger Delaney mourns the near extinction of the race. He looks sad as he says: 'I just don’t think there are any more left. Jimmy Johnstone at his peak, and Willie Henderson were about the last. 'And Terry Cooper was very good before Leeds made him a full back, now they all make disguised runs as they call it.

'But I think too much enjoyment has gone out of the game, both for the fans and the players. Supporters are ready to walk away from matches by half-time because they are bored.‘ And he has an interesting theory about crowd violence the problem that haunts football today - ‘In our day the crowds looked for thrills on the park. It kept them from fighting with each other because there was so much excitement. ‘Both teams went for goals, and honestly how often do you see that today.’ He also sees vast differences in the supporters: ‘It has been taken over far too much by teenagers who don’t know the first thing about football. ‘They abuse a player for 89 minutes, and then if he scores in the last minute they come down the street singing about him. ‘When I played the majority of supporters were that bit older. They knew the game from A to Z, they knew as much about it as us, because they were steeped in the game. 'Now older people stay away, they don’t want to be involved in fights and battles, so they have just turned their back on football . . . it’s sad.’ He contrasts the change in ‘Old Firm’ games, a fixture which many players on both sides now openly admit they dread. ‘When I knew the game was a few weeks away it couldn’t come quick enough for me, because I was delighted to do well against Rangers. ‘I mean if you came out on top your name was made . . . and similarly for a Rangers player if they beat us. The fans were not so bad then. They shouted plenty, but I used to travel home in the train after the game with Rangers fans, and there was never any fear of physical violence.

‘I think the fans then were angels compared to the ones now.’ Jimmy Delaney is happily free of any regrets that he did not play in present-day football . . . apart from one, and it is a wish that so many older players nurture. He regrets that his career came too soon for him to play in the presentday European competitions, ‘I would have liked the chance to take on these Continental defences' he says wistfully. And who would not Wish they could have seen that!

Jimmy Delaney Looks Back

By Rodger Baillie

Playing for Celtic 7

Submitted By Lizardking Randalstown Hoops


Posted by voc1967 on Sunday 15 September 2019 - 12:42:52 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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