Oh, Jimmy McGrory
The Prince of Garngad
The best centre-forward
The Celts ever had
Oh see him rise high in the goalmouth to score
Oh, Jimmy McGrory
Just gie us one more
Oh, send for McGrory (x3)
Tae gie us one more
(Tune: Hail Glorious St. Patrick;
Source: ‘Heroes are Forever’ by John Cairney)
There were four thousand fans in attendance at Celtic Park on 14th January 1928 for a Scottish League tie against Dunfermline Athletic. Just two weeks earlier almost seventy thousand were in the old ground to witness Celtic beat Rangers in the traditional New Year’s Day fixture, thanks to a goal from Jimmy McGrory. The Garngad bhoy was in a truly rich vein of goal-scoring form: two days after the Rangers victory he scored a hat-trick of goals away to Queen’s Park and did the same the following Saturday at Falkirk, Celtic recording 3-1 wins in each game. Those four thousand lucky souls who decided to take in the Dunfermline game were to witness scenes in Paradise that would never be repeated.
Jimmy McGrory wasted no time in laying waste to the Dunfermline defence. The title race that season involved Celtic, Rangers and Motherwell and McGrory’s incredible scoring rate was being relied upon heavily by Willie Maley’s team to maintain their challenge. Dunfermline were to record only 12 points in the league all season and ship an incredible 126 goals while finishing in the bottom spot: McGrory could smell blood.
He had some able assistance. His friend John Thomson kept goal and the defence was led by captain Willie McStay with Peter McGonagle his fellow full-back and wee brother Jimmy McStay holding the centre with support from Peter Wilson and Frank Doyle. The five man front-line had the trickery of Tommy McInally and Alec Thomson while Paddy Connolly and Adam McLean used the width of the wings to feed the spearhead at centre-forward: McGrory.
Celtic, Season 1927-8
J. Thomson, W. McStay, McGonagle, Wilson, J. McStay, McFarlane,
A. Thomson, McInally, Connolly, McGrory, McLean
The rain poured down on Celtic Park from before kick-off. With just one minute on the clock and following “delightful play” between Frank Doyle and Paddy Connolly, the latter sped down the right wing “and his accurate low centre was met by M’Grory who fired it hard into the corner of the net.” One Nil Celtic. It was a dream start. Just three minutes later the clever Connolly again found McGrory in space and this time, “shaking off the challenge of the opposing pivot” he left goalkeeper Harris helpless with a similar shot. Two Nil Celtic.
Already the home support had a lot to cheer about. Before the ninth minute of the game was complete McGrory was again on the scoresheet. He was already nicknamed The Human Torpedo because he could head a ball more powerfully than many mere mortals could kick it, even though he stood at only 5ft 6 inches. From yet another Connolly cross a trademark McGrory header “flew off Jimmy’s cranium” and Harris could only parry the sodden heavyweight leather-laced ball on its way across the line. Three Nil Celtic – with only nine minutes gone and all three goals coming from McGrory, each “due to the brilliance of Connolly.” (Incredibly, this wouldn’t be the fastest hat-trick McGrory would achieve: in 1936 he scored a hat-trick in just three minutes against Motherwell and he still holds the British record for career hat-tricks – 55 in total).
With three already netted, Dunfermline were now acutely aware of McGrory’s danger and decided to police him heavily: “an unwanted cordon of blue shirts escorted him at every turn” reported one newspaper. On the 21st minute McGrory broke through that cordon, steered the ball into space and hooked a glorious shot into the net for his fourth of the game. Four Nil Celtic.
Jimmy McGrory in action
It was The Jimmy McGrory Show and with the Dunfermline half-backs and full-backs all trying to patrol McGrory it created space for his colleagues to play in. Three minutes before half-time Alec Thomson “waltzed past three opponents and scored”, giving Celtic an unassailable lead going into the break. Five Nil Celtic.
McGrory later recalled the scenes in the Celtic Park dressing room: “At the interval someone suggested I should go for the record which they had to tell me was held by RS McColl (whose chain of newsagents is still going strong today) and Laurie Bain of Queen’s Park and David Browne of Dundee who had all managed to score six goals in one League game. Having given me this reliable information, Tommy McInally then told me to stay well upfield in the second half and he would lay everything on a plate for me. You know, I don’t think I got a pass from him for the rest of the match!”
The Celtic support were also well aware that the record was in McGrory’s reach. As the players re-entered the field for the second half “the crowd called for more M’Grory goals.” His team-mates were clearly following McInally’s instruction: “the Celtic players visibly set themselves to give M’Grory every chance to beat the record and, spoon-fed by his comrades, M’Grory entraptured the crowd.”
The excitement in the crowd reached “fever-height” in the 60th minute when yet another McGrory shot evaded Harris and the Dunfermline net bulged for the sixth time. Six Nil Celtic. Only one goal was needed in the last half-hour to equal the record – surely he would do it? Within two minutes McGrory answered in the positive.
The Celtic front line in 1928:
Paddy Connolly, Alec Thomson, Jimmy McGrory, Tommy McInally and Adam McLean
A clever pass from Adam McLean released the Garngad man to score his sixth of the match. Seven Nil Celtic. One newspaper reported that “the spectators almost went wild with jubilation.” Little wonder, they had just witnessed history in the making. And with 27 minutes still remaining could he go further and actually smash the record?
All eyes remained firmly fixed on McGrory. His team-mates were similarly focused on creating that single chance to make the record his. And so in the 63rd minute, within a minute of scoring his sixth, the record was swept aside when Jimmy McGrory scored his seventh of the game – the last three in just three minutes! – and sent the support into seventh heaven according to the press: “The crowd went wild with joy and exultant cheering while the Celtic players surrounded their hero and warmly congratulated him on his brilliant feat.”
Another paper reported that “When he netted his seventh and created a new record the crowd gave way to delirium.” Some supporters couldn’t contain their delight and decided to try and thank the record-breaker in person: “Two spectators dashed on to the field to congratulate the hero. The referee intercepted one, but the other got to M’Grory and shook his idol by the hand.”
McGrory and his team-mates weren’t satisfied with the eight-goal margin. Five minutes from the end McGrory again beat Harris with yet another shot, prompting more scenes of joy on the terracing: “A tempestuous babel of applause from the crowd greeted the centre when he came along with the eighth to equal the highest scoring record in football.” Nine Nil Celtic. At full-time the adoring support flooded on to greet McGrory but “the modest hero evaded an army of admirers, who cheered lustily.” Even they couldn’t catch him.
Final Score: Celtic 9 Dunfermline 0
(McGrory: 1, 5, 9, 21, 60, 62, 63, 85; Thomson: 42)
Incredibly, Jimmy had the ball in the net ten times against Dunfermline that day, with one being ruled offside and the other goal disallowed for a foul on Connolly just before he centred the ball for McGrory to despatch it into the net. It mattered not: the new record belonged to McGrory and him alone. Monday’s Glasgow Herald reported: “In achieving this M’Grory was assiduously served by his colleagues but nevertheless showed skill and marksmanship that further confirmed his title as the most dangerous and successful leader of attack in the country.”
Within days the Glasgow Observer published a poem sent in by a supporter in honour of McGrory’s new record entitled Consilio Et Animo (By Skill and Spirit):
McGrory never forgot the contribution of his team-mates that day. Paddy Connolly was keen as mustard and “in dazzling mood” like the centre-forward himself. Jimmy McStay was just as prominent in a supporting role while the Glasgow Observer stated that McGrory also owed a debt to “M’Inally, M’Lean and Frank Doyle who worked like Trojans to plant the ball where M’Grory could make good use of it.”
Eight goals. In a single game. It is little wonder that, even today, some Celtic fans refer to Jimmy McGrory in reverential tones. He was the supreme striker – not just for Celtic; not just in Scotland. Decades after his playing career ended many of the records he created remain unbeaten to this day. Those eight goals against Dunfermline are still a British record for a top-flight football match. The goals he scored in that 1927-8 season, 63 in total across all tournaments, remain a joint British record (with Dixie Dean of Everton). That achievement places the Garngad man in joint sixth place in European rankings for most goals a season.
Overall, McGrory’s staggering career tally of 550 goals from 547 competitive appearances places him tenth in the All-Time Best Goalscorers rankings – the only other player in the ranking to have played in Scotland is a certain Henrik Larsson, whose career tally was a not inconsiderable 470. (More information here: http://www.rsssf.com/players/prolific.html)
One Celtic player did come close to equalling the McGrory goals-a-game record – and the man himself was there to witness the event. On 11th November 1973 at Celtic Park, Dixie Deans scored six goals against Partick Thistle in a 7-0 victory: he netted a hat-trick in the first 24 minutes but didn’t hit his sixth until the last minute. McGrory later told his biographer Gerry McNee that Deans “gave me a fright a few years ago when he scored six and was unlucky not to get more.” Dixie himself recalls coming off the pitch that day to be told by the 69 year old former Celtic manager: “Son, I really thought you were going to take my record there!”
Jimmy McGrory and John ‘Dixie’ Deans with their respective match-balls
The record was his and his alone. Famously unassuming, Jimmy McGrory took pride in his record-breaking achievement, saying not long before his death: “It’s a record of which I am rather proud and I still have the match ball in my home which was later given to me by Willie Maley who for many years displayed it in his Bank Restaurant in Queen Street.” Today the ball, painted in record of the achievement, is on permanent display at the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park – along with the last pair of McGrory’s size six football boots, left in the care of Celtic trainer Jimmy Gribben when the striker left to take up the post of Kilmarnock manager in late 1937.
For me there is – and always will be – something magical about Jimmy McGrory. As a child I remember looking up the different Guinness Books of Records in my Gran’s house while visiting and there he was – the only Celt and the only Scot whose name was writ large in the football section. He’s still there today, in the online version, with Pele and just one other for company: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-career-goals-(football)/
Those few thousand Celtic supporters who watched him score eight goals that rainy day in 1928 witnessed the birth of the legend of Jimmy McGrory. The legend – as with the records he created – will go on forever and ever. For Celtic fans he remains the Eighth Wonder of the World.
(By Bear & Carfin Harp)
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Some of the headlines celebrating Jimmy McGrory’s record-breaking feat in 1928:
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Issues 1 and 2 of The Shamrock – Celtic Retro magazine on sale at Celtic Park on home matchdays and through Paypal. Digital version also available: https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/magazine/