The third of the first-round ties in the Empire Exhibition Trophy paired Rangers with Everton and frankly, although anyone with Celtic’s interests at heart might hate to admit it, the two sides were regarded by many so-called ‘experts’ as the favourites for the tournament.
By that period of the 1930s, Rangers had been the dominant side in Scotland for some time. Of the 16 national trophies up for competition in the first 8 years of the decade ( League; Scottish Cup), Rangers won 9 (Celtic 5; Motherwell and East Fife one each); if we also take in the 16 Charity and Glasgow Cups, the Light Blues won 10 of them!
With a record like that, Rangers’ fans were expecting their side to do well in this special competition. There was prestige at stake, after all, and when the fact that all the matches would be played on Rangers’ home ground was also taken into account, then there were certainly grounds for their optimism.
Their opponents, Everton, had won the English First Division in 1931/32 and the FA Cup in 1933. Since then, they had hovered around mid-way every season in the league table, although they had played some nice football in season 1937/38 and would go on to pick up the league title again the following season.
So, by any standard, the tie would be a clash of two powerful teams and a large crowd headed for Ibrox on the evening of this day in 1938 to witness the contest.
What was it like to be a player at Celtic Park in the 1930s? Well, one man who did provide me with some information was the talented Malcolm MacDonald, whom I interviewed in the spring of 1998;-
Q When you first arrived at Celtic Park in 1932, Willie Maley was the manager. How did you get on with him?
A I was terrified of him. Terrified. He would come in occasionally to training to keep an eye on us. Sometimes when they were dishing out the wages on a Friday, mine wouldn’t be there. I would then get a message from the manager’s secretary that he wanted to see me. I would go in and he would be sitting behind his deck with an air of surprise.
“What can I do for you?” he would say.
“I’m in for my wages”.
“Oh! Certainly” and he would make a great point of looking for my wages. Then he would say -“Oh! By the way, Malcolm” – and then he would pick you up on something. He was very shrewd. He would pick an incident I couldn’t put up any defence against and he would not let me mention any incidents which
were in my favour. He would always finish then in exactly the same way – “Malcolm, if you don’t do what I tell you, then you won’t be here long”. But he wouldn’t tell me what to do; he only said what not to do.
Q Could you have a close relationship with him?
A Oh! No, it was more of a headmaster/pupil type of thing.
Q Did Maley take the training?
A No…but he would come down to the bottom of the tunnel a lot of the time and speak to the trainer.
Q Who was the trainer?
A Jimmy McMenemy and later Alec Dowdalls.
Q What sort of training did you do? Did you train with a ball?
A No, you didn’t get a ball, just running. You got a ball if you managed to pinch one by yourself.
Q Did you use a ‘stopper’ centre-half as many teams did at that time?
A No, we didn’t use a stopper centre-half. My job when playing centre- half was to mark the centre-forward. If I moved away, I asked one of the other players to pick him up and I marked another man.
Q Did you practice free-kicks or corner-kicks?
A No, not really. If you did, you didn’t do it as a team, maybe just two or three players would work things out.