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  James Edward McGrory (1904–1982), by unknown photographer, 1932 James Edward McGrory (1904–1982), by unknown photographer, 1932
McGrory, James Edward [Jimmy] (1904–1982), footballer, was born on 26 April 1904 at 179 Millburn Street, Glasgow, one of the four sons and four daughters of Henry McGrory, gasworks labourer (1859/60–1924), and his wife, Catherine, née Coll (1866/7–1916). They were Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, typical of Glasgow's east end in both religion and poverty. At sixteen McGrory was earning £2 per week playing football with St Roch's juniors. After an unsuccessful trial at Bury he signed, aged seventeen, for Celtic, the football club formed as a focus for Glasgow's Irish immigrants.

A disappointing first season led to a loan period with Clydebank, which ended after McGrory scored a winner against Celtic. On his return to Celtic he failed to score for three games before finally netting against Falkirk on the afternoon of his father's funeral on 30 August 1924. From then on his scoring record was phenomenal; eighty-four goals over the next two seasons as Celtic won the Scottish cup (1925) and league championship (1926). Eight games starting in December 1927 saw twenty-one goals, including eight in a 9–0 victory over Dunfermline. McGrory was short (5 feet 6 and a half inches) for a centre-forward, but almost a third of all of his goals were headers (hence his nickname, the Mermaid). Watching McGrory ‘hover hawk-like, then twist that powerful neck, and flick the ball as fiercely as most players could kick it’ gave the journalist Hughie Taylor the most ‘tingling sensation’ in football (Campbell and Woods, 380). While not the most skilful player, his positional sense, strength, courage, and relentless workrate were outstanding. Of his style of play McGrory himself, with characteristic modesty, said ‘I was often in the right place at the right time; goalscoring is in the mind and I went looking for goals’ (Campbell and Woods, 380).

Despite McGrory's success, Celtic had to wait a decade after 1926 before again winning the Scottish league championship. During this period they lost their dominant position in Scottish football to Glasgow Rangers, who under Bill Struth were adopted by the ‘respectable’ protestant Scottish middle class and made a practice of having no Roman Catholic players. In the summer of 1928 Celtic accepted a £10,000 transfer bid for McGrory from Arsenal. McGrory, loyal to Celtic and doubting whether he would succeed in England, refused the move despite promises to make him a wealthy man. Although he was earning £8—the maximum wage at that time—clubs routinely found ways to pay their top players more. Arsenal obviously intended to do this for McGrory. Indeed at Celtic there seem to have been some players earning £9 per week. On 10 July 1931 he married Veronica Green (b. 1898/9).

Jimmy McGrory was often overlooked by the Scottish national side. It has been suggested that there was some anti-Celtic bias on the part of the Scotland selectors, and some successful Celtic players did have surprisingly few caps. McGrory, though, had the misfortune to be contesting with the troubled great Hughie Gallagher for the centre-forward spot. However, in his seven appearances for his country he scored six times; a late winner against England at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in 1933 gave birth to the ‘Hampden roar’. As Celtic recovered in the mid-1930s McGrory had his best scoring season, with fifty goals in 1935–6. On 21 December 1935 he reached a then world record of 363 career goals. In a game against Motherwell on 14 March 1936 he scored three goals in three minutes; this was the season in which Celtic recovered the league championship, before winning the Scottish cup in the next. In his last competitive match, against Queen's Park on 16 October 1937, McGrory scored his 550th goal in top-class football, still a British record. He is Celtic's highest-scoring player ever and his 410 goals in the Scottish league remains a record.

In December 1937 Celtic released McGrory to become manager of Kilmarnock, on condition that he retired from playing. His first game in charge was a 9–1 defeat to Celtic. However, Kilmarnock recovered to avoid relegation (beating Celtic on the way) and reach the Scottish cup final. During the Second World War McGrory had to take on work as head storeman at ICI, Ayrshire, when Kilmarnock's ground was put to military use as a munitions dump. In 1945 he was appointed Celtic manager, but in 1948 he contemplated resignation as his poor side only avoided relegation by beating Dundee on the last day of the season. He remained Celtic's manager for another seventeen years, but it is accepted that for most of that time the chairman, Robert Kelly, had final say over most matters, including team selection and transfers (Campbell and Woods, 181). There were successes under McGrory: 1951 saw victories in the St Mungo cup, staged to celebrate the Festival of Britain, and the Scottish cup; a surprise win in the coronation cup (1953) led to a league and cup double under Jock Stein's captaincy in the 1953–4 season and on 19 October 1957 Celtic won the league cup in an astonishing 7–1 win over Rangers. Yet despite some excellent players, Celtic were inconsistent; fine general play was often not converted into goals.

In 1952 McGrory sparked a crisis which almost forced Celtic from Scottish football after writing to Eamon de Valera to ask for a new Irish tricolour to replace the tattered one which flew above Celtic Park. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) demanded that Celtic take down the flag of a foreign country. Robert Kelly refused, pointing out that the SFA had no jurisdiction over which flags clubs flew. Celtic, with the support of Rangers, eventually forced the SFA to back down. Celtic won nothing between 1957 and 1964. McGrory's managerial methods were outdated and his teams lacked tactical nous. A haphazard youth policy had produced some excellent young players, but did not give them adequate training or support. To redress these failings, on 31 January 1965 Robert Kelly appointed Jock Stein as Celtic manager. McGrory was given the new post of public relations officer, which he kept until retirement. In 1975 he published his memoir A Lifetime in Paradise. He died of old age in Glasgow's Southern General Hospital on 20 October 1982 and was buried in Glasgow. He was survived by his second wife, Barbara Frances Agnes, née Schoning.

Jimmy McGrory is remembered not only as a brave and prolific goalscorer with Celtic but also as one who ‘set the highest standards of fair play and sportsmanship that could be expected of any player’ (Murray, Glasgow's Giants, 114). He was much loved, quiet, gentlemanly, generous, and devoutly religious.

John McManus

Sources  

A lifetime in paradise, the Jimmy McGrory story, ed. G. McNee (1975) · T. Campbell and P. Woods, The glory and the dream: the history of Celtic F.C., 1887–1986 (1986) · B. Wilson, Celtic: a century with honour (1988) · W. Murray, The Old Firm: sport, sectarianism and society in Scotland (1984) · W. Murray, Glasgow's giants: 100 years of the Old Firm (1988) · B. Murray, Glasgow's giants: 100 years of the Old Firm (1988) · P. Burns and P. Woods, Oh, Hampden in the sun (1997) · b. cert. · d. cert. · d. certs., Henry McGrory; Catherine McGrory

Likenesses  

photograph, 1932, SMG / Empics Ltd [see illus.] · cigarette card, 1934, repro. in J. Huntington-Whiteley, The book of British sporting heroes (1998)

Wealth at death  

£5747.04: confirmation, 30 June 1983, CCI