After the unbridled success enjoyed by Celtic in the opening decades of the 20th century, the 1920s in comparison delivered much less for the club’s fans to cheer. Celebrating two league titles and three Scottish Cups would indicate a significant achievement for many clubs, but, such was the dominance of the early Willie Maley sides, that the roaring ‘20s were a little more tempered in contrast.
The reduction in trophies did not result in a decline in quality names throughout the team, as the emergence of a young striker in James Edward McGrory and the talents of Patsy Gallagher ensured that playing football ‘The Celtic Way’ was preserved. Stalwarts of the club in the guise of Jimmy and Willie McStay supplied the grit and guile in defence that helped provide some high points during the mid-twenties. Those celebrations were particularly special between March 1925 and April 1927, when Celtic secured the league title and two Scottish Cup triumphs.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
On the 21 March 1925, Celtic made the trip to Hampden very much in the shadow of our city neighbours. Rangers were the in-form team and were expected to seal a passage to the final, however two goals each from James McGrory and Adam McLean, with a solitary strike from Alec Thomson, secured a 5-0 victory as we sailed into the final. This result was the springboard to silverware.
In the cup final against Dundee just three weeks later, James McGrory secured the cup, heading in the winner with only a few minutes left to play, but he was upstaged by the mercurial talents of Patsy Gallagher as he weaved his way through the Dundee team and somersaulted into the net with the ball between his feet to bring Celtic level late in the second-half.
The following season, Celtic were crowned champions of Scotland, winning the league by eight points over second-placed Airdrie. In his second full season as a Celtic regular, James McGrory played 43 league and cup matches, scoring 42 goals. Both Willie and Jimmy McStay barely missed a match as Celtic missed out on a league and cup double, losing to St Mirren in the April showpiece final.
In season 1926/27, Celtic rattled in over 100 goals during the 38-match league season. This century of goals included three matches where James McGrory scored four goals, and another three matches where he scored five goals in games, ending the season with 56 goals. Scoring wasn’t the issue, but perhaps stopping the opposition was. With over 50 goals lost in the league campaign, Celtic finished third. The season did end brightly with another visit to the national stadium to contest the Scottish Cup final as Celtic won the cup for the 12th time.
East Fife were the underdogs, but that didn’t stop the Second Division side taking the lead after seven minutes. Celtic were not behind for long, scoring the equaliser just 60 seconds later through an own goal. A goal each for Adam McLean and Patrick Connolly ensured the Scottish Cup returned to Paradise as Celtic ran out 3-1 winners in front of 80,000 fans.
Celtic may no longer have been the dominant force in the Scottish game, but the names that represented the club during the ‘20s certainly made their mark and would be considered amongst the greatest to wear the green & white hoops.
Martin DonaldsonWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind