‘FOOTBALL CROWD SUPRISES LOCAL PUNDITS’
When Celtic travelled to Aberdeen on 9th March 1935 for the Scottish Cup Quarter Final, interest in the tie was unusually high. The Dandy Dons were enjoying a purple patch at the time (much like just now with no silverware to show for it either) and Celtic, who were being coached by the legendary Jimmy McMenemy and enjoyed nine successive wins following his appointment, were renowned for the attacking flair of Delaney, MacDonald, Buchan and, of course, the world-famous Jimmy McGrory who led the frontline.
A record crowd turned up at Pittodrie with over 40,000 crammed onto the terraces. This was 6,000 more than the previous record (against Rangers in 1929) and in the second half one a crash barrier collapsed resulting in injuries to a number of home fans, with one having to spend the night in a local hospital. The crowd had also been swelled by a large Celtic away support. Travelling by road to Aberdeen at the time was a long and arduous journey and usually involved an overnight stay (this remained the practice for some supporters clubs through until the 1970s) – as well as a good excuse to get a right good drink in.
The cup game wasn’t the only event in the Granite City that day . . .
A ‘hunger march’ had been organised in Scotland by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM) to protest against oppressive ‘means testing’ and reduced unemployment benefit rates which had been introduced and were now being administered rigidly by a nation-wide Unemployment Assistance Board. Known as the ‘Scottish March Against the Unemployment Act’ it started in Aberdeen and would end up two weeks later in Glasgow in a 30,000-strong demonstration in George Square, having gathered support along the way from the north-east through Fife, Lothians and Lanarkshire against the ‘Slave Act’ as the new legislation had been labelled.
It had been predicted that the protest march would meet with little support in Aberdeen, as the journalist Frank Pitcairn* – who walked with the march – wrote in the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker:
“The Labour bureaucrats and the bourgeoise of Aberdeen said there would not be much interest in the start of the march because there was a cup-tie match in Aberdeen that day – Aberdeen playing Celtic. Football, they said, takes the workers’ minds off politics.
The thing that jolted them worse than anything else was the sight of the Celtic boys up for the Cup, standing along the pavements shouting “Red Front” as the marchers passed.”
This was one of a number of significant mass demonstrations that took place during the economic depression of the 1930s with the most famous occurring the following year with the ‘Jarrow Crusade’ march from the north-east of England to Westminster to highlight the lack of jobs and widespread poverty in the region. The campaign against the worst excesses of the Unemployment Act succeeded in securing support from outwith the unemployed and working class and ultimately delayed the introduction of the reduced benefit rates by up to 4 years in parts of Scotland.
There was little celebration among the Celtic support later that day though, with the home team (who at the time played in the city colours of black and gold stripes, with the now well-established red and white not being introduced until four years later) running out 3-1 winners, McGrory scoring Celtic’s consolation. “Glasgow forwards lack punch” said the Glasgow Herald headline. Celtic were putting together a fine team but it would be another year before the League flag returned to Celtic Park – for the first time in ten long years.
The journey back to Glasgow proved memorable for a group of Celtic fans from the Gorbals – for all the wrong reasons. Thirty of them were crowded into the back of a furniture van and heading home “when the van got out of hand at the dangerous corner of the new road at Dunblane, crashed through the wooden fence and hedge, and finally overturned at the foot of an embankment” according to the Herald. There were “fortunate escapes from serious injury” with only three fans having to spend the night in the Stirling Royal Infirmary and all being released the next day.
It was not known whether the driver of the now destroyed furniture van had the permission of his employer to use the vehicle for the jaunt up north . . .
*Frank Pitcairn – real name Claud Cockburn, he was the son of a diplomat who had gone on to become a Foreign Correspondent with The Times (London, not the Evening Times in Glasgow!) before starting up his own newspaper The Week. As a closet Communist he wrote for the Daily Worker using the Pitcairn pen-name and went on to fight on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War against the fascist coup, where he attracted the ire of George Orwell for promoting Soviet propaganda. He later moved to Ireland and became a novelist and newspaper columnist. It was while working as a sub-editor at The Times that Cockburn and some colleagues devised a competition to see who could write the dullest headline for the newspaper. Cockburn won with his entry: “Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead.” Pitcairn also coined the phrase: “Believe nothing until it is officially denied.”
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