Today sees the long-anticipated solar eclipse in Scotland and beyond although, for the Celtic-minded, such occasions are not unknown through the club’s glorious unbroken history. It was ninety years ago, on 24th January 1925, when another solar eclipse was scheduled to take place during Celtic’s Scottish Cup tie away to Third Lanark in Glasgow’s southside.
Cathkin Park, now long abandoned, was the main place to be in the city that day as ‘The Volunteers’ welcomed Willie Maley’s team. There was much excitement about the impact that a total eclipse might have on the game and spectators. This excitement was fuelled by the clear skies over Glasgow through the morning and early afternoon until, just thirty minutes before kick-off, clouds came from the south-east and the sun was largely blocked out from view for the next two hours. Glimpses of the eclipse could only be seen fleetingly in the city including the Observatory.
Celtic visit Cathkin Park in the 1950s
This would likely have come as a disappointment to the inhabitants of the press box at Cathkin Park. Due to all the speculation about the potential impact of the eclipse, Third Lanark had arranged for members of the press to be furnished with candles in order that they could keep a watchful eye on the field while developing their match reports. In the end, the candles were unnecessary.
It was hard to avert your eyes from the field to the sky in any event. The game proved a tremendous cup-tie . Thirds were the first to draw blood before Celtic managed an equaliser just before half-time. Celtic then took the lead early in the second half and, when it looked as though Thirds were about to peg them back from the penalty spot, the missed kick spurred Celtic on to seize the initiative and they went on run out 5-1 winners. The Garngad’s finest son, Jimmy McGrory, scored 4 of the Celtic goals himself – and victory was secured thanks to his deadly accuracy in front of goal and the sterling support he received from Adam McLean, Patsy Gallacher, ‘Jean’ McFarlane and Willie McStay throughout. Thirds were well and truly eclipsed by the man dubbed ‘The Human Torpedo’.
What’s left of Cathkin Park, Crosshill today
Solar eclipses have traditionally been considered bad omens in some cultures and the cause of widespread fear and sometimes panic – a harbinger of death, destruction or disaster. The eclipse which took place on 24th January 1925 was no exception and a couple of incidents took place immediately after the Third Lanark-Celtic match which would have had more than a few fans reaching for their rosary beads or – more likely – a pint of some very strong stuff indeed.
With a crowd of over 42,000 in attendance at Cathkin Park nearby Crosshill station was packed as a number of football specials ferried fans back into the city centre. One of the special trains – carrying over 800 supporters – failed to stop as it travelled along Platform 9 at Glasgow Central station and crashed into the buffers. The 12 passenger coaches which made up the train smashed together with some being thrown into the air. A major rescue operation was quickly underway.
The initial scene of carnage was described in the Glasgow Herald: ‘The groans and screams of men in pain issued from the wreckage . . . men were pinned in the midst of this debris and hatchets and crowbars had to be used to secure their release. It was a difficult and harrowing task and probably none expected that all the captive sufferers would be extricated without a single one among them bearing mortal injury.’ Many onlookers felt it was a miracle that there was no loss of life.
Over 40 supporters were finally freed from the wreckage and ferried to the Royal Infirmary for emergency treatment. It later emerged that the worst injury was to an individual who broke both his legs in the crash.
The second incident was more minor in nature but was a cause for genuine concern for those caught up in it and those who witnessed it. A Celtic brake club travelling back to Dalmarnock after the game was involved in a nasty accident on Aitkenhead Road when the back wheel of the horse-drawn carriage broke without warning, throwing more than 20 supporters onto the road and the path of other traffic. Six were taken to the nearby Victoria Infirmary for treatment.
Fortunately, when the day was over, no lives had been lost and the eclipse was gradually forgotten. Celtic moved on from their triumph over Third Lanark all the way to the Scottish Cup final at Hampden where, thanks to one of the most amazing goals witnessed by football fans anywhere, ‘Peerless’ Patsy Gallacher introduced gymnastics to the six-yard box and – with the ball trapped between his feet – somersaulted beyond the Dundee goalkeeper and into the net to secure a vital equaliser. This sensational goal was to pave the way for Celtic victory – McGrory netting the winner with one of his trademark headers – and the return of football’s oldest trophy to Celtic Park yet again.
Maley’s Bhoys of 1925 vintage were truly a Grand Old Team to see – in hail, snow, sun or even eclipse.
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