Coverage of the royals invariably induces brief moments of sobriety in George of the Jungle during which he remembers the Coronation Cup final of 1953 through a misty haze of drink-induced amnesia. Not a bad feat considering he wasn’t born until ten years after the game finished.
The 1953 Coronation Cup competition involved four clubs from Scotland and four from England and was held to commemorate the forthcoming coronation of Queen Elizabeth (the first Queen Elizabeth of Scotland although the second for England and Wales… for those of you who bother counting such things).
The invited teams were Hibs, Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers from Scotland, together with Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle and Tottenham from England.
Before the tournament began Celtic were regarded as rank outsiders. The team’s performances that season had been very poor indeed, and it was suggested in some quarters that Celtic should not have been invited to take part at all in such a prestigious competition. Rangers had won the league and cup double, defeating Aberdeen in the cup final and Hibs in the league on goal average.
The English teams were being legitimately described as the best four south of the border. Arsenal were the English champions while manchester United and Spurs were the two previous champions. Newcastle had won the FA Cup in 1951 and 1952. Given the strength of the opposition it’s perhaps understandable why Celtic were given no chance of lifting the trophy.
In the first round Celtic lined up against Arsenal at Hampden on May 11th 1953 and in front of a crowd of 59,000 beat the English champions by 1:0, a scoreline that definitely flattered the Londoners. The Daily Record summarised the game thus: “The much criticised Celts, the poorest team to wear the famous green and white jerseys for a long, long time, took on the mighty Arsenal, the English league champions and beat them right, left and centre.” Although expected to be sacrificial lambs to the slaughter, Celtic totally outplayed their opponents and had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping by Swindin for Arsenal the final margin of victory might have been a lot wider.
In the semi-final the Celts played Manchester United, who had beaten Rangers 2:1 in the first round. This game was also played at Hampden, on May 16th, and Celtic treated the 73,000 crowd to a 2:1 victory. United’s goal was scored in the final 15 minutes, by which time the Hoops were coasting to an easy win. This set the scene for an all-Scottish final between Celtic and Hibs, who had defeated Spurs and Newcastle on their way to the final.
The game was played on Wednesday May 20th 1953 and attracted a crowd of 117,000 spectators to watch an engrossing match between the following two sides:
CELTIC: Bonnar, Haughney, Rollo, evans, stein, McPhail, Collins, Walsh, Mochan, Peacock, Fernie
HIBS: Younger, Govan, Patterson, Buchanan, Howie, Combe, Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbul, Ormond
Deservedly 1:0 ahead at half-time through a magnificent shot from recent signing Neil Mochan, Celtic owed their victory to an outstanding display of goalkeeping by the oft-maligned John Bonnar. In the second half he stopped everything that Hibs, with their ‘Famous Five’ forward line could throw at him. When Walsh scored Celtic’s second with three minutes to go the cup was Paradise bound.
Newspaper reports of the time described Bonnar’s goalkeeping as “bordering on the miraculous,” which explains why thousands of Celtic fans congregated at the front entrance after the match to chant his name.
It was another great Celtic player who won the Player of the Tournament award however, the one and only Bobby Evans.
For a team that many considered not good enough to stand up to the best the English had to offer, Celtic had struck a mighty blow for Scottish football by beating both Arsenal and Manchester United.