The Peter Scarff Story “I Wonder If the Crowds Ever Miss Me”

Tragedy has struck Celtic at various times in the club’s history with the death of players at the club.  In its infancy, the club was rocked with the demise due to tuberculosis of the young midfield star Peter Dowds, the first player to die in service.  John Thomson’s name, famed throughout the world for his death during a match protecting the Celtic goal, remains a familiar one to even the younger elements of the Celticsupport while the sad passing of two great Celts and close friends, Johnny Doyle and Tommy Burns, although separated by almost three decades, remains raw in the hearts of many associated with Celtic and beyond.  

The name of Peter Scarff tends to be less well known – yet the life and untimely death of this Celt is an evocative story well worth telling.  

Peter Scarff joined Celtic at the height of Jimmy McGrory’s scoring prowess in the year that ‘The Human Torpedo’smacked a British record eight goals past a beleaguered Dunfermline team in 1928.

Signed by Willie Maley after trying out in a benefit match in Alva, Stirlingshire as a trialist, Peter had been playing for his local parish team, St. Convals in Linwood up until that point.  Maley was heard to snap after the game, “Sign Him!” There could only have been one player he was referring to as it was reported that Peter “had impressed all around the ropes”during the trial.  It was a no-brainer for young Scarff to sign for Maley’s team – he came from a family of dedicated Celtic supporters in Linwood (and they remain dedicated to this day).  

As a precocious talent he was farmed out to Maryhill Hibs for experience, a club who had a history of nursing young Celtic prodigies.  Charlie ‘Happy Feet’ Napier, who later formed a left sided partnership with Peter and one certain Bertie Auld,would also use the same route into the Celtic first team.

20 year-old Peter made his debut against junior club Arthurlie in a home Scottish Cup tie in January 1929.  This was a potential banana skin as Arthurlie had infamously eliminated Celtic from the competition 32 years previously after the furore of the Battles-Divers-Meehan player strike.  History was not to repeat itself, thankfully, as Celtic ran out comfortable 5-1 winners with Peter enjoying some favourable press coverage:  “The new boy Scarff, brought by Celtic from Maryhill Hibernian, is a gem of the first water.  From the first kick, his moves were those of a master.  There was mind and meaning behind every manoeuvre, and the way he made the game for his mates was just a joy to behold.  You often hear the phrase ‘peach of a pass.’ Verily Scarff’s passes are the juiciest peaches.”  The Glasgow Observer was moved to declare that “the success of Scarff and McGrory’s fine displaybrightened us up no end, and we can face the future with confidence.”  The future was indeed bright for young Scarff.

He took Jimmy McGrory’s place in the first team a week later against Hearts and, despite losing 2-1, the first Scarff goal was registered on the Celtic score sheet.  “It was left to the newcomer Scarff, to show the real Celtic touch in neatly eluding 3 opponents and driving a low ball past Harkness. “A really pretty goal and very heartening to the Celtic following.” The following week Peter scored the only goal of the game against St. Mirren and a month later scored his first hat-trick for Celtic, away to Raith Rovers in a 4-1 victory.  He quickly and firmly established himself in the first eleven, scoring 8 goals in 22 appearances in that debut season.  

In his first full season in a Celtic jersey in 1929-30, Peter was on the goal trail early with his 2 goals against Morton at Cappielow securing victory in the first away game.  He followed that up with another hat-trick, this time against Clyde in September in the Glasgow Cup.  It was another Scarff goal that secured a point for Celtic at Tannadice the next month when “he crowned a delightful movement in which the whole forward line participated, by shooting past McGregor from close range.”  He also scored two memorable goals against Rangers in Charity Cup that season, then a valued tournament which attracted big crowds.  While Celtic’s league challenge faltered badly and the team were knocked out the Scottish Cup by St. Mirren in the 3rd round, Peter could reflect proudly on having scored 19 goals in just 27 appearances – second only to Jimmy McGrory himself.  He faced the new season with real enthusiasm that he – and his goals – might help bring Celtic some major silverware for the first time since 1927.  

Season 1930-31 was to prove a landmark season for Willie Maley’s young side.  They fought Rangers toe-to-toe all the way for the League title and ended up losing out by an agonising two points – two draws in the last 3 games proving fatal.  The esteem which Peter Scarff was already held in was evident from the Glasgow Observer’s report of the opening game of the season against Kilmarnock:  “Our big Linwood boy played well in his own fashion tackling with sureness and spreading the ball intelligently . . . I think he has the true Celtic spirit and possesses a strong pair of shoulders and a hefty shot.”  That hefty shot was much in evidence as Peter recorded 22 first-team goals, the same as Charlie Napier – but a fair bit behind the famed McGrory who hit the net 44 times! 

With 101 goals scored in the league it was clear that Celtic’s front line was leading the charge against Rangers.  It was Celtic’s renewed attacking vigour that helped them land the Glasgow Cup in October 1930 – Peter’s first medal as a Celt.  They also had to rely on the traditional Celtic spirit to see them through.  Charlie Napier had to go off injured – no substitutes were allowed – and Peter’s friend, Bertie Thomson from nearby Johnstone, was then sent off.  Despite being reduced to 9 men Rangers continued to receive assistance from their steadfast 12th man: the referee.  Scarff was the victim of one particular decision:  “From the free kick Scarff shot a second goal for Celtic, amid demonstrations of great joy, but to the surprise of the Celts [the referee] gave a free kick in the goal area, whether for offside or fouling no one could say, the crowd yelling disapproval.”  Despite this,Maley’s bhoys stuck to the task and saw the game out, securing an important psychological victory into the bargain.  

The 1930-31 Scottish Cup campaign got underway against East Fife at Methil in what proved a difficult encounter.  A goal down at half time followed by an injury to McGrory, forcing him to move to outside-left, and things were looking bleak.  Charlie Napier secured the equaliser and it looked as though the Celts would have to settle for a replay until, in the dying moments of the game, Peter Scarff struck to win the tie.  Successive away victories over Dundee United (3-2) and Greenock Morton (4-1), was followed by a comprehensive beating dished out to Aberdeen at Celtic Park (4-0).  A 3-0 victory over Kilmarnock in the semi-final set up a Cup Final date at Hampden with Motherwell – before a crowd of 104,803.  

Celtic struggled to overcome an impressive Motherwell side (who would go on to win the League the following season) and were facing defeat until a Bertie Thomson cross was turned into his own net by Motherwell defender Craig.  This meant that Celtic would have another crack and this time they did not disappoint, running out 4-2 winners in the replay (with a double each from Bertie Thomson and Jimmy McGrory).  For Peter Scarff, who had recently turned 23 years old, it was the pinnacle of a football career which promised much more.  He and Celtic were clearly heading in the right direction.  This was ably demonstrated when he was selected for his first international cap – against Northern Ireland – another measure of his standing at such a young age in the Scottish game.

Scottish Cup success and a first international cup would not be turning the head of this Linwood bhoy though.  A tale recounted to me by a descendant of the Scarff family tells of Peter’s kindness.  A poor flower seller outside Celtic Park used to furnish Peter with a fresh flower for his lapel every day after training.  She was extremely grateful to receive a sum of one shilling for a flower that was on sale for a halfpenny – a figure that was 24 times its value.

Peter and his Celtic team-mates were to celebrate their Scottish Cup success in some style as they departed by cruise ship for Celtic’s first ever tour of North America in the summer of 1931.  Scarff wore a Green/Blue dress shirt in one game instead of the Hoops supposedly because of a kit shortage.  Rumour has it his shirt was stolen by an overzealous American hoops fan.  An item appeared on E-bay in recent years with a claim to being Peter Scarff’s shirt from the tour, asking for an astronomical sum! 

Peter took on the attacking mantle for Celtic on tour with his five goals in a 7-0 win over Montreal Carsteel as Jimmy McGrory had broken his jaw in the previous game against Brooklyn Wanderers.  Peter deputised regularly for McGrory when his injuries received by virtue of his danger kept him on the side-lines.  Jimmy McGrory commented on Peters display against Brooklyn, writing in his diary, “Peter Scarff played a wonderful game at left half.”

In what turned out to be a gruelling tour for the players, the Celtic team boarded an overnight train after the Montreal match to New York for a game against Hakoah Allstars played the next day, when both Scarff and Napier were sent off in a physical match against a team peppered with Hungarian internationals.  The chance to see New York and other great sights of 1930’s America were a genuine thrill for Peter and his team-mates, but many of the games on the demanding tour were overly competitive for friendlies and a number of Celtic players picked up injuries along the way.  The squad were not entirely unhappy to head for home after the final game at the end of June.  

Following the American adventure, Celtic got Season 1931-2 off to a flying start with three straight victories (and 9 goals) in the first three games. McGrory and Scarff were leading the goal-scoring charts for the Bhoys and it was an unbeaten Celtic team with 26 goals in 7 games who travelled to Ibrox on September 5th 1931, full of confidence that they could match the Ibrox team and take the League flag that season.  

The tragedy which unfolded that day at Ibrox is two-fold in nature, but what happened subsequently to Peter Scarff has largely been overshadowed by the loss of his team-mate and goalkeeper John Thomson in an accidental collision at Ibrox that day.  Peter was pictured standing motionless staring at hisfatally injured colleague being stretchered from the pitch.  He himself missed the next two games due to illness, returning the next month to first team action.  Celtic’s league title was beginning to falter in the aftermath of the death of the Prince of Goalkeepers.  Peter Scarff was also unable to shake off theillness which had caused him to miss games.  

On 19th December 1931 Peter Scarff donned the famous Hoops for the 112th and last time – and he was still only 23 years of age.  His appearance that night was cut short after he appeared to cough up blood on the pitch.  This alarming sight generated immediate concern for onlookers.

After tests a diagnosis of tuberculosis was confirmed, a bacterial disease also known as consumption that had been a scourge in recent times.  It was this disease that had taken Peter Dowds of Johnstone, a player Willie Maley called “The greatest ever all-round Celt” some 29 years earlier.  

Peter went to a sanatorium in Bridge of Weir in the hope that he might make a recovery.  Intermittent reports in the newspapers suggested improvements in his condition and there was hope that he might yet return to Celtic Park and resume his thrilling playing career.  Peter’s fiancée, Marjory Boyle, later recalled that he kept his spirits up despite struggling to recover.  “He kept telling me that he would soon be better in spite of what the doctors had said and would soon be playing for Celtic again.”  They had met at a time when Peter was already a regular Celtic first team player and as they fell in love he made it clear to her what his priorities were:  “I’m wearing a Celtic Jersey and I’m playing for you.  Those two things are the most important things in my life.”  

As weeks turned into months remaining in the sanatorium, despair started to set it in as Marjory subsequently revealed in the Weekly News, “Deep down Peter knew that his playing days were over.  He knew that he would never wear the White and Green again.  Alone, he who had been used to the shouts of thousands, waited every Saturday for news of the Celtic games. “I wonder if the crowds ever miss me, he once said.”

Peter Scarff lost his struggle with tuberculosis and, at the age of only 24, he passed away on the 9th December 1933 at his home at 33 Bridge Of Weir Rd. Linwood. His funeral service in Kilbarchan Cemetery took place after a requiem mass at St. Conval’s Chapel in his home village. 

Many travelled by special bus from Glasgow while others got the tram to Paisley’s outskirts and walked the rest of the distance to the isolated cemetery.  The Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette dated the week after his funeral commented, “The mourners stood around with bared heads during the committal service and many of them were visibly affected by the occasion, and the tears were in no way hidden when just before the interment Manager Maley of Celtic laid the green and white Celtic Jersey on the coffin.  The young Celtic player Jimmy Delaney was heard to remark, “I hope they do that for me.”

A report by the Weekly News on the funeral reported that “A poignant moment was that when as the coffin was leaving the Church a poorly dressed old woman bustled through the crowd and placed on the coffin a humble spray of flowers.” This old woman was the flower seller from outside Celtic Park who had walked barefoot from Glasgow to pay her respects to Peter Scarff for his generosity.  It was a lovely, touching tribute.  

The young Celtic player and Scottish internationalist was dead, just over 2 years after his team-mate John Thomson.  It was a few years before Celtic’s first eleven properly recovered from the loss of both men.  It is easy to draw parallels between them, two brilliant young Celts who both played in the same team, never realising their full potential for Glasgow Celtic in heart breaking circumstances.  Had Peter Scarff lived he would have went on to play at his peak alongside household names such as Jimmy Delaney, Malky MacDonaldand Johnny Crum who were leading lights in Willie Maley’s last, great Celtic team who went on to win the Empire Exhibition Cup in 1938.  Peter would also have had the opportunity to play before Europe’s biggest ever football attendance, a jaw-dropping 146,433, in the Scottish Cup finalversus Aberdeen at Hampden in 1937.  

Peter is commemorated by The Peter Scarff Linwood Celtic Supporters Club established in 1947 in his name.  The club remains active to this day and members of Peter’s family have been involved with the club since its inception to the present day.  In December 2013 the Celtic Graves Society and the Peter Scarff CSC organised a commemoration ceremony at Peter’s graveside where a large crowd of Celtic supporters from Renfrewshire and beyond heard eulogies from Peter’s descendant Anne McElhinney, Lisbon Lion Jim Craig, Celtic historian David Potter and Celtic FC Chief Executive Peter Lawwell.  

Although the Scarff and Thomson stories are tragic they are part of the Celtic folklore that helps to make the club’s history the richest and most colourful in British football and beyond.  Their efforts for the Celtic cause in their short but successful playing careers should not be forgotten. 

I think it is right that we should remember Peter Scarff.   

Written by Iain Reynolds.

Former Peter Scarff Linwood CSC Secretary.

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May 14, 2020 4:56 am

Oooops,forgot to say at the beginning that Iain is a good pal,from Johnstone. I’ll maybe get a pint with him this year yet!!

Cheers,mate. Brilliant article.

May 14, 2020 5:05 am

Quite incredible that Celtic should lose two players at such a young age at around the same time. Although Peter Scarff died in 1933 and Johnny Thomson in 1931,Peter was taken off during a match only a few weeks after Johnny’s death,suffering from the early effects of the TB which would kill him.

Bloody hell…

Puff puff
May 14, 2020 5:29 am

What an article. ….

May 14, 2020 6:23 am

Had tears in my eyes reading that very sad .

May 14, 2020 6:25 am

Well done the Celtic Graves Society.

May 14, 2020 7:23 am

Great story well written

Por Cierto
May 14, 2020 7:53 am

Fantastic piece of Celtic History well told, Thank you, Iain. por cierto.

Awe Naw
May 14, 2020 8:21 am

Very good article – well written. Well done. Thanks

Awe Naw
May 14, 2020 8:29 am

So McCormack didn´t vote for Sevco because they are Sevco he just wants to see good top class governance except he was responsible for the minutes where it was unanimously decided … even Sevco that there was no objections to Celtic being awarded the title this season. Yet the minutes from that meeting procured by Mc Cormack failed to mention this. So there has been a few days delay yet again due to this and they have corrected this glaring omission. Only now can the money be finally distributed.

Now was McCormack the governance procurer who is unable to take even minutes properly doing this deliberately or by accident. Either way it looks bad.

McCormack under Aberdeen need careful watching. I hope they go bust and don’t make it.

May 14, 2020 8:32 am

Outstanding, thank you..

Awe Naw
May 14, 2020 8:33 am

Aberdeen under McCormack even

May 14, 2020 8:51 am


If Aberdeen don’t come through this,Stewart Milne could take them out of admin or even reform them after liquidation. Either way,he would get a debt-free entity for a song,having sold a debt-laden millstone for a tidy sum last year.

And the fans who had given him a hard time for years would have to cheer him to the rafters for it!

May 14, 2020 8:53 am

As to how Cormack fell into the Sevco camp,I suspect he asked MacInnes his thoughts on the matter.

Awe Naw
May 14, 2020 8:55 am


lets hope so … I don´t think McCormack needs any any encouragement from anyone to adopt an anti Celtic stance

May 14, 2020 9:00 am

A fine,fine article Iain very sad indeed.

big packy
May 14, 2020 9:05 am

MORNING ALL and JIM, IAiN REYNOLDS ,cap doffed, brilliant article, I had a lump in my throat reading that, remember my grandfather talking about peter scarff ,almost sure he went to his funeral, thanks once again, H.H.

big packy
May 14, 2020 9:29 am

JIM, aff oot dug walking, catch u later

May 14, 2020 9:45 am

Morning all and Packy. A moving and interesting article.
What a club we have with so many legends and characters. For the BEST of reasons.

May 14, 2020 10:36 am

Great article ?

The Gombeen Man
May 14, 2020 10:39 am

Lovely writing. Tragic story, very poignant.


May 14, 2020 12:04 pm


Iain who wrote this is a right good lad,and I found the story while checking through some mails from w-a-y back,looking for something else. Soon as I saw it,I knew it was perfect for our site-and for more reasons than one.

Not only is it superbly put together-he’s on first name terms with everyone at The Mitchell Library!-but it is a tale that needed telling,as for instance I knew the name but not the full tragedy behind it. Iain also has his own connection as he explains above.

But just as important was that I thought it would give us all a wee break from the constant negativity about the game that has been the narrative everywhere since the huns at various clubs started spouting off.

A tragic death of a young man in his prime is a break from negativity? Well,in a way,aye.

If you know your history,probably the first words we learn as Celtic supporters.

May 14, 2020 12:39 pm

Strange how you can enjoy reading something, which at the same time fills you with such sadness. I had never heard of Peter Scarff, or if i had it has certainly somehow slipped my memory. We did a class project on John Thomson in primary school, and i can’t recall Peter ever coming up.
Tragic end to a young mans career through tuberculosis, a horrible life threatening disease then, which is sometimes used these days for curing other diseases.
Thanks for enlightening us Iain ?
Thank you also Peter Scarff ☘


May 14, 2020 12:51 pm

Well here’s a point that is not so dreary about the omnishambles. Alan Rough, one of the best after dinner speakers I have heard, apparently asked the question ‘What if the result of the vote had been 50-50?’
Can you imagine? 🙂
What a laugh that would have been!

May 14, 2020 12:55 pm

I never knew of Peter Scarff.
I do now!
Wonderful article Ian.

The Gombeen Man
May 14, 2020 1:18 pm

Tuberculosis killed 1.5m people in 2018. It’s not something we hear about everyday.

May 14, 2020 1:32 pm

Whatever climbs out of the wrecked landscape that is Scottish football after this crisis is going to be a huge unknown.
How we address this is key.
I can envisage big earners being sold and a mixture of youth and existing experienced players will be the path we choose.
Unless there is a major change in European football we will have to cut our cloth to suit our environment.
Though difficult for our custodians business model i think this will be an opportunity to rebuild the game in Scotland .
Wether our inept/dysfunctional football authorities are capable of seizing this opportunity remains to be seen.

Bada Bing
May 14, 2020 1:35 pm

Centenary Double 32 years ago today

Different Class
May 14, 2020 1:42 pm

That was a great article on young Peter Scarff’s life. I knew part of his story but never knew it was a young Jimmy Delaney who made the comment ” i hope they do that for me” when the Hoops were laid on his coffin by manager Maley. I was chatting to Gary last night and he mentioned Jimmy Delaney was a relative and they did do that. If they ever made a film of Peter’s life the bit with the flower seller wouldnt leave a dry house in the cinema, well i know i had a tear forming when i read it.

Cosy Corner Bhoy
May 14, 2020 2:02 pm

Peter Scarff, now there’s a name from the past. My Dad talked about him quite a lot when I was young and getting taken to games on the train or bus. I’d forgotten all about some of the tales he’d tell me on the way to the match. Didn’t talk much after he met up with family in Glasgow,well to me anyway?, but I’m sure he said he had been at Peter’s funeral, just like Big Packy’s Dad.
It’s good when an article brings back happy memories as my Dad died 61 years ago.
Thank you, Ian .

Cosy Corner Bhoy
May 14, 2020 2:03 pm

Suppose I should have thanked BMCUWP too??!

Different Class
May 14, 2020 2:10 pm

Great article on Peter Scarff. I knew part of his story but didn’t realise it was a young Jimmy Delaney who said ” I hope they do that for me” when the Hoops were placed on his coffin by manager Maley. I was chatting to Gary who is related to Jimmy Delaney and he told me they did do that at his funeral. If they ever made a film of the young Peter Scarff’s life the scene with the flower seller would not leave a dry eye in the cinema, well i know i had a tear forming reading it.

Bada Bing
May 14, 2020 2:24 pm

It seems like Sevco have had to release another 20 members of staff.
The 8 referees and 12 assistants are said to be devistated.

May 14, 2020 2:36 pm

My dad often mentioned Peter Scarff,a mix of Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch. He also talked of a goalie from the 1950s, who died of TB. Celtic are said to have sent him to a sanitorium in Switzerland for a cure.

Bada Bing
May 14, 2020 2:36 pm

The huns chasing ST money, what a surprise…

May 14, 2020 2:37 pm

George Hunter was the goalie’s name.

May 14, 2020 3:03 pm


Troon lad,from the land of the 45 degree trees. So you would definitely have been aware of him,and thanks for the info.

George Hunter via the always excellent CELTICWIKI.

May 14, 2020 3:10 pm


When I was reading through Iain’s article prior to posting it,that was one of the things that jumped out. That GARRY had mentioned only last night about Jimmy Delaney being buried with,if you’ll pardon the expression,full honours.

Very poignant,indeed.

The Gombeen Man
May 14, 2020 3:19 pm

Yep the Sevvies were giving out recently that their SBs had been renewed automatically contrary to what they’d signed up for. ?

May 14, 2020 3:21 pm

Iain Magnificent tribute to Peter Scarff. HH ?

May 14, 2020 3:24 pm

Afternoon all from an overcast chilly Renfrew!
Brilliant tribute to a True Celt! Superb Iain!!

big packy
May 14, 2020 3:26 pm

AFTER NOON ALL and JIM, bada@2-24??

May 14, 2020 3:27 pm

My thoughts exactly about your conversation with Garry!! Poignant indeed!! HH

May 14, 2020 3:30 pm

Big Jim Packy
How are you mate!! I’ve been busy the last couple of days, been lurking but not been posting! How’s the missus and the dugs?
How are you Jim? I hear you’re getting a name for yersel chattin up all and sundry on the pretence of painting a fence!! 🙂

big packy
May 14, 2020 3:35 pm

HI MCAFF, wee joan has been asking about you, keeps saying where is mcaff, im fecking jealous ????

big packy
May 14, 2020 3:38 pm

so listen ghuys where are we on the title being awarded, cant get my old bonce around it, is there still meetings to be held, I know them orange bassas will try every trick in the book.HH.

May 14, 2020 3:39 pm

Big Jim Packy
I had a load of stuff to shift in the garden! Back breaking stuff I’m too auld for!! I had the wee guy helping yesterday which was worthwhile but no doubt will cost me in the long run!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

big packy
May 14, 2020 3:44 pm

MCAFF, you should have phoned me, id have sent jimthetim round to help you??

May 14, 2020 3:50 pm

Big Jim Packy
I needed workers no gaffers….remeber I’ve got experience of him…I’d have ended up doing aw the graft mysel while he chatted up the missus and ma neighbours!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

big packy
May 14, 2020 3:55 pm

MCAFF, you know him better than me???