TELEGRAM TAM: Dundee Harp and the Honest Mistake

harp of dundee image from match ticket amended


You may have heard of a football club called Dundee Harp.  It is less likely that you have heard of a player called Tom O’Kane.  Yet if it hadn’t been for an honest mistake, the Harp would hold a world record and today feature in the Guinness Book of Records while the story of O’Kane’s incredible debut for them would resound in the annals of Scottish football and beyond.  Instead, all the plaudits from the most incredible day in Scottish Cup history went to the club’s biggest rivals – and Tom’s former team-mates.


By 1879 the craze of football had well and truly hit Dundee.  It was no surprise that, taking their lead from the establishment of Hibernian FC four years earlier, the city’s sizeable Irish community would set up a club of its own in the image of the team from Edinburgh’s ‘Little Ireland’ in the capital’s Cowgate.  As early as 1851, almost 19% of Dundee’s population was Irish-born – a greater proportion than Glasgow.  The immigrants lived throughout the city but the district of Lochee had (and still has) a strong Irish identity, with one area known for decades as ‘Tipperary’ due to large number of residents who hailed from that particular county in the Emerald Isle.


tipperary lochee

Tipperary, in Dundee’s Lochee, as viewed from St Ann Street


Harp was the name taken by this new club when it was formed in 1879, developing from teams in the Catholic parishes of St Andrew’s and St Joseph’s.  The Hibernian influence was strong and, like the Edinburgh club, Harp were formed as a branch of the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) which was headquartered in the Tay Street Halls, a short distance from St Andrew’s RC Cathedral on the Nethergate.


In the earliest years Harp played their games on open ground at Magdalen Green, close to the Tay Bridge which infamously collapsed in a storm in December 1879.  In 1884 they set up a permanent home called the Harp Athletic Grounds near the centre of Dundee and its port on East Dock Street.  Initially Harp played in green and white but in the 1880s adopted an all-green shirt with a harp on the chest and black stockings.


dundee harp jersey 2


Over the last century the main rivalry in Tayside football has been between Dundee FC and Dundee United but back in the 1880s, as the sport developed in the region, the keenest rivals were the Harp and Arbroath (founded a year earlier in 1878).  Both were founder members of the Forfarshire Football Association when it was created in 1883 with 18 member clubs (12 from the city of Dundee).  The Forfarshire Cup became the most sought-after football honour in the area and it was in this competition that the rivalry was forged.


The cup was won in its inaugural season by Arbroath in December 1883, beating Harp 2-1 in a feisty encounter which ended five minutes early due to a crowd invasion.  Harp got their revenge a year later, knocking out Arbroath in the semi-final and beating another Arbroath team 15-1 in the final!  One year on and Harp won the cup again, beating Arbroath once more (5-3) before an impressive crowd of 11,000 at West Craigie Park in Dundee.


harp v arbroath advert


Harp’s dominance of football in the area was emphasised when the won the cup for a third year in a row in 1886.  The Irish club were also winners of the prestigious Dundee Charity Cup three years running from 1884-1886, making them the best team in the city at that point.


One of the reasons for Harp’s success over the Red Lichties (so named because of the red light in Arbroath harbour that used to guide fishing boats home) was their having tempted their rival’s best defender away in September 1885.  Arbroath-born Tom O’Kane was a formidable full-back, the son of an Irishman and a Kirkcaldy woman, who in a few years would be a signing target for Scotland’s newest combination of Irishmen:  Celtic of Glasgow.  He had won a medal with Arbroath when they had won the first Forfarshire Cup in 1883.


His decision to join the Harp in favour of his home-town team made him a target for abuse any time he donned a green jersey at Gayfield.  Almost 50 years later, an Arbroath man who was then resident in London wrote to the Arbroath Herald in 1932 reminiscing about the ‘awful booin’ that O’Kane received in clashes between the teams.  Tom took it all in good spirit and continued to live in Arbroath throughout his career.  In a match report from 1889 the Dundee Evening Telegraph reports that ‘Tom O’Kane had to stand a good deal of banter from the spectators, which he seemed to rather like, occasionally smiling approval.’


While the Forfarshire Cup was the regular battleground between the green shirts of Harp and Arbroath’s maroons, the nationwide Scottish Cup opened up a new front in their rivalry.  In 1878-9 Arbroath made it as far as the third-round before a narrow defeat to Hearts in Edinburgh.  Harp equalled this feat in the 1882-3 competition before losing to Dunblane (who had knocked out Arbroath in the previous round).



hibernians v harp match ticket, hampden museum



The teams then met each other in the third-round of the Scottish Cup the following year.  After a draw at Gayfield, Harp ran out 2-1 winners in a replay. Although it was another indicator of their dominance of their rivals along the coast, Harp were beaten heavily (5-0) in the next round by one of Scotland’s best-known clubs, Vale of Leven, who had won the Scottish Cup three years in succession from 1877-1879.  Vale again made it all the way to the final again this season against Queen’s Park but failed to appear, resulting in a walkover decision in favour of the Spiders.


The following season, 1884-5, both teams were drawn against each other yet again in the big cup – this time in a first-round tie to be held at Gayfield.  The men in maroon enjoyed victory for a change but it was the Scottish Cup of 1885-6 which was to prove historic for both Forfarshire rivals – gloriously for one and tragically for the other.




In order to boost their chances of advancing even further in the Scottish Cup this time around, Harp made the bold move to approach Tom O’Kane as the new football season got underway.  The Dundee team persuaded him to sign – no doubt highlighting his Irish lineage and offering an under-the-table financial inducement – before the first-round fixtures in the Scottish Cup were played:  which meant that O’Kane was bound to them for the rest of that season.  This had the added benefit of undermining Arbroath’s prospects of advancing in the national cup also and weakening them in Forfarshire Cup.


Both clubs had drawn unfancied opposition from Aberdeen at home in the first-round.  Aberdeen Rovers, who had only just been admitted to the SFA, were the visitors to East Dock Street and the Dundee Courier didn’t rate their chances at all in this, their first Scottish Cup encounter: ‘they will be no more heard of this season, the strong probability being that the green jerseys will get into double figures.’


Their city counterparts who were heading to Gayfield to play the Maroons were also deemed to have little chance of survival according to the Courier: ‘The Arbroath will also participate in the slaughter of the innocents.’


ad harp v aberdeen rovers. courier


Tom O’Kane’s career at the Harp could not have got off to a better start: at half-time his team was 16-0 up.  The fact that Aberdeen Rovers had started the game with only 10 men did little to help their cause (although the Courier argued that ‘this fact could not have discounted the result to any appreciable extent.’)


The second-half proved even better for Dundee’s Irishmen.  They scored a goal on average almost every two minutes.  The Courier outlined how easy it was for them as Rovers failed to put up hardly any resistance: ‘The Harp had the game all their own way, as from start to finish it was only a question of walking up to their opponents’ goal and putting through the leather.’


The goals went in at such a rate the referee had difficulty keeping count of them.  While there was no doubt the game provided a clean-sheet for Tom and his defensive colleagues, the exact number of goals scored by the Harp wasn’t immediately clear.


At the game’s end the referee remarked to one of the Harp committeemen: ‘That was a great score today and I had an awful job recording the 37 goals.’  The Harp official replied: ‘You’re wrong, it’s 35 goals for we kept a note of the goals and the scorers.’  The referee was only too happy to accept what he was told to be the correct score: ‘Oh, that will be alright, and I’ll just send off that score.’  The match official went on to inform SFA headquarters in Glasgow that the game had ended:  Harp 35, Aberdeen Rovers 0.


There was some talk of a record score having been achieved in what was still the infant years of association football but the focus quickly turned to celebration.  Tom O’Kane decided to treat his team-mates in recognition of both his debut and their historic feat in scoring 35 goals without a reply.  The Harp players and committee headed to the Dundee Arms hostelry on the High Street, next to the Caird Fountain, where Tom treated them to the popular delicacy of tripe and potato supper.


dundee arms, high street, dundee


In the midst of this celebration in the Dundee Arms, Tom hit upon the idea of a wind-up of his old team-mates who had been ribbing him about his decision to ‘betray’ them in favour of the Harp.  He suggested to the club secretary that a telegram be sent to the Arbroath committee advising them of Harp’s monumental achievement, given that there were no Saturday evening or Sunday papers or even radio at the time which would have carried the football scores.  The Harp committee were only too happy with the suggestion, one commenting ‘This will take the cockiness out of the Gayfield brags.’


With much good humour, the wire was dictated and then sent from a Dundee postal office.  The humour turned to hilarity when, within an hour, a telegram was received in response from Arbroath’s committee – advising that they had gone one better than the Harp by beating their Aberdonian opponents by 36-0!  This was taken in the good spirit intended by the joyous players and officials and helped fuel the celebrations in the Dundee Arms.


A while later after more than a few alcoholic refreshments, Tom O’Kane bade farewell to his new team-mates as the party continued in his absence – he had to catch the last train get him to Arbroath, where he still stayed.  On arriving at Arbroath East Station he bumped into a familiar face, Police Constable George Clark, and asked him if he’d heard about the great victory.  PC Clark certainly had, responding: ‘It was that Tom but Dave Stormont shouldna hae scored aff seven goals.”


Tom O’Kane was confused.  He knew that Dave Stormont was a local referee but not at the amazing game at Harp Athletic Grounds that day. He asked the constable to explain the seven goals and was told that, at the end of the game at Gayfield that day, the referee was unsure of seven of the goals ‘scored’ by the home team so he had chalked them off, leaving a final score of:  Arbroath 36, Bon Accord 0.


It slowly dawned on Tom that the telegram sent by the Arbroath committee had not been issued in jest – they had in fact gone one better than the Harp!


There followed a sleepless night in the O’Kane household.  First thing in the morning, before the trains were running, he had a quick breakfast and set out on foot to walk the 18 miles from Arbroath to Dundee.  He went in search of the Harp’s committee to see if they could make contact with the match referee and hopefully persuade him that he was correct after all – and that the score in the match should be recorded as Harp 37, Aberdeen Rovers 0.


It was to no avail.  The referee had already submitted the 35-0 scoreline to the SFA’s headquarters in Carlton Place, Glasgow.  It could not now be altered. The record was Arbroath’s – by a single goal.


A few days later Britain’s best spelling sports paper, the Athletic News based in Manchester, carried what – from a Harp perspective – was the awful truth and now a matter of public record: ‘There was a terrible slaughtering of the innocents on Saturday.  Between them, the Bon Accord and Rovers lost 71 goals.  Arbroath have thus the honour of establishing a record so far as goal-taking is concerned.  Aberdeen, from these figures, is evidently low in football.  Saturday’s work will forever stand against them.’


For Arbroath, it assured them of an element of fame throughout the football world.  In contrast, the Harp would ultimately slip into obscurity.  If only that committeeman hadn’t made the honest mistake of changing the referee’s mind about the 37 goals he thought had been scored by the green jerseys . . .


arbroath scarf world record



The 36-goal margin remains a world record to this day – no-one in Arbroath could have thought that a wet and windy Gayfield afternoon by the North Sea in 1885 (no football stadium in Europe lies closer to the sea) would make the town famous.  In 2016 the long-standing achievement came under threat when an Ecuadorian Third Division team, Pelileo Sporting Club, beat Indi Native 44-1.  Guinness World Records refused to ratify that in favour of the Arbroath score on that basis that they only accept sports records which occur at a top-level, whether it be professional, international or pre-eminent amateur.


Arbroath and Harp met yet again in the Forfarshire Cup Final just 12 weeks on from the record-breaking Scottish Cup tie before an 8,000 crowd.  A tiny measure of revenge was had as Harp ran out 5-3 winners with the Courier describing Tom O’Kane as ‘an impassable barrier’ in the midst of yet more cat-calls from his own townsfolk.





Dundee Harp continued to foster good relations with Hibernian and followed their lead in accepting invitations to take part in charity matches the length and breadth of Scotland.  In April 1887 the Harp took part in a game against Clyde which was organised by Brother Walfrid to support the Poor Children’s Dinner Table that he was running at Sacred Heart School in Bridgeton.



clyde v dundee harp match advert barrowfield may 8th


Tom O’Kane and his fellow full-back Gilmarton featured in the Glasgow Observer match report and along with other Harp players and officials met the Marist brother and others involved in founding Celtic FC for a post-match dinner in the school dining rooms.  It was little surprise that, just over a year later, the Harp provided the opposition at the second match Celtic played at home on 9th June 1888.  The new Irish club won narrowly by 1-0 but Harp’s best player was identified in the match report in the Scottish Umpire: ‘O’Kane for the Harp was in grand style and treated the spectators to a fine display of long kicking.’


There was speculation that summer that Celtic were interested in signing O’Kane and there were even reports at one point that he had joined up.  It did not come to pass and in Tom’s obituary in the Dundee Evening Telegraph fifty-two years later it stated: ‘O’Kane, who played football for 18 ½ years was a member of the Harp team when Celtic offered to sign him, an offer which he declined.’  A year later Tom re-joined Arbroath after four years with the Harp.  He remained involved in local football for many years as a referee and also as a coach.


The strong bonds forged between Dundee Harp and Celtic were evidenced again in 1910 when early Celtic star Tom Maley returned to the city with the club, who had then – under his brother Willie’s management – had just won the League title for a record 6th year in a row.  In his regular column in the Glasgow Observer Maley wrote: ‘The Tay Street Hall and its surroundings were practically my first haunts in Dundee well-nigh a quarter of a century ago . . . A prominent figure in the football life of Dundee Harp in those days was Mr Hogan, and right pleased I was to see him still in active service . . .  What ardent Celts they all are to be sure, and how closely and keenly they follow the Celts’ progress.  Were the Celts a Dundee organisation, the chances of being killed with kindness were far from being remote and no matter the opposition a gate would always be at their service.’


Today, Dundee is home to a large number of Celtic supporters clubs including the Dundee Celtic Travel Club which started running buses to Celtic Park back in 1948.


In the 1890s, Harp FC began to falter.  The club faced financial difficulties and couldn’t meet the guarantees for visiting clubs, leading to suspension by the SFA.  It is believed that the last game ever played by Dundee Harp at their home ground on East Dock Street was the first ever game played by a new club in the city, formed from a merger of East End and Old Boys.  Called ‘Dundee FC’ this new club drew 3-3 with the Harp before going on to play Rangers in the Scottish League the following Saturday.  Dundee won the Forfarshire Cup at their first attempt that season.


After a hiatus lasting more than a decade, a new Irish club was formed in Dundee in 1909.  Dundee Hibernian’s first game took place on 18th August at a ground re-named Tannadice Park and the opposition was Hibernian from Edinburgh.  Dundee Hibs almost went out of business in the 1923/4.  The club its name to Dundee City and then Dundee United – and within a few years they established themselves as rivals to Dundee FC and they became the only two professional clubs left in the city.


Dundee Hibernian first game v Hibernian 1909.jpg

1909 – Dundee Hibernian’s inaugural match against Hibernian of Edinburgh


Tom O’Kane passed away at the grand age of 73 in 1940.  He lived his entire life in Arbroath and is buried in the cemetery adjoining the town’s famous abbey alongside his parents and siblings.  Less than a ten-minute walk away in Millgate is the site of what was the Central Dining Rooms.  It was in one of those rooms that Arbroath FC’s managing committee held their weekly meetings until 1925 when Greater Gayfield was opened with more spacious terracing and offices, just sixty yards from where the original ground stood.


For over four decades, on the wall of that committee room, there hung a frame in which sat the very telegram that Tom O’Kane had encouraged the Harp’s committee to send to Arbroath, boasting of what they thought was their world-record 35-0 victory.


In football’s perennial battle of one-upmanship, it was the ‘Gayfield brags’ who had both the world record and the last laugh.



arbroath world record breakers postcard



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On a wing and a prayer – the 1931 Scottish Cup Final

In 1931 Celtic were hoping to win the oldest trophy in world football for the thirteenth time.  For Motherwell, two years older than their Glasgow counterparts, it was their first-ever major cup final appearance – and their fans turned out in great numbers to support them.  40 special trains as well as 237 trams and 79 buses per hour delivered a crowd of 104,803 to Hampden on what the Motherwell Times described as “a glorious spring day” with the only drawback being a stiff wind blowing from end to end.


Celtic 1930 to 31

Motherwell team 1930s

 Bhoys against (Steel)Men – the 1931 squads


There was well-founded optimism amongst the Lanarkshire contingent.  While Celtic, still managed by the grand old man Willie Maley, enjoyed “a tradition of invincibility” over Motherwell in the Scottish Cup competition, Maley’s good friend and counterpart John ‘Sailor’ Hunter had put together the best Fir Park side to date.  They presented a real challenge to both Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish League:  from 1927 through to 1934 they would secure a top 3 finish each season, often splitting the Glasgow teams.


John Sailor Hunter and Willie Maley Cup Final Managers

Old Pals Act:  Willie Maley and Sailor Hunter


While Celtic had the great Jimmy McGrory up front, the brave and dependable Johnny Thomson in goal and craftsmen like Charlie Napier, Alec Thomson and Bertie Thomson available to turn on the style, this team of Steelmen played a brand of football that had attracted a lot of admirers.  The focus was on the forward line spearheaded by Willie MacFadyen, a strong and mobile centre-forward who could rival McGrory in the goal-scoring stakes (the following season MacFadyen would score 52 goals in the League – a Scottish record that still stands).  On the right wing there was the dependable John Murdoch who was ably supported by John McMenemy – son of the Celtic legend ‘Napoleon’ and an ex-Celt himself who had picked up a winner’s medal in the 1927 final.


Jimmy McGrory cig card 2

‘Send for McGrory!’ – Celtic’s famed centre-forward


The left-wing was the real danger area for Celtic though.  George Stevenson and Bobby Ferrier were known as the ‘Rolls and Royce of Scottish football’ for good reason: they were “a species of perfection which captivated they eyes, and transfixed the full-backs, of a generation.” They were not only incredibly skilful individuals, they combined with deadly effect to net a total of 424 goals between them in their Motherwell careers.  It was unusual for any non-centre forward to strike up such a rate of goals.


Bob Ferrier cig card

Bobby Ferrier, a Motherwell legend


The huge terraces at Hampden were a feast of colour that Saturday afternoon.  The Celtic contingent had turned up in considerable numbers for the club’s 21st cup final appearance (having won 12): “At the West terracing a dense column of green handkerchiefs greeted the eyes.” The distinct claret and amber of the Motherwell fans (the club had recently adopted these colours in favour of blue) was very much in evidence too:

As against the waving of the green there was the display of the “Knowetop Laddies” with their block letters, standing out in bold relief on the crowded slopes, the letters forming the word M O T H E R W E L L.  From hundreds of voices there came the shout “Motherwell” the chorus of the “Knowetop Laddies” as they completed their display.

We are familiar with fan displays inside stadia in the modern era but this was an unusual sight in grounds in the 1930s (although brake club banners were often taken into games back then).  Knowetop Primary School still sits directly behind the East Stand at Fir Park, opposite the main stand.  This is the area of the ground occupied by their ultras group, the Motherwell Bois.

It was Motherwell, playing with the wind behind them, who settled into the game first and their fans who were the first to cheer.  A mere 6 minutes had passed when a “swift grounder” from Stevenson deflected off the foot of Celtic captain Jimmy McStay to beat a despairing Johnny Thomson, whose fingers reached the ball but couldn’t stop it crossing the line.  “A thundering cheer rent the air” above the Mount Florida end of Hampden while the Celtic support looked on in silence.


A section of the crowd in 1931 final

Some of the crowd in the Main Stand at the 1931 Cup Final at Hampden


If you weren’t at the game itself, you stood little chance of knowing the score.  As well as no mobile phones or television in the 1930s, the cup final was not broadcast live on the radio (the BBC had a 15-minute report on the game which would only be read out at 6pm).  Back in Motherwell a large crowd had gathered outside the office of the Motherwell Times in the town centre where regular notices were being put up in the window thanks to telephone calls from a reporter at Hampden Park.  The crowd grew to thousands as the game progressed.

There was a touch of ingenuity on show:  one group of Motherwell fans had brought a basket full of pigeons with them to Hampden.  This was in an age when pigeon-fancying was all the rage:  it’s more likely that you’d get a bag of smoke bombs and flares past Police Scotland into Saturday’s final then a basket full of doos. It had been agreed before the game that if Celtic scored then a black pigeon would be released into the air to return to Lanarkshire; and if the Fir Park team scored it was white pigeon that would be sent home to convey the good news.  Celtic were now a white pigeon and a goal down.

The Celtic team tried to get a foothold in the game but it was Motherwell who maintained the pressure.  MacFadyen missed an open goal and Thomson was called to save from both Murdoch and Stevenson.  In the 20th minute a shot from McMenemy would likely have been saved by the Celtic ‘keeper also if it wasn’t for the unfortunate intervention – yet again – of Jimmy McStay, whose left leg sent it away from the Fifer and into the Celtic net.  Two deflected goals, two-nil to Motherwell – and only twenty minutes played on the Hampden Park clock.  Another white pigeon went up in the air and over the city . . .


John Thomson saves v Mwell

Motherwell attack – but Johnny Thomson saves on this occasion


Celtic were now trying desperately to bring McGrory into the game to help pull a goal back.  He was being marked closely by Motherwell’s central defender, Alan Craig, and a personal battle was developing between them.  It was reported that Craig’s “bottling” of McGrory was not relished by the Celtic man whose fouls in response led to McGrory being “booed” by Motherwell fans in the main stand.  When Craig appeared to handle the ball in the box, it was the Celtic fans who were venting their spleen as no penalty was awarded.  Things were getting heated, Celtic were clawing their way back into the game – and then MacFadyen had a chance to put Motherwell three goals ahead but his header floated just over the crossbar.  Celtic survived until half-time.

Once again, the M O T H E R W E L L boards were raised aloft during the interval as the Lanarkshire fans realised their team had one solid hand on the famous trophy.  They were forty-five minutes away from glory.

Celtic started the second half at a frantic pace.  Bertie Thomson was the most impressive of the front players, creating chances and helping pin the Motherwell defence back.  McGrory was only being fed scraps though.  ‘Sailor’ Hunter changed his team’s tactics, drawing back Stevenson, McMenemy and Ferrier to help fend off Celtic, leaving only McFadyen and noted poacher Murdoch up high on the pitch to grab a third goal if the chance arose.

McGrory was being effectively marshalled by Craig.  Celtic kept the pressure up but clear-cut chances were limited.   As the minutes ticked away on the clock on the Main Stand (this was destroyed in a fire in 1945) the urgings of the Celtic support grew quieter.  Then there was another claim for a penalty – another Motherwell player hand-balled in the box – but once again Referee Craigmyle said no, awarding a corner instead, to the fury of the Celtic players and support.  Both Peter Scarff and Bertie Thomson chased the referee around the goalposts (and there were claims of man-handling by the Celts) but he stood his ground.


McGrory v Craig hand ball 1931

Hand-ball?  No penalty, says ref Craigmyle


Into the last 10 minutes and the Motherwell defenders were now clearing the ball at every opportunity, the neat build-up play of the first half abandoned.  Goalkeeper McClory helped run down the clock by deliberately taking his time over bye-kicks.  A large group of jubilant Motherwell fans left Hampden (bizarrely!) to head for Kings Park station be the first to arrive back in the town to spread word of their famous victory.

They were not alone in assuming that the Celts were done:  one Glasgow newspaper editor, desperate to get the jump on his rivals, gave the order to print the front page declaring that Motherwell had won the cup.  Matters appeared settled.

There were seven minutes left to play when another handball by Craig, outside the box this time, saw Celtic awarded a free-kick.  Charlie Napier, known to all as ‘Happy Feet’, stepped up to take it.  He had recently scored direct from a similar position against Dundee United.  Motherwell accordingly massed a large defensive wall in front of him.  This was a crucial mistake.  “The cunning Napier then rolled the ball wide of that labour-intensive structure” for McGrory to burst into the space behind – finally free of the constraints of Craig.  The Garngad man lunged at the ball, managing to get a toe on to it which “turned it astutely into the net in a twinkling.”  It was 2-1.

There was no time for celebrations as McGrory grabbed the ball from the net and raced back to the centre – pointing to the Hampden clock.  Seven minutes left.  The message to his team-mates and the Celtic support was unmissable:  we can save the day.  The King’s Park end of the old ground was alive with green flags and handkerchiefs being waved fervently in the air.


Hampden Park 1930s

Hampden from the air – in the 1930s


The minutes passed and still Celtic kept coming.  “Six times in the last five minutes the Celts were beaten back.”  It was like trench warfare and Motherwell kept coming out on top, holding their line firmly.  And then the Hampden clock moved into the last minute of the game.

Despite their best efforts, Celtic had apparently failed.  The Motherwell directors were receiving warm congratulations from their Celtic counterparts on their first Scottish Cup success.  Newspaper reporters closed over their notebooks in the press box.  A white pigeon was released from the Mount Florida terracing in the direction of the famous steel town.  The Knowetop Laddies raised the boards again, one after the other, in celebration:  M O T H E R W E

As the first L was being raised, there was a pause.  Bertie Thomson had sent over a high ball from the touchline.  McGrory saw a chance.  A cry went up near him of “Go for it Alan!”  There were two Alans in the vicinity: defender Craig and goalkeeper McClory.  Both went for the ball.  In 1976, Jimmy McGrory still remembered clearly what happened next: “It was en route for my head when Craig intercepted . . . the ball skimmed off his head and exploded in the back of the net behind ‘keeper McClory who was beaten to the world.”

In the dying seconds, Craig’s own goal had presented the equaliser Celtic craved.  The final tie was deadlocked at 2-2.  There would be a replay.

The Glasgow Observer columnist ‘Man In the Know’, Celtic’s greatest media cheerleader, described the scene a few days later in the weekly paper:

“The Celtic players dashed towards Bert Thomson who was simply overwhelmed under an avalanche of hysterical congratulations.  The great little Celt was seized, hugged, patted, kissed – and I don’t know what, while the Motherwell players, astounded, incredulous, made their way heavily to midfield.  Three seconds remained for play . . . But, if the incidents on the field of play were remarkable, how shall I describe the scenes on the terracing?  It would take Dante or Milton to do justice to the unforgettable spectacle.  I never witnessed anything remotely approaching the scene and probably never shall.  Talk about earthquakes, landslides, tidal wavs, and what not!  The upheaval on the terracing suggested the sudden, furious awakening of a slumbering mammoth . . . The crowd went made.  The air was black with upflung hats and caps.  Men, utter strangers, seized each other, thumped each other, wrestled, danced, shook hands, shouted, laughed, cried, cheered and, in a word, went plumb crazy with joy.”

There was one image, among the bedlam, which remained with the great McGrory: “As I ran upfield I stole a glance back and saw a picture of dejection which lives me to this day – some 45 years later.  Craig was lying on the ground in front of goal pounding the turf with his fists.  He was still there seconds later as the referee signalled the end of the match.  Poor Alan.  He was so near a Cup medal.”

Stop the clocks.  Celtic lived to fight another day.



THE REPLAY was held four days later on Wednesday 15th April at 5pm (there were no floodlights at Hampden at the time).  Celtic had never lost a Scottish Cup replay before.  Two goals each from McGrory and Bertie Thomson saw the Bhoys run out 4-2 winners.  This meant Celtic could take the coveted Scottish Cup with them on the club’s first ever tour of the United States and Canada a few weeks later.



The 1931 Scottish Cup winners




SUCCESS WAS MERELY DELAYED for Motherwell though as the following season was to prove the greatest in the club’s history, winning the Scottish League Championship for the first and (to date) only time.  The Fir Parkers were the only team between 1904 and 1947 to beat either Glasgow giant to the flag.  They did so in some style too, five points clear of Rangers and eighteen ahead of Celtic.  In the 1930s Motherwell were to appear in three Scottish Cup Finals – and lose them all.  They finally got their hands on the cup in 1952 for the first time.


A CUNNING PLAN was hatched by Motherwell’s defence to ensure there was no repeat of the confusion that led to Celtic’s equaliser at Hampden, as the Motherwell Times reported in the week after the final: “To avoid a mistake of that kind occurring in the future it is proposed to call the goalkeeper ‘Jock’.”


TRIUMPH TURNED TO TEARS for Celtic in the years that followed the 1931 Cup Final.  Before the decade was over, three of Celtic’s cup winning team had tragically died, all in their twenties.  Best known is John Thomson who died following an accidental collision later that year at Ibrox.  Two years on, following a long illness, 25-year-old Peter Scarff passed away after contracting tuberculosis.  In 1937, Bertie Thomson died in his mother’s arms due to heart failure.  Their names are still revered in Celtic circles.


Bertie Thomson headstone (2)

BERTIE, OF CELTIC FC – Bertie Thomson’s headstone 


PORCELAIN MODELS of the Scottish Cup were gifted to each of the Celtic players who took part in the 1931 success.  The one presented to Peter Scarff remains a proud possession of his family in Linwood where the local Celtic Supporters Club is still named after him.


Peter Scarff mini trophy 1     Peter Scarff mini trophy 2


LUCKY WHITE HEATHER as Motherwell fans tried a number of tricks and treats to ensure success in the cup final replay:

Black cats, spiders and pigeons



MUCH A’DOO ABOUT NOTHING as the final word about this famous final goes to the Motherwell Times: ‘In the soup today:- The pigeon that set off with the glad tidings for Motherwell two minutes before the end.”


Celtic with SC on US tour

Jimmy McGrory and team-mates show off the world’s oldest football trophy in the USA during the 1931 summer tour




One Hundred Years of Scottish Football – John Rafferty

A Lifetime in Paradise – The Jimmy McGrory Story

100 Cups – The Story of the Scottish Cup – Hugh Keevins & Kevin McCarra

Rhapsody In Green – Great Celtic Moments – Tom Campbell & Pat Woods



Read more about the record-breaking Jimmy McGrory here . . .

Header Ritchie



CPSouth-Stand-Tram-Border No floodlights


It was my Uncle Peter (Galvin) who took me to my first ever Celtic game.  I was aged 8 at the time and we lived in Govan although, as my Uncle Peter liked to point out, we didn’t support our local team!

It was 1937 and the season hadn’t long started.  We had been on holiday in Girvan but my Uncle Peter was anxious to return to take me to Celtic Park for the first time.  We got the bus from Govan to Argyle Street.  Then we jumped on the no.9 tram to Auchenshuggle, which stopped on London Road, dropping us in front of Celtic Park.

It was a League Division 1 game v Hamilton Academicals.  Celtic had a great team at the time.  The world-famous Jimmy McGrory was still playing in the Hoops – it would prove his last season.  Celtic greats including Jimmy Delaney, Willie Buchan, Malcolm MacDonald, Willie Lyon and Bobby Hogg were all in the team that day.  This Celtic team would go on to win the title and also the Empire Exhibition Cup that season, laying claim to being the best team in Britain at the time.  Willie Maley, who had played in Celtic’s first ever game 49 years earlier, was still the manager.


Celtic 1938 Empire Exhibition trophy winners


Celtic Park looked huge.  This was before I’d been to Hampden.  The Jungle, across the pitch from me, had holes in the roof and wooden crush barriers.  There were no floodlights at Celtic Park at this time (and not until 1959) so there were no evening matches then.  In the war years, if it was foggy the games would start early.  You could hear goods trains running past on the railway line which at that time ran behind the Celtic End (West Terracing).

I was in the enclosure down at the front of the Main Stand, next to the tunnel.   My Uncle Peter had lifted me up on to the wall and I had my feet on the track just a few feet away from the pitch.  When the police walked along the track they’d tell you to move your feet. And then you’d just move them back on to the track after they’d walked on!

I remember the strong smell of embrocation oil in the air – used by athletes to rub on their body to relieve pain/sprains – coming from the tunnel.  There was no public address system at Celtic Park and the players didn’t do any warm up on the pitch pre-match.  That meant that you didn’t know who was playing until the teams emerged from the tunnel.  And even then it could take time to identify the players as they didn’t have numbers on their shirts or shorts in the 1930s.

Celtic Park 1929 onwards New South Stand from pitch

The Main Stand at Celtic Park – erected in 1929 


There was no Jimmy McGrory that day, who was replaced by Joe Carruth.  My Uncle Peter idolised McGrory.  Joe Carruth was to prove a popular Celt with the fans.  He stepped into the void left when, after McGrory retired in October, Willie Buchan was sold to Blackpool in November.  The Celtic support were up in arms about that.

McGrory played in the 3rd and 4th Celtic games that I saw.  The 4th was to prove his last-ever game for Celtic in October 1937, fourteen years on from his debut.  I only knew that McGrory was appearing that day when my excited uncle shouted out “McGrory’s playing!” as the players ran out from the tunnel on to the pitch.  Jimmy McGrory remains the record top-flight scorer in the history of British football.

Malky MacDonald, regarded by many as the most skilful Celtic player ever, replaced the injured Chic Geatons.  It was a young Celtic team who raced into a quick lead after Joe Carruth scored twice in the first ten minutes.  Hamilton scored half-way through the half though and then equalised just a minute before the interval.


Joe Carruth


It wasn’t long into the second half when Carruth was fouled in the box and Willie Buchan converted the penalty to give Celts the lead again.  About ten minutes later Frank Murphy set up Carruth to score again, making it a hat-trick for him.

The Celtic support realised that, although McGrory was on his way out, it looked as though there was a ready-made replacement waiting to fill his boots in the shape of Joe Carruth.   The Carruth family were already well-known in Glasgow as they ran a Catholic gift shop called ‘Carruth’s Grotto’ which was next door to St Mungo’s Church on Parson Street before it later moved down to the High Street, near Glasgow Cross.


Carruth Grotto


That was my first visit to Paradise but I’ve kept returning every year since.  I am now 88 years old and still a season-ticket holder.  My seat in the Main Stand at Celtic Park is not too far from where I sat on the wall next to the tunnel watching one of the greatest Celtic teams ever come running out over 80 years ago.  It was the start of a beautiful friendship.



The Jungle Cowshed 1949

The Jungle (aka the Hayshed) viewed from the Main Stand in the late 1930s



Frank’s first game was Celtic v Hamilton Accies at Celtic Park on 6th September 1937. 


Celtic won 4-2 (Goalscorers: Carruth (3), Buchan)         Attendance: 14,000


The Celtic team was: Kennaway, Hogg, Morrison, MacDonald, Lyon, Paterson, Delaney, Buchan, Carruth, Crum, Murphy



Willie Maley, Willie Lyons and the Empire Exhibition trophy

Celtic Captain Willie Lyon and manager Willie Maley at the end of season 1937-8 with the Empire Exhibition Trophy




Read about other supporters’ first Celtic experience here.

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A Celtic Retrospective