Reading something by David Potter the other day drew my attention to the astonishing oversight of my failure even to mention, let alone include the great “Sunny Jim” in our proposed “Ultimate” Celtic midfield pool. That grievous oversight is hereby addressed.
James Young, the Ayshire engineering apprentice with absolutely no Celtic affiliation before signing in May 1903, soon became arguably the club’s most committed player ever and a strong contender for the exalted title of “Greatest-ever Celt”, in the opinions of more than one qualified commentator.
Initially a centre half, he switched to right half mid-way through that first season and never looked back.
“Sunny” was the common denominator of the phenomenal Maley squads of the early twentieth century that dominated their era, amassing ten league titles (in two bursts of six, between 1904/05 and 1909/10, then four, from 1913/14 through to 1916/17), five Scottish Cups (which might have been more but for the competition’s suspension for the duration of the First World War), seven Glasgow Cups and nine Charity Cups.
To put that formidable record into context, it should be remembered that, in those far-off days, the latter two competitions were much more prestigious than they came to be in later living memory.
It all amounted to the most concentrated period of dominance in Celtic history, unparalleled until the golden Stein era half a century later and rivalling even that golden age for imperiousness. Succeeding Jimmy Hay as captain in 1911, Young became the iron leader who instilled fear and awe of his Celtic in all opposition.
Under his inspirational leadership (until February 1917, when he suffered the severe knee injury that would end his career a few months later), Celtic went undefeated for 66 games, home and away, from November 1915 all the way through to the April following the loss of their skipper, a run of of seventeen months – simply awesome consistency. Who knows how much longer that run might have lasted had the team not lost its figurehead and possibly its way.
Certainly, history records that, despite a few notable highlights along the way, after Jim Young’s departure, Celtic lapsed into a sustained decline that would not be effectively reversed until the appearance on the scene of Jock Stein, first as player and later, manager extraordinaire.
“Sunny Jim” died tragically as the pillion passenger in a motor-cycle accident five years into retirement from football, at the age of only 40.
He is, most definitely, in our “Ultimate Celtic Squad”, albeit belatedly.
P.S. Watch out for the section on “Wingers”, to follow shortly.