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World War Two
|The War Years | Celtic Games | Tournaments | Honours|
Celtic during World War TwoThis section is for all the events which affected Celtic (fans, players and staff) during World War Two.
Rest in Peace to all those who died and our sympathies to all those who lost loved ones through those difficult years.
First Team Manager
- Jimmy McStay (Celtic Manager 1940-45)
PlayersCeltic lost players and staff to the war effort (both voluntary and due to the call-up).
Players & other staff members from Celtic to have served/enlisted (both those playing to have signed up or have previously played for the first team):
- Seton Airlie (Army)
- Oliver Anderson (Royal Artillery)
- Alec Boden (Army and a Physical Training instructor, became a Sergeant)
- Joseph Leo Coen (RAF)
- William Corbett (Royal Navy)
- Tom Doyle (Forces)
- Robert Duffy (RAF)
- Cornelius Ferguson (RAF)
- Willie Gallacher (Royal Engineers)
- John Hunter (Navy)
- Willie Lyon (Scots Guard)
- Henry McCluskey (Royal Engineers)
- Joseph McCulloch (Royal Scots Fusilliers)
- Patrick McDonald (Royal Navy)
- John Reid McKay (Army)
- Roy Milne (RAF)
- George Paterson (RAF)
- John Paton (RAF)
- Joseph Rae (Royal Navy)
- James Shields (RAF)
- William Waddell (Army)
- John Watters (Navy)
Celtic in World War TwoThe Second World War was a catastrophic event that has left a permanent scar on communities globally. In Scotland, the impact was massive with air bombings by the Axis powers bringing the battle to the homes of the soldiers as much as on the battlefields themselves.
As for Scottish Football and Celtic, inevitably it was to be heavily impacted as well. An edict was released after the declaration of WW2 that all forms of mass entertainment (inc football) were to be abandoned. In time, this was relaxed but a revised league set-up was brought in with a West and East leagues to lower travel and costs, Celtic playing in the 16 team West Regional League. This lasted for just one season, before an SFA suspension on the league led to a “South Scottish League” being set-up. As for the cups, the Glasgow and Charity Cups still carried on. Other competitions picked up later on (such as the League Cup).
Out of a sense of community duty, Celtic lost players and staff to the war effort (both voluntary and due to the call-up). Those who left Celtic (and other ex-Celts) to enlist include the above men as listed above.
Add to this the number of young men sent to war who could have been given a chance at the club, and you can see the impact it was to have on the club. Others, such as John Morrison, had to leave their roles with Celtic partly due to the difficulty of balancing playing for Celtic with their wartime roles (e.g. working down the mines etc). John Divers used to turn up at Celtic in his shipyard overalls after a hard day's slog, and Celtic was never going to be able to take priority in these circumstances.
The Board didn’t exactly help by steadfastly refusing to pick players from the forces stationed in Scotland (as was allowed). For example, Stanley Matthews is one of the most lauded players of all time, and he played for Morton! An important loss was that of Celtic-mad Matt Busby, who made himself available to Celtic (as he was a big fan from Lanarkshire) when he was stationed in Scotland (at the time he was a top level player with Liverpool). Whatever the reason was why he wasn’t taken on (unwilling to pay inducements?), we lost a quality player when we really needed one. He himself said the spent three years in Scotland hoping to get the call to play for Celtic. It was ridiculous by the board.
Restrictions of crowd sizes and wages impinged on any club ambitions, and it was supposedly not the time to be planning for growth of the club. Yet others did, and Rangers in particular took much advantage of the circumstances to dominate the league and cup competitions.
Celtic’s playing record during these years was pretty poor. Most clubs (esp the small clubs) suffered badly from loss of local manpower and revenue, whilst certain establishment clubs were less impacted. Celtic as a larger club were able to draw in from a larger pool but were unable to compete with Rangers who dominated the period partly due to favours from certain sections.
However, in truth the management structure behind Celtic is much to blame for this as well. After 41 years of management by Willie Maley, former player Jimmy McStay was brought in from Alloa as manager in 1940. To summarise the attitude of the board towards McStay, Bob Kelly (then a Celtic director) later described him as being a “part-time manager” and that Jimmy McGrory was really ear-marked for the role. Charming!
The board basically pulled the strings on team selection and treated McStay dismissively. In effect, the board were a pale shadow of the forward thinking and practical men who had built Celtic in its early years, but rather now were just smug grandees of a venerable but decaying institution. Back slapping and self-congratulations (whatever for?) were the order of the day for our directors. You could add that the club's own directors had a seeming indifference to Celtic's performances in wartime football. This was demoralising for any player or manager, as what were they then playing for?
The squad was depleted not only due to the war, but also from the loss of some great players such as John Morrison to Morton. Many a time McStay had to patch together a side taking players from junior teams just to be able to get a full side on the pitch. There were some highlights, with Celtic signing a young Willie Miller and John McPhail and in 1944 Bobby Evans, all of whom in time became great players for the club.
The first season was a disaster with countless defeats, and our remaining end-of-season league positions throughout the war years were generally poor, although we recovered to come second in two seasons towards the end. In light of that this was against generally poor opposition, some of whom were in a worse state then even ourselves, then this was a collapse for the club. Must add that many other better teams weren’t even in this league but playing in the other North-East League such as Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Dunfermline etc. So most likely if the full league was in play then we'd have been even lower down!
|1939-40||West Regional League||13th|
Possibly, a better barometer to gauge our ability was our performances in the cups, and that again was poor. In this truncated Scottish set up, we only won two trophies in 6 years, the Glasgow Cup (1940) and the Charity Cup (1942) and both of them were against limited opposition. Rangers ran away with everything as their arch-disciplinarian (Bill Struth) pushed his weight about, their most dominant time until the early 90's. Another measure for Celtic was that in 25 games against Rangers, we only came out on top in four matches against them. Says it all really, we’d sunk.
The lowest point during these barren days came after a game against Rangers in 1941 at Ibrox, where after a disputed penalty decision, Rangers players surrounded and hounded the referee. This led to trouble brewing at the Celtic end terracing of the stadium. The authorities as punishment shut Celtic Park down for a whole month! They harked back to a meeting agreement back in 1922 (which was chaired by Celtic grandees). However, Rangers’ were censured by the SFA but were lightly treated in comparison to Celtic. It was an excessive punishment and a nonsense, but due to wartime it was difficult to escalate the matter and Celtic were further hampered. Rangers and their sympathisers simply had their hands on the controls and nothing was to get in their way. It helped them that they pulled strings that the bulk of their players got jobs in the local shipyards to avoid signing up for front line duty. One Rangers player even sued the Sunday Mail newspaper after having described him as a "draft dodger".
The manager never really had a sniff at the team selection, and was treated more in an honorary position even though on accepting the job he was told he would have full control. Basically, McStay was on a hiding to nothing. His problem ultimately was he was too much of a gentlemanly character. Sadly, he was made to carry the can for Celtic’s decline by the board (!), and at the end of the war he was dismissed in preference for Jimmy McGrory. Disgracefully, he found out his dismissal through the press whilst on holiday. A great old player like him deserved better treatment. He was possibly not the right man for the job, yet if he wasn’t fully responsible for team selection then shouldn’t those who did (e.g. the board) not also step down? Not the last time the Celtic board had not realised the irony of their decision-making.
Any high points? Fans still turned out in their numbers. Showed just how important Celtic was to the community that fans still came to watch what was then a club in decline. Apart from that, not much good sadly.
When the war ended in 1945, it was time for the country to rebuild, and that very much included Celtic. The war years ended up marking a poor time for the club not just on the field but in particular its board management as well.
Post-war, Celtic continued to suffer with Rangers carrying on strongly having come out comfortably well from the war. Give or take a few bright spots, it was not until Jock Stein’s return in the 1960’s that Celtic finally regained its glory days.
One final notable event was the “Victory In Europe” trophy. To celebrate the end of hostilities on the European continent, in 1945 the Glasgow Charity Cup committee presented the "Victory in Europe" Cup which would be awarded to the winners of a charity cup final. Rangers were invited to participate but declined as they had a forthcoming cup tie against Motherwell (how patriotic of them). This allowed Queens Park to step in and play Celtic in the match which Celtic won by 1 more corner kick! A bizarre ending to a difficult time for all.
League Table 1939-40
League Table 1940-41
League Table 1941-42
League Table 1943-44
League Table 1944-45
League Table 1945-46
>>League Table 1946-47
From "Not The View" Fanzine
Note: Above says "Divers: did a bunk to Ireland". From our records, this is untrue. From our records, John Divers continued to play for the Bhoys during the regional competitions of the war years but would turn up at Celtic Park in overalls having come straight from a hard shift in his war job at the shipyard. He played for Celtic throughout the war (with a loan spell at Morton).
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