Celtic and The Scottish Cup – In The Beginning

“And the cheers go up,

when we know the Scottish Cup

is coming home to rest in Paradise!”

With Celtic running up a record 35th Scottish Cup win at Hampden last Saturday, it feels like a good time to reflect on where our special successful association with the world’s oldest football trophy all began.

Having lost out in the Cup Final, 1-2 to Third Lanark, in the club’s very first season of 1888/89 (an amazing feat for a fledgling club), it took only another two seasons for Celtic to earn another crack at the premier prize of the time in Scottish football.

In what was perceived as a battle of ideologies between true amateurism and the “shamateurism” of a dawning professional game, Celtic ( representing the unacceptable face of looming professionalism) would be pitted against the then mighty Queen’s Park, the aloof, dominant, amateur, establishment club, which was vainly trying to stem the tide of the emerging, irresistible force that was under-the-table professional football.

Following a snowbound farce before an uncontrollably massive crowd for the time of between thirty and forty thousand (with an estimated further twenty thousand locked out), the final-that-never-was, which ended 1-0 to Celtic, was controversially declared a friendly and a replay ordered.

So it was that the showdown final proper took place at Ibrox Stadium on 9th April 1892.  As the result of a botched ticket-overpricing cock-up and a desperate, ineffective, last-minute emergency U-turn, the crowd was a much reduced twenty-thousand, or so … more manageable, yes – but surely an early precedent for a missed commercial opportunity for Scottish football.

On this occasion, Queen’s Park took the lead around the half-hour mark and so it remained until half time – advantage amateurism … or, so it seemed.  Soon after the resumption, though, Celtic stepped up a gear, the tide turned decisively and the upstart “shamateurs” eventually ran out convincing 5-1 winners, with two goals apiece for Johnny Campbell and Sandy McMahon, supplemented by a Sellar own-goal – and so began the traditional, romantic Celtic connection with the Scottish Cup … the first step on the exhilarating road to Hampden 2011.

The Celtic line-up on that fateful day was:

Cullen; Reynolds & Doyle; Gallagher, Kelly & (Willie) Maley; Campbell, Dowds, McCallum, McMahon & Brady.

A fascinating backdrop to that epic clash of the old and new codes is the notorious, or (depending on your point of view) daring, reputation Celtic had earned for ruthlessness in player recruitment in those pioneering days of football’s  commercialisation.  The stirring stories of how players such as Jerry Reynolds, John Madden, Sandy McMahon and particularly, Dan Doyle were lured to, or back to, Celtic Park make great and compelling reading for anyone with an interest in Celtic history.

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