Coronation Cup: Said Lizzie to Phillip

The Coronation Cup of 1953 was supposed to be British football’s way of celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  A showpiece event held in Glasgow between four of English football’s finest clubs of the time and another four from Scotland.

The intention may not have been, as the song suggests, “to send up a cup that the Rangers can win”, but the outcome of Celtic emerging triumphant was certainly not the desired one.

England sent four of their best…

In the days before European competition became the norm, the Coronation Cup was held in high esteem due to providing the rare opportunity of playing against sides from another country.

The English cohort that made the journey North for the competition consisted of reigning English champions Arsenal; Manchester United, who had won the league the previous season; Newcastle, FA Cup winners from the previous two seasons; and Tottenham, league runners-up from the previous season.

The Scottish contingent consisted of Rangers, the current league and Scottish Cup holders; league runners-up Hibernian; Scottish Cup runners up Aberdeen; and making up the numbers were Celtic who had finished the season in 8th place.

Despite being the unofficial reigning British champions following the Empire Exhibition Cup success in 1938, Celtic were in poor shape going into the Coronation Cup and not expected to put up much of a fight.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

The post-war years had not been kind on Celtic who had just a single Scottish Cup success, coming in 1951, to their name.  The Hoops were struggling, but so was Glasgow and Scotland as whole.  Unemployment and poverty rates were high as Scotland endured a period of great economic hardship.  In Glasgow, the religious divide was growing deeper with anti-Catholic sentiment rife and on the increase.

The Coronation Cup was designed to provide the people with a distraction from their daily hardships, to give the people something to celebrate, to remind the people of the great British empire.  For the people, the concept of monarchy and grandeur did make them feel special and above it all.

However, for the communities locked in squalor and living below the poverty line of 1950s Scotland, the lavishness of the Coronation’s misuse of public monies to fund the charade was galling.  Sure, the football was a distraction, but it didn’t put food on the table.

Said Phillip to Liz watch the Celts don’t step in

Celtic began the defence of their unofficial title as reigning British champions against English title holders Arsenal.  In front of almost 60,000 supporters, Celtic ran out 1-0 winners after Bobby Collins scored direct from a corner kick.

Accounts of the game describe Celtic playing a scintillating attacking game, and wonder how the team could have performed so poorly during the league season.

Manchester United followed in the semi-final and, like Arsenal, fell to defeat by a single goal margin.  Bertie Peacock and Neilly Mochan had the Celts two in front before Arthur Rowley pulled one back for United.

While Celtic were defying the odds, Rangers had fallen at the first hurdle losing 2-1 to Manchester United.  There would be no Coronation Cup in the Ibrox trophy cabinet.

Newcastle United thumped Aberdeen 4-0 in their opening game only to fall to the same score line in the semi-final to Hibernian, who had scraped past Tottenham after a replay in the first round.

Sure Hampden was covered in banners of green

On the 20th May, 1953 Hampden Park was decked out in green and white, and Irish tri-colours as Celtic faced Hibernian in the final of the Coronation Cup in front of 117,000 spectators.  The competition that had been designed to celebrate the British monarchy and Unionist establishment would be played out between Scotland’s two Irish-Catholic clubs.  Needless to say, Lizzie and Phillip did not attend the final.

The Glorious Irony.

Hibernian were favourites to win the game with their Famous Five frontline of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull, and Ormond amongst the most revered in the game.

Celtic, and Neil Mochan, had other ideas.  Mochan opened the scoring shortly before the half-hour mark to give Celtic the lead.  After weathering some heavy Hibernian pressure, Celtic put the game to bed with just three minutes to play as Jimmy Walsh scored a second.

Against the odds, Celtic had reclaimed their unofficial title as British champions, won the Coronation Cup, and defied the establishment.  The trophy success would also be used as a springboard to the following season’s league and cup double and resurgence in the club’s fortunes.

As the song goes “To keep the Celts down you will have to deport, The whole Fenian army that gives them support.” Now that is true.


Kevin McCluskie

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