And they gave us James McGrory…


Posted By David Potter

Posted in Articles, If you Know your history

Jimmy McGrory, Celtic's most prolific player of all time

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of Jimmy McGrory, Celtic’s greatest ever goal scorer.

In the first of three blogs today historian David Potter recalls Jimmy’s playing career.


 James Edward McGrory was and possibly remains the icon of Celtic. Those who saw him play are now sadly dwindling in number, but everyone has heard of him. It is no accident that one of the most popular songs at Celtic Park is the one that begins – “They gave us Jimmy McGrory…”
James McGrory was simply what Celtic is all about, cheering up these grim inter-war years when the ghosts of the Somme and Passchendale still haunted, when economic incompetence and sheer greed on the part of a few led to the despair and degradation of many and when the evil strident voices of a renascent Germany gave an indication of what was to come.
 McGrory was born into a poor family in the Garngad. He naturally played football, and he naturally turned to Celtic. When after an apprenticeship at St Roch’s, the junior team which won the Junior Cup in 1922, the call from Parkhead came, Jimmy said “I grabbed my cap and ran all the way”. He would eventually replace Joe Cassidy, the prolific goalscorer of 1923, but he had to be farmed out on loan to Clydebank first just to prove that Maley’s hunch was correct.
 It was season 1924/25 that made him. Famously he played and scored on the Saturday afternoon early in the season after he had attended his father’s funeral in the morning, and very soon he found a new adoptive father in Willie Maley. The events of spring 1925 raised him to hero status. Two goals against Rangers in the semi-final before a six figure crowd in the legendary 5-0 thrashing, and then came the final against Dundee.
 Imagine the scene. Celtic had been behind, but had pulled themselves back into it by a piece of Gallacher magic. Now only a few moments left, Celtic attacking the King’s Park end of the ground, urged on by their massed ranks of support who wanted to win the Cup and thus overtake the record of Queen’s Park’s ten victories, won a free-kick in the Dundee half on the left. It was too far out for a shot so Jean (sic) McFarlane, pulled up his socks in what may have been a signal for McGrory to expect a high one, then sent a curler which seemed to hold up in the wind. But then the capricious wind seemed to carry it beyond the line of Dundee defenders and Celtic forwards. The crowd may have expected the goalkeeper to save it, but “a green and white figure catapulted forward” to head home a glorious winner. Little wonder  Maley insisted “Give young McGrory the Cup” to hold on the triumphant charabanc that night.
 From then on, he never looked back. The team may have struggled but McGrory was always good for a goal or two. Records tumbled particularly in season 1935/36 – 50 goals in the the season, the overtaking of Steve Bloomer and Hughie Ferguson’s records and a hat-trick in three minutes against Motherwell in March. Poems continued to be written about him. For example when he overtook the British goalscoring record on December 21 1935
  Midwinter’s fog clung thick and grim
  And Parkhead’s frost was hoary
  But we don’t need no Santa Claus
  We’ve got James McGrory!
Or after his three minute hat-trick on March 14 1936
  Wait a bit, don’t go too fast
  We’ve left the star turn till the last
  There in the midst o’ a his glory
  Goal a minute James McGrory!
 Why, then, did he never get a chance to represent his country at Wembley? He played in winning Scotland teams at Hampden in 1931 and 1933, scoring on both occasions and the 1933 goal is credited for being the birth of “The Hampden Roar”, but in 1928, 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936 Scotland visited Wembley with no McGrory on board, something that says very little for Scotland’s selectors. 1930, 1932 and 1934 saw defeats for Scotland, something that was hardly a cause of distress for Celtic supporters, given that the talisman wasn’t playing.
 He scored 410 League goals for Celtic and 550 overall. How did he manage it? He had superb courage never being afraid of injury, he had broad shoulders, he had the ability to jump and to time a header and, he had the centre forward’s intuition to be in the right place at the right time. This came from loving and appreciating his colleagues, and knowing just exactly where to be to cash in on the wiles of Patsy Gallacher, Alec Thomson or Willie Buchan to mention just three of his “fetch and carry” men. Never was the Celtic crowd treated to the undignified spectacle of McGrory, arms up in the air in anger, berating his team mates in self-righteous complaint about not getting a good pass. If that happened, McGrory would just shrug it off and hope for better luck next time.
 Surprisingly he won only three League Championships, but the 1926 and 1936 sides of which he was part were as good as any in the history of the club. He won Cup medals in 1925, 1931, 1933 and 1937, but his contribution to Celtic lies more in his ability to give his fans something to cheer about, something to be happy about.  A McGrory headed goal meant a great deal to the support in the grim days in which he played for the club.

Further posts later detailing McGrory’s management and personal highlights will appear later today.

One Comment

  1. Eddie McGrory
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I hope there are are few flags at the weekend in Paradise to show our recognition and appreciation for such a great player and that those of todays team look and take a page from his book.

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