Monday 5th September – If You Know Your History Special
Need a hero? ~ choose very carefully…
Look no further than our Scottish Cup Winning Team of 1931.
A few have referenced the number of these players who died young.
Our grandfathers must have often wondered what might have been, and Bawheid of this parish has discussed the 1931 Cup Winning team a few times.
The basic story is known to most Celtic fans – particularly around the tragic loss of Johnny Thomson and then Peter Scarff, two astounding talents who would have graced any team in the land.
Today is the 91st Anniversary of the death of John Thomson. He lost his life doing the job he loved. He will never be forgotten…
Tragedy v Rangers 5th September, 1931
A legend grew around the ’31 team that refused to lie down and concede to a powerful Motherwell side, who were holding a two goal advantage with 8 minutes left to play. The newspapers had already started their print runs … Celtic’s 21st Final would NOT realise their 13th Victory …
Fortunately, no-one told the Celtic lads they were beat! The 104,803 crowd then witnessed outstanding tenacity and sheer courage from the Celtic team that memorable day, and the game ended 2-2:
J. Thomson; Cook and McGonagle; Wilson, McStay, and Geatons; R. Thomson, A. Thomson, McGrory, Scarff, and Napier
A goal from, who else, but James Edward McGrory and a long “hopeful” cross from Bertie Thomson caused Craig in the Motherwell defence to panic and sliced a header into his own net … the last ‘kick’ of the ball and …onto history…when the same team ran out to do it all over again 4 days later…in front of another huge crowd.
1931-04-15: Celtic 4-2 Motherwell, Scottish Cup Final (Replay)
J. Thomson; Cook and McGonagle; Wilson, McStay, and Geatons; R. Thomson, A. Thomson, McGrory, Scarff, and Napier.
Scorers: R. Thomson, (2); McGrory, (2).
McClory; Johnman and Hunter; Wales, Craig, and Telfer; Murdoch, McMenemy, McFadyen, Stevenson and Ferrier.
Scorers: Murdoch and Stevenson
Referee: P. Craigmyle (Aberdeen).
This part of the story is well known and the ever excellent Celticwiki pay full attention to detail that has become their hallmark:
Celtic gave each player this memento for winning the 1931 Cup and example above is still kept by Peter Scarff’s family.
To Our purpose:
We consider how Celtic might have fared in terms of winning more trophies, had the team stayed together a little longer.
Thomson, John (1926-31) Born: Kirkcaldy 28 Jan 1909 Died : Glasgow 5 Sep 1931 (Age 22)
Won Scottish Cup aged only 18 in 1927, and was the regular international ‘keeper with 4 Caps including 3 shut-outs.
His contribution can never be underestimated. In 188 appearances he achieved 64 shuts outs (34%) at Celtic.
His tragic death was a cruel blow to his family and many friends.
“His merit as a goalkeeper shone superbly in his play. Never was there a keeper who caught and held the fastest shots with such grace and ease. In all he did there was the balance and beauty of movement wonderful to watch. Among the great Celts who have passed over, he has an honoured place.”
“From The West Of Fife, He Came.” A Line from the John Thomson song that’s sometimes replaced with “From the Wellesley Fife he came” in recognition of the Junior club he signed from.
“They never die who live in the hearts they leave behind.”
John Thomson’s Epitath
Folks a wee nod of acknowledgement due to The Celtic Graves Society. They do sterling work looking after the final resting places of our Heroes:
Willie ‘Billy’ Cook 1929-1932 Born: Coleraine 20 January 1909 Died: 11 December 1992, Liverpool (England) (Age 83)
The last of the ’31 team to pass away.
Right Full- Back signed from Port Glasgow with a great touch – made over a hundred appearances (110) for Celtic but sold to Everton mid- season 1932 to the dismay of Celtic fans who saw him as an ideal replacement for Willie McStay. His move “ to better himself” certainly paid off in terms of over 200 games at Everton including an FA Cup winners badge and 15 Caps for Northern Ireland.
He did return to play against Celtic in the Empire Exhibition match, which he lost… of course … there is little doubt he would have enhanced the Celtic team for many years and another prospect lost to England for money.
William ‘Peter’ McGonagle (1926-1936) Born: Hamilton 30 April 1905 Died: 20 Dec 1956 (Age 51)
Peter was buried in his Celtic shirt and played 325 games and 8 goals at Left Back with a league title win in 1936 plus his two Scottish Cups in 1931 & 1933.
8 full caps for Scotland and there cannot be any doubt this player reached his full potential at Celts.
Ex-Celtic trainer Jack Qusklay said the following very warmly about him on his passing (22 Dec 1956):
“His loyalty to friends, club and country was outstanding. He would never let anyone down and in a a game would play himself into the ground. His stamina was amazing. As a player, he had a wonderful positional sense… a great left foot… one of the best penalty takers Celtic ever had… always reading for a joke and a laugh… enjoyed every moment on the field… my privilege to have known him as a real friend…”
Then this story should warm yer cockles..
“In one notable incident during the Ne’erday clash with Rangers at Ibrox in 1935 Peter McGonagle was infuriated by a late challenge on Joe Kennaway from Rangers’ big forward Jimmy Smith, which had laid out the Celtic keeper. Smith – a player who relied on brute strength rather than skill – had a reputation for his overtly-physical approach to the game and on this occasion Peter McGonagle thought he had gone too far.
With Kennaway receiving treatment and Smith sat in the penalty area (claiming Kennaway of ‘faking it’), the enraged Peter McGonagle picked up the match ball and marched over to where the Rangers forward was sat. Standing directly over Smith, he slowly raised his arms and with considerable force bounced the ball off Smith’s head. Peter McGonagle was sent off for his actions and for some Celtic directors it was an indiscretion too far for Peter McGonagle and from that moment his days at Parkhead looked numbered. However, the Celtic support likely loved it.”
We Still love this guy…
Peter Wilson (1923-1934) Born: Beith 25 Nov 1904 Died: 13 Feb 1983 (age 78)
This ‘country lad’ developed into a cool headed Right-Half and gave us good long service plus 4 Scottish Cups and 1 league Championship. Known as a ‘carpet-player’ he would deliver inch perfect passes into his forward line. A full Scottish Internationalist he is credited alongside Jimmy McGrory with creating the famous Hampden Roar in a match against England in 1933 ( help?)
With 395 Cup and League appearances and 15 goals and described by Willie Maley as “cool and quick thinking” we almost certainly saw the best of this guy before he moved to Hibs.
Jimmy Frederick McStay (player 1920-34 & manager 1940-1945 ) Born: Netherburn 1 April 1895
Died: 31st December 1973 at Stonehouse Hospital (Death Registered on 3rd January 1974) (Age 79)
It’s worth recalling the ’31 team gave us two managers, and the former Larkhall Thistle and Royal Scots Fusiliers player was every inch a Celtic Legend.
472 appearances 8 goals. 5 Scottish Cups: 1923; 1925; 1927; 1931; 1933 and a League Championship in 1926. Plus sundry Glasgow Cups and Charity Cups. His managerial career encompassed the WWII period and limited success with a Glasgow Cup and Charity Cup to his credit.
When we look at old fotos of these Cup Winning teams there is one guy beaming back – made of granite- with a look that tells ye not to mess aboot… that was the look of Jimmy McStay to this wee bhoy.
Now there is much more to learn about a gentleman player and manager.
He clearly fulfilled a wonderful career at Celtic and was 38 when he claimed his 5th Scottish Cup in 1933, before moving to Hamilton Accies to finish his playing days.
Chic Geatons; (1927-1941) Born: Lochgelly 16 July 1907 Died: Lochgelly 20 June 1970 (Age 62)
Yet another fine Fifer made very welcome at Paradise and a huge fans’ favourite. He gave us his very best days and 368 games and 8 goals from Right Half.
Two league titles: 1935 and 1938 Three Scottish Cups 1931, 1933, 1937 PLUS The Empire Exhibition in 1938
Chic retired in 1941 and gave all we could ever ask of a Celtic player.
After football he ran The Pandora bar in Glasgow and died in Lochgelly where Jimmy McGrory attended his Reqium Mass.
Robert (Bertie)Thomson 1929 – 1933 , born Johnstone 12th July 1907 – died 17th Sept. 1937 (Age 30)
He also played in the 1933 Cup Winning team
In 1934 he moved to Blackpool briefly and soon returned ‘home’ to play for Motherwell. In his last game at Celtic Park the fans made a presentation gift to him and cheered him to the very rafters of Paradise. The Celtic support adored this free spirit. Maybe they could all see something of themselves in him.
On 17th September 1937, Robert Thomson passed away in his mother’s arms at 327 Argyle Street, Glasgow. He was just 30 years of age and had died from heart failure on the third birthday of his daughter Roberta.
10,000 lined Argyll Street in Glasgow as his cortege returned him home to Abbey Cemetery in Elderslie. His family erected a huge gravestone with an epitaph ” Bertie of The Celtic” he lies a short distance from a fellow Celt from an earlier era, Peter Douds.
Bertie is a great-uncle of Fairport Convention guitarist and founding member, Richard Thompson ( there is an item somewhere explaining where & why the ‘p’ was added to his surname). Their family origins are in Dumfries.
Richard Thompson at a gig in Paris c1969 wearing the Hoops and one other band member wore the Man City red & black ‘away’ strip. However, as Celts had recently played AC Milan in an European Cup tie. There is the tantalising prospect that they were both wearing shirts from that fixture… to be continued…
Alec Thomson, 1922-1934 born Buckhaven, Fife 14th June 1902 died Larkhall 12th Nov. 1975 ( Age 73)
Alec Thomson’s Glasgow Cup medal, inscribed 1929-30. Celtic in fact never won the ‘Glasgow Football Association Glasgow Cup’ in that year, they won it on each side of that year, so Alec must have had it inscribed on the wrong date. Never-the-less, as you can see it has a beauty that has never been equalled and there have been many Glasgow Cups awarded.
Alec lived a full life. In 12 years in Paradise 451 games and 98 goals winning 4 Scottish Cups and a League Championship. Known as McGrory’s fetch and carry Man and the great man is much more complimentary “Not a strong player but he used to lay on beautiful passes for me“.
Jimmy Edward McGrory, (player 1921-1937 manager 1945 – 1965) Born: Garngad 26 April 1904 Died: 20 October 1982) ( Age 76)
The greatest goal scorer ever in these shores, with 472 goals in 445 league and cup games plus his International (8 in 6 games) and Glasgow & Charity Cup goals. He was European top-scorer twice, in two different decades, and was ranked 8th All-Time Top Scorer in the World….5 Scottish Cups, 4 league titles, and it’s fair to say, most of us know what he went on to achieve at our club – He resisted every attempt to shift him to Arsenal, and there were probably others, he won some memorable trophies with 7-1 League Cup Final and Coronation Cup as a manager, and took us to a ECWC European Semi-Final v MTK Budapest (agg. 3-4)
Jimmy McGrory…scores yet another Cup Final goal v Motherwell 1931.
We don’t need to speculate on what he might have achieved .. this man gave everything to Celtic … and then some!
Peter Scarff, (1928- 1933) Born: Linwood 29 Mar 1909 Died: Bridge of Weir 9 Dec 1933 (Age 24)
Truly a tragic loss to family & friends. A fantastic footballer struck down by a withering illness at the peak of his career. It’s difficult to imagine the depth of loss felt in his community and the loss to the wider game in general.
His 128 games and 55 goals and Scottish Cup medal from 1931 plus a single International appearance for Scotland (1931 v N Ireland) only tell us part of his story.
Peter Scarff and Bertie Thomson ‘plea’ to referee in ’31 Final…
That this Bhoy was special is not in doubt, as he is still fondly remembered in his home town. My first ever ‘sight’ of him was on the supporters bus named after him – a lovely pennant painting used by the CSC to identify their bus – Southern of Barrhead provided the transport in those day. But who was he ? A distant relative of my dad, he knew the family well and such a warm friendly bunch they are. The story wasn’t too clear other than he had died young and was a very gifted inside forward… now upon reflection, maybe the story couldn’t be told properly then, because of the emotion involved, grown men didn’t get tearful in the 60’s, at least not in front of their son ..or other men.
The bus still rolls and recently the current CSC members got organised and refitted the original St Convals chapel into a splendid CSC social club. I’m hearing it looks amazing and a good bit different from what I remember when attending lessons there during the teacher strike of 1978/9 and us innocent scholars having to clear out at lunchtime as the Chrysler Skolers came in for their ‘lunch’.
I’ll be heading over there to catch a CL game … very soon, hopefully
The tributes to Peter are many and this quote from his Celtic debut against Arthurlie in the Scottish Cup probably gives the best description of what was to follow… what might have been?!
“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”.
Over at the Celticwiki there is a fine homage by Iain ‘Berr’ Reynolds that is unlikely to be surpassed.
Definitely, definitely another player that would have enhanced our team for many seasons to come.
Charlie ‘ happy feet’ Napier (1928 – 1935) Born: Bainsford, Falkirk 8 Oct 1910
Died: Laurieston, Stirlingshire 5 Sep 1973 (Age 62)
200 appearances and 92 goals before he departed for Derby is a huge return from this fans favourite. He was eventually converted from a wide left winger to a more central forward, and explains his impressive ratio of goals to games.
Hence the ‘Happy Feet’ nickname.
He had knee surgery in 1935 and was demanding guarantees on a benefit match that Celtic refused to agree to. He was swiftly sold on to Derby for a large fee of £5,000
It is claimed that he was the first ever Celt to play at Wembley (London) but this seems unlikely?! He was a Scottish Internationalist and provided corner kicks for both ( Duncan?) goals in a victory over England (St James’ Park 1939) help on both counts?
One unusual claim to fame which Charlie Napier had whilst at Derby was that, on 14th November 1936 against Charlton Athletic at The Valley, he was one of five County players who made history by lining up in Derby’s first ever all-international forward line. The players were Sammy Crooks (England), Dai Astley (Wales), Jack Bowers (England), Charlie Napier (Scotland) & Dally Duncan (Scotland).
Certainly another player who could have enhanced Celtic had he not left Paradise.
What can we conclude having looked at each player’s fortunes after ’31?
We ‘lost’ two in their prime before they reached 25 and before 1931 was out.
Certainly John Thomson and Peter Scarff would have electrified Celtic’s performances, and results, if they hadn’t met such an untimely end. We could also make a case for Wee Bertie Thomson who was dead by the time he was 30 and probably could have stayed as a Celt at least until the outbreak of war in 1939. A sad tale and not unusual in footballers.. it seems.
Another two lost too soon to the team, but in far less tragic circumstances, and going on to have illustrious careers were Billy Cook and Charlie Napier. Both these players could have enhanced Celts until the start of the last war.
So, five of the eleven, had they remained, would be adding quality and panache, at a time when perhaps our trophy haul wasn’t as hefty as in previous times.
Having said that, we did manage to retain 6 players: Peter McGonagle; Peter Wilson; Jimmy McStay; Chic Geatons; Alec Thomson & Jimmy McGrory who all went on to give, or had already given, their very best to our club and fans . years of enjoyment and no little success.
What a team the ’31 Bhoys were! Maybe if they had all stayed together we might have gained another two league titles and another couple of Cups. Most of all, the sheer thrill and joy for the fans…
Two snippets available on YouTube:
Footnote: Has any other team given us two managers ? Thinking Hay & Macari & Dalglish & McNeill… ( help?)
Note: The excellent Celtic Wiki site is the font of all knowledge on things Celtic. Most of the Celtic stuffabove is from that site. The guys who set it up and painstakingly keep it updated, deserve no end of credit, praise and thanks. A treasure trove for Celtic fans young and old – and new- and free to view.
Respect Bhoys !
Guest article by SeS
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