The Empire Exhibition, Scotland (unofficially known as the British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow) was an international exposition held at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow from May to December 1938. Exhibition pavilions were erected on the site – the two largest being the Palace of Engineering and the Palace of Industry – and countries in the British Empire contributed their own pavilions.
The most prominent feature was the Tait Tower (officially known as the Tower of Empire) named after its architect, Thomas F Tait. At 470 feet, it towered over the whole park and could be seen from some distance away.
In spite of 1938 being one of the worst summers on record, over 12 million visitors turned up to see the exhibits, including my own Mum and Dad, having one of their first dates in that year.
As part of the attractions, a knock-out football tournament was devised and the best Scottish and English sides were invited. From England, Sunderland, FA Cup-winners in 1937, Chelsea, Everton and Brentford. Current league champions Arsenal were invited but had to decline due to touring commitments. Ironically, this tour was later cancelled and they were keen to join in but the organisers stuck to their original choice. And from Scotland, Celtic, current league champions; Rangers, league champions the previous year; Aberdeen, runners-up to Rangers; and Hearts, runners-up to Celtic.
There was no doubt that the competition would be treated in a serious fashion, although, naturally, the Scottish and English sides were kept apart in the first round. When the draw was made, some interesting ties came up. Celtic were drawn against Sunderland; Rangers against Everton; Hearts were paired with Brentford and Aberdeen with Chelsea.
On 12th May 1938, the following communiqué was issued from the headquarters of the SFA at 48, Carlton Place, Glasgow ; – ‘At a meeting held today at the exhibition between Messrs D Bowie and G Graham, representing the Control Committee and Lord Elgin and Captain Graham, representing the exhibition, it was agreed;
1 That the trophy to be presented to the winning team should take the form of a replica of the tower in the exhibition made of silver, standing about 18 inches high on a suitable plinth.
2 That the players of the winning team in the final should receive a miniature of the trophy in silver.
3 That all other players taking part in the competition should receive a miniature plate.
This was a very generous gesture by the organisers, a replica of Tait Tower much more interesting than a medal to most players.
Naturally, the traditional rivalry between Scotland and England, plus the normal competitive spirit between teams in the same league, made the tournament a keenly contested affair. Celtic were strongly fancied, particularly after the ease with which they beat Rangers in the Charity Cup only a few days before. Of the visiting English clubs, it was felt that Everton was the most skilful and would provide the main challenge.