“I just wish I had players as loyal and as enthusiastic to their club as you are to Celtic”
- Herbert Chapman
Of the 550 he scored (468 for Celtic) in 547 games, only one was from the penalty spot. He also scored 55 hat-tricks, while his strike against England for Scotland in front of 133,000 fans in 1933 is credited with the birth of the ‘Hampden Roar’.
But Celtic is where McGrory made his name and the sheer volume of headers he scored earned him nicknames like ‘The Human Torpedo’ and ‘Mermaid.’ Remember, this was an era where balls weighed as much as a bag of cement.
Born in Glasgow in 1904, McGrory had dreamed of partnering his idol Patsy Gallacher in Celtic colours and he did this and more in what was, in his words, the greatest moment of his career when he scored in the Scottish Cup final win in April 1925.
“I scored a lot of goals and beat a few records, but nothing ever compared with my feelings at that moment,” he later said. “And to play alongside Patsy Gallacher in a national cup final was a dream.”
He had a love affair with the trophy and won it five times as a player. League titles, though were a little harder to come by and the three he did secure were scattered between 1926 and 1937 - his final season as a player - as Rangers dominated.
Regardless, pulling on the green and white meant everything and was the main reason he rejected the vast riches Arsenal offered him in 1928.
Although he lived a comfortable life as a footballer, he didn't become a rich man as a result. At the start of his career in 1922, money was so tight that he’d meet his team-mate Hugh Hilley and walk the couple of miles to training at Celtic Park every morning.
“We could not afford the tram fares both ways and we were never exactly in the mood for walking home after our training sessions,” he wrote in his biography A Lifetime in Paradise, explaining it cost three pence to take two trams from ‘the Park’ to Glasgow Cross and from there back to his home in Garngad.
However, news of his talent quickly spread after becoming a first team regular. Arsenal's interest was no doubt piqued by his exploits against Dunfermline in January 1928 when the club ran riot in a 9-0 home win and McGrory scored eight times. By the end of the season he had 62 goals overall.
The Gunners, meanwhile, were on their way to becoming the best team in England, so the two seemed a perfect match. Except McGrory had no intention of leaving, even if Celtic were prepared to cash in on their prized asset and take Arsenal’s whopping £10,000 offer.
So keen were Celtic to conclude the transfer that the board and manager even led McGrory to London under false pretences so the Londoners could put their proposal to him.
McGrory was accompanying manager Willie Maley on his holiday to Lourdes, but the train would pass through the capital first where, on arrival, they were met by Highbury boss Herbert Chapman.
“He offered me everything but the moon,” McGrory wrote, and although immensely flattered by the compliments the manager bestowed on him the answer was still no.
He left for Lourdes, the place of miracles - the fact it would take one for Chapman to get his way was not lost on the striker - but the manager was willing to try again and intercepted the duo at the station once more, as they made their way home.
McGrory still couldn’t be persuaded.
“I just wish I had players as loyal and as enthusiastic to their club as you are to Celtic,” an exasperated Chapman said when he finally conceded defeat.
Not that McGrory was rewarded for his loyalty by Celtic's top brass. He later found out he wasn’t even the top earner at the club and while many of his team-mates were on £9-a-week, the most he ever took home was £8.
No doubt the board were angry at missing out on a massive windfall and the chance to buy some new plus fours. Still, “Jimmy McGrory of Arsenal would never have sounded as good as Jimmy McGrory of Celtic,” he insisted.
The goals didn't dry up, though, and his eagerness to find the net often brought with it considerable pain, as he discovered in the 1933 Scottish Cup final win against Motherwell when a collision with the goalie's knee knocked two of his teeth out. Luckily he was built for the physical demands of the game because he also hit the winner.
Even though the goals kept coming as he entered the final stages of his playing career - he managed 50 goals in 32 league games in the 1935/36 season - McGrory’s all-action approach did eventually bring his time as a player to an end.
An injury against Queen’s Park in October 1937 sidelined him for a couple of months, and during this period he left to take the manager’s job at Kilmarnock and when the War ended he was given the reins at his beloved Celtic.
Though he oversaw a 7-1 League Cup final win against Rangers in 1957 and won a league title in 1954, his spell as Celtic boss was largely unsuccessful in what was a difficult period for the club. He was, however, involved in a highly-publicised attempt to bring Alfredo Di Stefano to Celtic Park in 1964.
When he revealed he was leaving Real Madrid, McGrory travelled to Spain bringing defender John Cushley, a modern languages graduate, to act as interpreter. The trip proved fruitless and all they came back with was a tan as Di Stefano opted for Espanyol.
What a pairing that would have been because even in management McGrory never lost his ability in front of goal and this story from John Cairney’s A Scottish Football Hall of Fame is a good place to end:
“At a training session, McGrory, wearing his usual managerial bowler hat and puffing on his pipe as usual, stood watching a group of players dealing with high crosses. Suddenly, the players were startles to see the manager rush among them, hat in one hand, pipe in the other. As the ball came over he met it cleanly on his forehead and it bulleted into the back of the net. Calmly he replaced his hat and pipe, saying ‘That’s wit I mean, lads,’ and returned to his place on the touchline.”
Jimmy McGrory: 1904-1982
Clubs: Celtic 1922-1937
Clydebank (loan) 1923-1924
Scotland: Seven caps, six goals
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