Heroes Are Forever

If you’re tempted to read more about the Golden Crust then you should get hold of John Cairney’s ‘Heroes Are Forever’.


This is the second biography of Jimmy McGrory and since the first – Gerry McNee’s ‘A Lifetime in Paradise’ – is no longer obtainable, if you buy this book hold on to it.

John Cairney began writing it on September 1st 2004, the day Wayne Rooney left his beloved Everton. All things are relative, but it took The Golden Crust 15 years on a wage of £8 a week to earn what the Scouser will just by turning up at Old Trafford each morning to report for training.

McGrory was a Garngad boy who made good with the team he supported all his life as player, manager and, finally, Public Relations Officer. Compared with Rooney, McGrory typifies another breed entirely. He could not believe his luck in receiving a weekly wage from Celtic for doing what he would have gladly done for nothing.

Jimmy was born on April 26th 1904 at 179 Millburn Street and was baptised at St. Mungo’s on May 2nd. Like many an Irish immigrant of the time, his father harry could only witness the birth certificate with his mark, a cross. Hugh Hilley’s father and mother were godparents to the babe.

Jimmy was 12 when his mother died. Kate McGrory was a Glasgow tenement wife, the workhorse of the family, a victim of hard, physical labour in conditions that must have been almost unendurable. Big brother Hughie McGrory arrived home on leave from the trenches and was taken to see his mother’s grave, a shock from which he never really recovered.

McGrory signed provisional forms for Celtic as an inside-right through the good offices of his parish priest, father Lawton of St. Roch’s. He had no idea how much money he was on per week. He signed full professional on £5 a week in the pavilion at Cathkin Park (look at it again now with awe renewed) on June 10th 1922.

Another of Celtic’s India rubber men? For a while it looked like it. He was loaned out to Clydebank but did his training at Celtic Park. He walked it to training with Hugh Hilley with Garngad’s unemployed dogging him every step of the way. Jimmy’s big sister would habitually check his pockets and remove the shillings, the florins and the half-crowns. The pennies and threepenny bits she would leave for Jimmy’s handouts.

Joe Cassidy was transferred to Bolton on 9th August 1924 and Jimmy was pushed into the big team as Celtic’s centre-forward. Tragedy struck almost at once with the death of his father ‘accidentally stoned to death (!) as he sat on a park bench near his work during a break’. The cause of death was cerebral tumour. Harry was only 65 years old.

It seemed a cause of physical hurt for Willie Maley to part with money but on the occasion of Harry McGrory’s death he did ask Jimmy (who was now the breadwinner) if he needed money. He did not propose a wage rise however.

Celtic had banked £5.000 for ‘Trooper’ Cassidy. Now the Arsenal were offering a blank cheque for Jimmy McGrory and Maley and the Celtic board could not resist. The wonder is that McGrory, working-class Glasgow boy that he was, could and actually did. His finest hour, surely?

In 1931, maybe after the Scottish Cup celebrations, Jimmy proposed to Veronica Green of the Green’s Playhouse people and ‘Nona’ accepted just before Celtic set off for the USA. Jimmy did the most extraordinary thing for a footballer (I’m not being condescending), he kept a full but private diary during the American tour, something he never did again. Did Nona encourage him? It’s reproduced here in chapter six and makes for a very interesting read.

There are very few errors in this book but Jimmy McGuire, the man who broke McGrory’s jaw against Brooklyn Wanderers was a centre-half and not a goalkeeper. He came home with Celtic in 1931 and his name is misspelt Maguire in the story of John Thomson’s tragedy on p.115 (and by the way, it was Charlie Gallagher took the corner versus Dunfermline on 24 April 1965, not Willie).

On the way home the huge transatlantic liner anchored in the Foyle and Jimmy came off by tender, something I could never have countenanced, and was married in Moville, whereas this reviewer always thought it was Letterkenny.

As a married man, Jimmy was now living in Ayr and had Maley’s special permission to drive up to Glasgow and back by car. But no lifts for other players!

Jimmy had that rare thing for 1931 in his Ayr house – a telephone, and it was via the ‘phone he received Jimmy McStay’s news of the death of John Thomson on the night of 5th September at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary.

Now here’s a mystery – solve it if you can. When John Cairney was researching his book he was much helped by Jimmy McGrory junior at his home in Glasgow. Jimmy junior showed Cairney a sheet of Celtic official notepaper dated June 1st 1933. This represented a receipt (Maley’s signature over two penny-halfpenny stamps) stating that the Celtic Football Club ‘had received from James McGrory, Miller Road, Ayr, the sum of eight hundred pounds stg as a loan to this club at interest from date of five per cent per annum’.

McGrory was on £8 a week even allowing for bonuses. He was married to a Green but this did not put him in a position to offer £800 (a hell of a lot of money at the lime) to a limited liability club like Celtic, many of whose shareholders possible were walking about with as much In their wallet. According to her son, Jimmy’s second wife, Barbara, always fretted over this loan although she would never say why.

Jimmy’s last League match was on 16th October 1937 versus Queen’s Park (Desmond White in goal) at Celtic Park. He got a goal with a flick of his head in Celtic’s 4-2 win.

As manager of Kilmarnock he was at the helm when Killie put Celtic out of the Scottish Cup in 1938. He went up to see Maley in his office before he left the stadium. Maley refused to look up from his desk or even to shake hands.

Jimmy lost Nona on 24 April 1944 as the result of an operation at Redlands Nursing Home off the Great Western Road. She had gone under the knife in an attempt to discover why she could not conceive.

Celtic appointed Jimmy manager to succeed Jimmy McStay on 24 July 1945 and I can remember the ovation when he appeared in the stand at the Public Trial in August.

One year on, he married again, a nurse this time, Barbara Schoning, at her home parish of St. Andrew’s, Braemar, on 2 July 1946.

At Celtic Park he had inherited Jimmy McStay’s poisoned chalice and Jimmy Delaney, that Celt of Celts, was the first the board wanted to sell from under his nose. Matt Busby took him to Old Trafford. Malky MacDonald left for Kilmarnock.

When Bob Kelly took over as chairman, it is hard to realise that McGrory had once defied Maley and Herbert Chapman. He was certainly incapable of standing up to ‘Mr. Celtic’.

Jimmy’s first daughter, Barbara, was born on 6 April 1951 and to celebrate, Celtic beat Motherwell 1:0 in the Scottish Cup Final. Elizabeth was born on 2 March 1953 and Celtic (with Jock Stein) won the Coronation Cup. James Hubert Gerard McGrory was born on 20th October 1955 and on Boxing Day at Hampden Celtic beat Rangers 5:3 in the Final of the Glasgow Cup.

Jimmy was beloved of the men who played for him. Believe it or not he made up their wage packets and in all his time at Celtic Park he was little more than a glorified office clerk, cautious, accommodating and safe, the incarnation of the Peter Principle.

John Cairney talks of all the players McGrory signed. He may have signed them but Jimmy McStay scouted them.

Jock Stein arrived to take over at Parkhead on 8th March 1965. McGrory got not an extra penny as PRO.

Bob Kelly died on 21 September 1971. Not long before he sent John Cairney his all-time Scotland Xl: Brownlie (Third Lanark); Hutton (Aberdeen) and McNaught (Raith Rovers): Meiklejohn and Young (both Rangers) and Mackay (Tottenham Hotspur): Jackson (Chelsea) A Walker (Hearts): (Gallacher (Newcastle Utd); James (Arsenal) A Morton (Rangers).

Notice anything?

Danny Park

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