In over 130 years of footballing excellence, a number of Celtic players had been tagged with legendary status. These powerhouses of the club have written their names into the history books as great goalscorers, skilful wingers, commanding defenders or natural leaders. There are a select few who have made over 500 appearances for the club. However, only one man can lay claim to being the first to do so.
Signed from Rutherglen Glencairn just before his 22nd birthday, Jimmy McMenemy was a mainstay of the early Celtic side, making his debut in 1902 shortly after joining and just before the club strip was changed to the iconic green and white hoops. ‘Napoleon,’ as he was known, was an integral part of the Willy Maley team that simply swept aside the rest of Scottish football in the opening decades of the 20th century. His instincts and intelligence on the field made him one of the many commanding leaders in the all-conquering 6-in-a-row championship-winning sides between 1905 and 1910.
Coupled with dominance in the league, McMenemy also played his part in making history in the first Celtic side to win the League and Cup double in 1907, then repeated the feat the following season securing back-to-back doubles (the first time it had ever been achieved). McMenemy scored the only goal of the game as Celtic overcame Aberdeen in the 1908 semi-final to set up that date with destiny.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
As the team evolved during the 1910s, Jimmy played an important role in bridging that gap between the experienced players and those brought in to continue the success of playing the ‘Celtic Way’. Celtic remained the dominant side during these years, securing five league titles between 1913 and 1919, along with three Scottish Cups between 1911 and 1914, including a 2-0 win over Clyde in the 1912 final at Ibrox when Jimmy scored the opening goal, his only Cup final strike.
After securing 17 winners’ medals at Celtic, his presence was sorely missed when he left for Partick Thistle. The Celtic team would go into decline during the roaring ‘20s, unable to match the silver-laden success of the previous 20 years. A return to Celtic in a coaching capacity in 1934 was hailed as a triumph by fans, players and officials. McMenemy’s influence and leadership shone through again as Celtic won the league in 1936 and 1938, along with the Scottish Cup in 1937 against Aberdeen in front of a record-breaking crowd. Jimmy finally left the club in 1940.
Jimmy McMenemy will always be considered one of the all-time greats to be associated with Celtic. A man who most definitely played ‘The Celtic Way’. Attack-minded along with quick feet and the ability to control a match from his position as a forward. At a time when the beautiful game was still finding its way, Jimmy McMenemy provided secure footing not only for Celtic, but as a pioneer in everything we love about football and our club.
The Roll of Honour:
11 League winners’ medals
6 Scottish Cup winners’ medals
Martin DonaldsonWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind