Towards the closing stages of season 1908/09, Celtic were well behind the other teams challenging for the league title in terms of matches played. This had been caused by the club’s involvement in the Glasgow Cup, whose organisers insisted that all matches be played on a Saturday to attract the best attendances. As the Glasgow FA was older than the Scottish FA, they were not slow in pushing their case for precedence.
In the Glasgow Cup of that season, in fact, Celtic had rather stuttered their way through the competition, needing replays to beat Queen’s Park in round one and also Rangers in the quarter-final. Then, in the semi-final against Third Lanark, a second replay was required before Celtic went down 0-4 to the Hi Hi.
In the Scottish Cup Final, held on 10th April 1909, Celtic and Rangers drew 2-2 with a crowd of 70,000 watching at Hampden. A week later, at the same venue, 60,000 were present for the replay, which ended in another draw, this time 1-1. After the final whistle, though, a number of players lingered on the pitch, obviously unsure about the possibility of extra-time. After a few minutes, they started to head towards the dressing-rooms but the crowd, sensing that they were to be deprived of further action, erupted in anger. This soon turned into a rampant display of hooliganism, during which those working inside the stadium were attacked, parts of the stadium were badly damaged and some even set on fire. When police and firemen were called in to help with the problem, they were also attacked.
The football authorities were not amused. The SFA abandoned the tie and withheld the trophy. They also contributed £500 to Queen’s Park for the damage to the stadium and ordered both Celtic and Rangers to pay the sum of £150.
The withholding of the trophy was regarded by Celtic with mixed views. On one hand, it prevented the club winning the trophy for the third year in a row (see NB below); at the same time, it took a load off the club, who still had to play 8 matches in 11 days to complete the league programme! At that point in the 34-game campaign, Celtic had played 26 matches and had 39 points; leaders Dundee had 48 points from 33 games. So, assuming that the Dark Blues would pick up another two points from their final match, giving them a total of 50, Celtic would have to collect 12 points from their last 8 matches to win the title – all by the end of April.
They started well enough, beating Hearts 2-1 at Tynecastle (19th) and this was followed by a run of four home games, Hamilton ( 1-1; 21st), Morton (5-1; 22nd), Airdrie (0-0; 24th) and Motherwell (4-0; 26th). That gave them 8 points but Dundee did indeed win their final match, so another three were needed. They got two of them on this day in 1909, against Queen’s Park at Cathkin, when a hat-trick by Jimmy Quinn and a double by Davie Mclean, gave Celtic a 5-0 win.
The following evening – the 29th April – the team travelled through to Easter Road, where Hibs scored an early goal which turned to be the only one of the game. The players would have been quite tired at this point but they had to raise their game for one last effort, which was against Hamilton again, this time at Douglas Park, on the evening of the 30th April 1909. Jimmy Quinn scored Celtic’s opener before being injured and moving out to the left wing; Jimmy McMenemy got the second and Celtic seemed to be coasting but a goal for Hamilton near the end meant a period of anguish for the visiting supporters, who had to witness the unusual sight of one of the best defences in the club’s history repeatedly booting the ball up the park until the referee blew the final whistle. Celtic’s 5th consecutive championship had been secured!
NB. As mentioned above, after Scottish Cup victories in 1907 and 1908, the Hampden Riot spoiled a chance for Celtic to win three consecutive trophies in the competition. This is a feat that the club has never achieved; Celtic have won 2-in-a-row in 1899/1900, 1907/1908, 1911/1912, 1971/1972, 1974/1975, 1988/1989, 2004/2005. Three consecutive Scottish Cup victories have been achieved by Queen’s Park, Vale of Leven, Rangers and Aberdeen.