Jimmy McGrory

JIMMY McGRORY (1904-1982), footballer, was born on 26 April 1904 at 179 Millburn Street, Glasgow, the son of Henry McGrory, gasworks labourer, and his wife, Catherine Coll. They were Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, typical of Glasgow's East End in both religion and poverty. At 16, McGrory was earning £2 a week playing football with St Roch's juniors. He signed, aged 17, for Celtic, the football club formed as a focus for Glasgow's Irish immigrants.

A disappointing first season led to a loan period with Clydebank, which ended after McGrory scored a winner against Celtic. On his return to Celtic he failed to score for three games before finally netting against Falkirk on the afternoon of his father's funeral. From then on his scoring record was phenomenal; 84 goals over the next two seasons as Celtic won the Scottish cup (1925) and league championship (1926). Eight games starting in December 1927 saw him score 21 goals, including eight in a 9-1 victory over Dunfermline. McGrory was short (5ft 6in) for a centre forward, but almost a third of his goals were headers (hence his nickname, the Mermaid). Watching McGrory "hover hawk-like, then twist that powerful neck, and flick the ball as fiercely as most players could kick it" gave journalist Hughie Taylor the most "tingling sensation" in football.

Despite McGrory's success, Celtic had to wait a decade after 1926 before again winning the Scottish league championship. In this period they lost their dominant position in Scottish football to Glasgow Rangers. In summer 1928 Celtic accepted a 10,000 transfer bid for McGrory from Ars-enal. McGrory, loyal to Celtic and doubting that he would succeed in England, refused the move despite promises to make him rich. Although he was earning 8 a week - the maximum wage then - clubs routinely found ways to pay top players more.

Hide Ad

McGrory was often overlooked by the Scottish national side. It has been suggested that there was some anti-Celtic bias on the part of the Scotland selectors, and some successful Celtic players did have surprisingly few caps. McGrory, though, had the misfortune to be contesting with the troubled, great Hughie Gallagher for the centre-forward spot. However, in his seven appearances for his country he scored six times and a late winner against England at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in 1933 gave birth to the "Hampden roar". As Celtic recovered in the mid-1930s, McGrory had his best scoring season, with 50 goals in 1935-6. On 21 December 1935 he reached a then world record of 363 career goals and in a game against Motherwell on 14 March 1936 he scored three in three minutes. In his last competitive match, on 16 October 1937, McGrory netted his 550th goal in top-class football, still a British record. He is Celtic's highest-scoring player ever and his 410 goals in the Scottish league remains a record.

In December 1937 Celtic released McGrory to become manager of Kilmarnock, on condition that he retired from playing. His first game in charge was a 9-1 defeat to Celtic. However, Kilmarnock recovered to avoid relegation (beating Celtic on the way) and reach the Scottish cup final. In 1945 he was appointed Celtic manager, but in 1948 he contemplated resignation as his poor side narrowly avoided relegation. He remained Celtic's manager for 17 more years, but it is accepted that for most of that time the chairman had final say over most matters. In 1965 McGrory was replaced by Jock Stein and given the post of public relations officer, which he kept until retirement. He died in Glasgow in October 1982.

Hide Ad

Jimmy McGrory is remembered not only as a brave and prolific goal-scorer with Celtic, but as one who "set the highest standards of fair play and sportsmanship that could be expected of any player". He was much loved, quiet, gentlemanly, generous, and devoutly religious.

• Extracted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by John McManus. Copyright Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Hide Ad

• Read more lives at www.oxforddnb.com

• Who would you like to read about in the weekly biography? Please send suggestions to [email protected]