Thanks to Celtic winning the all-British tournament – the Empire Exhibition Trophy – in 1938, supporters tend to over-glamorise the successes of the club in the 1930s. The truth of the matter is that, like the decade of the 1920s, Celtic once again played second fiddle to Rangers, the overall tally being;
League; Celtic 2 Rangers 6 Scottish Cup ; Celtic 3 Rangers 4
Glasgow Cup; Celtic 2 Rangers 7 Charity Cup ; Celtic 3 Rangers 6
One of those League Championship wins came in season 1935/36, when centre-forward Jimmy McGrory was on the rampage. By the middle of April, he had scored 47 goals in the league, with two games left. On this day in 1936, relegation-haunted Ayr United arrived at Celtic Park for the penultimate match of the season and found Celtic in irrepressible form, with McGrory knocking in a hat-trick – his 7th of the season – to give him a tally of 50 for the season.
Unfortunately, McGrory also picked up a nasty knee injury, which kept him out of the final match of the season, against Partick Thistle. This meant that he missed the chance to equal, or even overtake, the Scottish record of 52 goals in a league season, scored by Willie McFadyen of Motherwell when the Steelmen won the First Division title in 1931/32.
NB1. In that Ayr match, Celtic were also awarded a penalty, which McGrory stepped forward to take and, in the words of Willie Maley, “almost hit the corner flag with it”.
NB2. The league title of 1935/36 was Celtic’s first of the decade, the previous ones being won by Motherwell (1) and Rangers (4). Now, all through these years Jimmy McGrory had been knocking in the goals, so what had made the difference in season 1935/36?
The answer lay in the defence. After the alteration of the offside law in 1925, most sides had changed the role of the centre-half from the attacker in the ‘2-3-5’ formation, to the ‘stopper’ of the new ‘W/M’ system. Celtic, though, had been reluctant to change with the rest, which meant that they were losing too many goals.
In April 1945, Willie Maley signed a true ‘stopper’ centre-half, Willie Lyon, from Queen’s Park. He proved to be just what the team needed, giving them a stability at the back and organising the rest of the defence accordingly. The result was clear the following season; in winning the league, Celtic scored 115 goals in 38 matches while losing only 33.