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Born: Tuesday 26 April 1904, Glasgow, Scotland
Died: Wednesday 20 October 1982, Glasgow, Scotland (aged 78)
Position: Centre Forward
The most prolific goalscorer in the history of both Scottish and British club football, few people have had as long or as successful an association with a single club as Celtic legend Jimmy McGrory. Spending almost his entire playing career with the club, he set goalscoring records which remain a long way above anything anyone else has achieved since. He also went on to manage the team for a remarkable twenty years.
James Edward McGrory was born in the Garngad district of Glasgow, now known as Royston, on 26 April 1904. Like many of the people in that area, he was of Irish Catholic ancestry and so was understandably drawn towards the club that had come out of that community, Celtic. His football career began with the Junior club St Roch's in 1921, usually playing at inside-right. In the 1921-22 season, he helped St Roch's win the Scottish Junior Cup, scoring in the final, and attracted the attention of Celtic. When he heard that the club wished to sign him, it is said that he ran all the way to the ground to sign.
McGrory was not a tall man, only 5'6", but was broad shouldered and incredibly strong. He could also jump remarkably well and despite his height, was therefore an excellent header of the ball. It was said that he could head the ball as powerfully as many players could kick it. His first season at Celtic, 1922-23, was not a resounding success as he struggled to break into the first team, and he was sent out on loan to nearby Clydebank the following season. Although Clydebank were relegated, McGrory scored 13 goals in 30 league games at centre-forward, and it was in that position that he would establish himself in the first team on his return to Celtic.
In his first full season in the first team Celtic finished a distant fourth in the league but did reach the Scottish Cup final against Dundee. McGrory had already scored 10 goals on the route to the final, but it was his 11th of the cup run which helped to establish him as a crowd favourite. With the score at 1-1 and extra-time approaching, McGrory headed a last minute winner to give Celtic the trophy, the first senior honour of his career. The following season brought a first league title, with 35 goals helping Celtic to claim the championship by eight points from Airdrieonians.
The 1926-27 and 1927-28 seasons brought an incredible 95 league goals in two years with McGrory leading the league in goalscoring each time, the highlight coming when he scored eight of Celtic's nine goals against Dunfermline in January 1928. His 57 league and cup goals in 1926-27 is still Celtic's club record. League title success was elusive however and the only addition to his trophy cabinet was another cup winner's medal in 1927.
Given his prolific goalscoring rate, it was perhaps surprising that McGrory was regularly overlooked for international honours as Hughie Gallacher was often preferred at centre-forward. Some have suggested that there was a degree of bias against Celtic among the national selectors at the time. It was not until February 1928 that he made his first international appearance, in 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland. In all, McGrory won only seven caps for Scotland, although he did score six goals in those games including both in a 2-1 home victory over England in 1933.
Throughout his playing career, McGrory remained loyal to Celtic despite offers from leading clubs in England, most notably Arsenal. Celtic's wait for league success continued well into the 1930's, but McGrory regularly managed to find vital goals in the Scottish Cup. In 1931, he scored one of Celtic's goals in the final against Motherwell, which finished 2-2, before scoring two more in a 4-2 victory in the replay. Two years later, he scored the only goal in another final win over Motherwell.
In the 1935-36 season, McGrory beat his own club record of league goals in the season when he reached the 50 mark in that competition alone for the only time. This time his goals were enough to help Celtic end their wait for a league title, finishing three points clear of Hearts to give McGrory a league championship medal for the second time, ten years after the first. The following year would bring yet another cup success, but 1936-37 would turn out to be his last full season as a player. After making 10 appearances in the 1937-38 season, McGrory accepted an offer to become manager at Kilmarnock. Celtic allowed him to leave on condition that he retired from playing, which he duly did.
With 408 league goals, McGrory stands more than 100 ahead of anyone else in Scottish league history and has more top-flight goals to his name than any other British player. His 395 league goals for Celtic come to more than double the number than any other player has scored, and from 1924 to 1937 he finished as the club's leading goalscorer twelve times in thirteen years. With the game now having reached an era where far fewer goals are scored than in McGrory's time, it is almost certain that his goalscoring records at Celtic will never even be approached, let alone beaten.
His first game in charge of Kilmarnock was a heavy defeat to Celtic of all teams, which left the club deep in relegation trouble, but McGrory managed to lead the team to safety with a strong second half of the season. After a mid-table finish in his first full season as manager in 1938-39, McGrory's time at Kilmarnock was effectively cut short by outbreak of the Second World War. He remained as manager until 1945, but was only able to lead the club in unofficial wartime competitions.
In 1945, McGrory returned to Celtic as manager. He would remain in the job until 1965, although whether it was he or the chairman who had the final say in team matters has been the subject of debate ever since. His first major honour with Celtic was a Scottish Cup win in 1950-51, followed three years later by a league and cup double with the title being secured on the back of a fantastic nine game winning run to end the season.
In 1956-57 McGrory led the club to their first ever success in the Scottish League Cup with a replay win over Partick Thistle. Twelve months he also oversaw the biggest cup final win ever recorded in either England or Scotland, when Celtic retained the League Cup with an incredible 7-1 thrashing of rivals Rangers. Despite the cup success, McGrory was unable to bring any more league honours to the club. They finished as low as 9th in 1959-60, jointly the second lowest final placing in their history, and were struggling in mid-table again in early 1965 when McGrory left the manager's job to be replaced by Jock Stein.
Although his time as manager was over, McGrory did not leave Celtic altogether and was given a job working in public relations. He stayed in that post until his death in October 1982, at the age of 78. He is regarded as one of Scottish football's true gentlemen, and his goalscoring achievements ensure that he will continue to be remembered by future generations of Celtic fans.
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- Published on Thursday, 22 December 2011 18:06