The finale to the 1931 Scottish Cup Final was one of the most dramatic of all time and led to one of the strangest situations in Scottish sporting media history.
Celtic were well and truly up against it, 2-0 down and just six minutes, or so, remaining, with Motherwell, deservedly ahead and ill-advised to have adopted a second half policy of containment, employing every tactic, both legitimate and devious, to hold on for a famous victory. The action was by then all in the Motherwell half, with the great Johnny Thomson a forlorn, solitary figure in the Celtic six-yard box as his mates laid siege to the opposition goal in an all-out attempt to retrieve an increasingly desperate situation.
Blatant hand-balls to break up the play; willfully conceded free kicks and corner kicks; persistent time wasting; even disallowed stonewall penalty claims, all conspired against the valiant Hoops.
Then, a turning point: Motherwell conceded yet another free kick outside the eighteen-yard box. As they formed the conventional wall to block the anticipated drive for goal, the wily brain of the crafty Charlie “Happy Feet” Napier produced a masterstroke – instead of the customary direct shot, he gently lofted the ball over the heads of the massed defensive ranks, allowing Jimmy McGrory to charge forward and jab the ball home for a goal that created a ray of hope for Celtic.
Still it seemed too little, too late, as the clock flashed round to register what should be time-up. With literally seconds remaining, one final corner presented itself, almost certainly destined to be the last kick of the game. Probably resigned to defeat and more in hope than expectation, Bertie Thomson swung the ball into the goalmouth. Motherwell centre half, Craig, beat McGrory to the cross but somehow misjudged his header and the ball flashed into the net for an unbelievable “own goal” equaliser and a replay.
Almost inevitably, Celtic won that replay. Motherwell again put up stout resistance; but there was something about their performance, a certain lethargy, that suggested they knew the game was up and that Celtic’s name, as they say, was on the Cup that year.
The underlying story of the day of the original final, though, was that some of the local press, never noticeably pro-Celtic and obviously a shade too keen to report their demise, had gone to print with the story of Motherwell’s great Scottish Cup victory. By the time of Celtic’s storming comeback, the early editions were already beginning to hit the news stands with the flawed “scoop” and had to be hastily withdrawn to spare editorial blushes as far as was possible.
If only they’d known the history, they’d have known better than to prematurely write off the Celts!