10th May Coronation Cup
The Charity Cup win was an excellent boost for everyone at Celtic Park and both players and management could now look forward to the first round tie in the Coronation Cup against Arsenal. The Gunners had started the decade of the 50s in fine form, having finished 5th in the title race in 1950/51 and 3rd in 1951/52 before winning the First Division in that season of 1952/53. In doing so, they scored 97 goals in 42 matches, so Celtic knew that they were in for a game.
As mentioned before, Celtic had finished a lowly 8th in the Scottish First Division, a disappointing but not altogether surprising display, as matters behind the scenes were not always smoothly conducted. Indeed, there were rumours concerning some doubts about Celtic’s participation in the Coronation Cup at all, and these words from an interview I recorded with Jock Stein in 1981 tend to suggest that the rumours were well-founded;
‘John Hughes [secretary of the Scottish Players’ Union] was the union official and he felt that, as it was a big competition and there would be a lot of money drawn at the turnstiles, the players should be paid a guaranteed £100 per match. There was some consultation between the players and officials of each league club, but it never got to any great length.
Bob Kelly, the Chairman at that time, brought us all in individually and asked us our opinion. We all wanted to play in the competition but each club had to make their mind up. It wasn’t as if the Scottish clubs could get together. There was no way that we could make any decisions for the Rangers players.
At the outset, we were talking about a strike but at the end of the day, I think with the pull of the big game and everything else, we were not long in deciding we wanted to be in it. Anyway, the Chairman did say at that time, it didn’t matter who wouldn’t play, there would certainly be a Celtic team in the competition. It didn’t matter where they came from, there would be a team of green-and-white jerseys there. That frightened quite a lot of people and in the end, we were going to play’.
On this day in 1953, on the eve of the first matches in the Coronation Cup, which had paired Celtic with Arsenal and Hibs against Tottenham Hotspur, the football sporting press not looked forward to the games but tended to show their chauvinism, some of the English journalists fairly dismissive of the Scottish challenge, while the Scottish reporters were hoping for a repeat of Bannockburn! For a first taste of the action, they would only have to wait another 24hours.