Celtic have just clinched their fourth league title in succession and the party will be in full swing in Paradise this coming Sunday for the visit of Inverness Caley Thistle.
This is the fourth time in the club’s history that this feat has been achieved and The Shamrock, getting into the party spirit, looks back on each momentous occasion.
Celtic were in the ascendancy in Scottish football at this time. Under Willie Maley’s management, investment in youth and home-grown players was beginning to pay off handsomely. The club went into the 1907-8 season having set a new Scottish record of three consecutive League flags and had also become the first Scottish team to claim a League and Cup ‘Double’ just the season before.
Celtic’s main challengers for the flag in season 1907-8 were Falkirk, Rangers and Dundee. The Scottish Cup was settled in Celtic’s favour before the League with a 5-1 destruction of St Mirren at Hampden on 18th April 1908. Alex Bennett, playing on the right wing, bagged two of those goals. Just two days later, on the Monday, Celtic trounced Hearts 6-0 at home which meant victory in their next game would mean second-placed Falkirk would not catch them. To clinch the 4th title and the Double, Celtic had to cross the city to Ibrox where Rangers stood in the way of glory.
Celtic’s prospects were quickly undermined when Jimmy Quinn was badly injured in the 15th minute and – in the absence of any substitutes – had to play the game out on the wing to no effect. To make matters worse playmaker McMenemy was also injured in the first half, meaning that the Celts were effectively reduced to nine men (no substitutes were allowed at this time). Against the odds Maley’s men continued to press and, on the stroke of half-time, Bennett broke through the defence, escaped the attentions of his marker and shot past the advancing keeper to give his team a precious lead – which they held on to. Celtic fans in the 40,000 crowd at Ibrox had plenty of reasons to cheer. The Double had been secured again but Celtic also won both the Glasgow Cup and the Charity Cup in 1907-8 which meant – for the first time ever – that a Scottish club had made a clean sweep of all the trophies available to it in one season.
In the match report of the decisive victory at Ibrox when the fourth title was won the Glasgow Herald referred to the Celtic players as an “epoch-making eleven” who had “put on record an achievement unparalleled in the game.” Jimmy Quinn – the famous ‘Croy Express’ – was yet again the leading goal-scorer in the Hoops (for the 5th season in a row!) ably supported by those who made up that famous early Celtic frontline: Alex Bennett, Jimmy McMenemy, Peter Somers and Davie Hamilton. Yet the newspapers were a little premature in heralding the achievement of Maley and his team: they would continue their record-breaking title-winning sequence through to 1910, making the name of Celtic famous far beyond the shores. The Scottish Football League marked Celtic’s 6-in-a-row triumph with a unique shield which remains a feature of the Celtic trophy room today.
From the heights of the 6-in-a-row reign Willie Maley and the Celtic directors had to lay plans for the building of a second team due to the gradual retirement of key players including the three Jimmys: Quinn, Hay and Young. The club again turned to local youth and, in the crucial decision to replace the goals of The Mighty Quinn, chose wisely. ‘Sniper’ Jimmy McColl could not have been any different in build from the legendary Crojan but he was equally brave and a natural goalscorer.
Jimmy McColl – ‘The Sniper’
McColl was Celtic’s top goal-scorer from 1914 through to 1917 and his efforts along with the magic of Patsy Gallacher and the defensive wall formed by Shaw, McNair and Dodds had put the club on course for a fourth successive league title in season 1916-17. Their victory the previous season meant that Celtic had won more Scottish titles than all the other teams put together.
Maley’s team didn’t rest on its laurels and it went in search of a fourth League flag, this time with Rangers, Morton and Airdrieonians in hot pursuit. Celtic got off to an impressive start with six straight wins but even more was to come. From August through to April Maley’s men did not lose a single game. This sequence had in fact started back in November 1915 and when Celtic travelled to Dumbarton on 7th April 1917 it was in the knowledge that victory would secure a fourth title on the bounce.
Peerless Patsy Gallacher
Despite stiff resistance from the Sons, Celtic won 3-1 in front of 18,000 spectators with goals from Browning, McColl and Dodds but there was no doubt who the architect of Celtic’s success was: “Unfortunately for the provincials, Gallagher formed one of the opposition on Saturday and it was this player who contributed most to the downfall of the home team.” (Glasgow Herald)
Rangers’ defeat at home to Third Lanark that day meant that they could not catch Celtic and they were eventually beaten in to second place in the League by Morton, who finished ten points behind Willie Maley’s team. A month later The Bulletin stated that Celtic were “the most consistently successful and best-managed professional club the game has ever seen.” However the winning sequence stopped with the fourth title. It was in many ways Willie Maley’s crowning achievement as Celtic manager – ten championships won in just thirteen seasons. Many thought at the time – and for the next five decades – that a winning series of six Scottish League titles could never be equalled, never mind beaten . . .
Celtic team and Directors, 1916-17
Jock Stein had revolutionised Celtic in his four years in charge of the club before the team bus pulled up at Rugby Park on a Monday night in April 1969. The League flag had flown proudly above Celtic Park from the end of Stein’s first season in charge and it was likely to stay there as, with only three games left to play, Rangers trailed the Champions by five points (it was two points for a win at this time).
Yet only two days earlier, against Airdrie at Celtic Park, a perfectly good Billy McNeill goal in the dying seconds of the game was chopped off in controversial circumstances – by which we mean, of course, a Masonic conspiracy by the men in black – and the champagne stayed on ice. A game away to Kilmarnock, who would finish fourth in the League that season, was a tough encounter and no guarantee that the elusive point would be secured – even for a team largely made up of Lisbon Lions (with the exception of Simpson, Auld and substitute Lennox).
Going a goal down in only eight minutes did little to steel the nerves of the Celtic fans in the 18,000 crowd. Losing a second goal before half-time meant that Stein’s men were truly up against it. He had the players properly focused when they came out for the second half and after almost constant Celtic pressure a goal was pulled back when Killie defender headed into his own goal from a Bobby Murdoch cross. The pressure continued but the minutes ticked away. Celtic were throwing everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink but to no avail. Into injury time and another attack was broken but with the ball landing this time in the path of the on-rushing Tommy Gemmell. With typical panache the Celtic full-back lashed the ball mercilessly past keeper McLaughlan.
The draw was secured – the league was won! According to the Herald “They showed real champion class by wiping out a two-goal deficit.” The Celtic support celebrated long into the night – and some even stole Kilmarnock’s own League flag won in 1965 from the Rugby Park flagpole (it was returned anonymously a few days later). The following Saturday Celtic recorded a famous 4-0 victory over Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final to land ‘the Treble’ for only the second time. The leading goalscorer that memorable season was Willie Wallace who scored 34 in all competitions, followed closely by Bobby Lennox with 30.
Celtic players and staff celebrate the Treble at Hampden, 1969
Of course, Jock Stein’s Celtic would go on to achieve a world record nine consecutive league championships and global football fame.
The decision of manager Neil Lennon to leave Celtic last summer after his team had won their third successive title led to the appointment of Ronny Deila. The Norwegian’s mission was to continue the club’s dominant position in Scottish football and, after a difficult start Deila’s Celtic started to take shape and half-way through the season his team started to pull away from closest contenders Aberdeen in the League. With the support taking the new manager to its heart, Hampden witnessed great scenes in March when the League Cup was won against Dundee United.
3 for Lenny, 1 for Ronny
A tremendous run of results in the League, with only one loss (to St Johnstone) from January through to May, put the fancy-titled Premiership within Ronny’s grasp. The early goal-scoring form of loanee John Guidetti was eclipsed in the second-half of the season by Leigh Griffiths who established himself as Celtic’s main striker. A glorious 5-0 victory over Dundee on the 1st May meant that any slip from Aberdeen would confirm Celtic’s title. The next day the Dandy Dons lost at Tannadice and the League was Celtic’s – without having to kick a ball. Cue a full-blown party at Pittodrie the following Sunday with captain Scott Brown ensuring a fourth victory in the season over Derek McInnes’s men.
It was 4-in-a row again for the Bhoys for the 4th time since Celtic was established. Each time the landmark has been achieved away from Celtic Park – four green fields all carrying the imprint of Celtic’s illustrious and unbroken history.
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