The War Years: 1940-49

During the 1930s, countries like Germany and Italy became very militaristic and it seemed almost inevitable that war would eventually break out. And it did so, just at the start of the 1939-40 season. Almost immediately, the authorities issued an edict stating that professional football was to be abandoned. Players’ contracts would be suspended but registrations would remain valid. In simple terms, no money for the players – but they were still tied to their clubs.

As the days passed and the authorities realised that there would be no mass bombing campaign in the cities, a relaxation in the original ban was permitted. Football matches could take place but only on Saturdays and public holidays. They must be confined to regional and district groupings while crowds could not exceed 8,000 or, for large stadia, 15,000.

The Scottish League and Scottish Cup competitions were abandoned for the duration of the war but the Glasgow and Charity Cups – as local competitions – were allowed to continue. Celtic were allocated to the West division of the Regional leagues set up by the Scottish League management committee along with 15 others, the clubs being allowed to pay their players £2 per week and use the services of any Anglo-Scots stationed here during the war period.

Unfortunately, during those years of the Second World War, those in charge of Celtic appeared to almost lose interest in the game. They gave little support to the manager of the time – Jimmy McStay – and unlike some other Scottish clubs, failed to bring in any of the big names from the forces stationed in Scotland at that time. The chairman and directors could also be accused of allowing the condition of the stadium to deteriorate.

Certainly, the Charity Cup was won twice, in 1941 and 1943 but in the other war-time competitions which replaced the normal domestic ones, the name of Celtic was noticeably absent from the list of winners.

In the decade of the 1940s, there were managerial changes at the top of Celtic Football Club.

On 1st February 1940, it was announced that Willie Maley was relinquishing his post as Secretary/Manager. His leaving was not voluntary but very definitely at the behest of the Directorate.
The post of manager was then offered to ex-Celt Jimmy McStay, who had been very successful in his first season at Alloa. However, he did not have an easy time at Celtic Park during the war. There seems to have been some split on the Board over his appointment, he had to cope with the break-up of what had been, in the late 1930s, a reasonably successful side and there appeared to be a lack of interest from those at the top about wartime football in general.

In early July 1945, while on holiday with his family at Ayr, Jimmy McStay read rumours in the papers about his impending sacking. On 10th July, reports announced that Jimmy McGrory had met with the Kilmarnock directors to inform then that he was considering another offer. On 15th July, the Sunday Mail announced that ‘McGrory is as good as at Parkhead’.

In the Daily Record of 21st July, ‘Waverley’ stated that he had been informed that McGrory would start work on 23rd July. And precisely on that day mentioned, when Jimmy McStay returned to work after his holiday, he was brought in for a meeting with the chairman, who asked for his resignation. This was duly given and Jimmy McGrory arrived the following day to take up the reins. It was an unfortunate way to do business and a very cruel way to treat a fine former player.

Celtic did, however, take part in three special competitions, having some success in one of them. The first of these took place in 1940.


Emergency War Fund Cup

This cup was introduced as a substitute for the Scottish Cup competition which was suspended for the duration of the war. Celtic were drawn against Raith Rovers in the first round and the tie was a two-legged affair. On 24th February 1940, the teams met for the first leg at Parkhead and Celtic won 4-2 before a good crowd – for wartime – of 6,201. The return leg took place at Stark’s Park, on 3rd March and from the start Celtic seemed to freeze, a novice goalkeeper obviously having difficulty in dealing with crosses and the defence reflecting his nervousness. Another large crowd for the time of 5,463 saw the Celtic forwards miss chance after chance as their own side scored three to put Raith Rovers into the next round.


The other two competitions came at the end of the war, the first being the-


Victory-in-Europe Cup

In 1945, when World War Two ended in Europe, the Glasgow Cup Committee invited Celtic and Rangers to play for a special trophy with the match proceeds going to charity. Rangers were unable to take part as they were preparing for a Southern League Cup final against Motherwell, so they withdrew and Queen’s Park replaced them at short notice.

The match took place at Hampden on May 9th 1945 in good weather with a crowd of 28,000 present. It was played under the rules of the Charity Cup, where corners counted in the event of a draw and that was to play into Celtic’s hands at the final whistle, as their 1 goal and 3 corners just bettered the 1 goal and 2 corners of the Spiders, so the Victory-in-Europe Cup took its place in the Parkhead Boardroom.

One year later, another special trophy was put up for competition, this time to celebrate the end of hostilities in World War Two after Japan had surrendered.


Victory Cup

As in the case of the Emergency War Fund Cup, the first leg was a two-legged affair and Celtic could not have got off to a better start against second division St Johnstone at Perth, winning 8-2. Back at Parkhead for the second leg, Celtic won 5-0, thus making it 13-2 on aggregate.

The format of the tournament then reverted to a straight knock-out and Celtic found little difficulty in disposing of Queen of the South 3-0 at Parkhead and Raith Rovers 2-0 at Kirkcaldy. That put them into a semi-final against Rangers on 1st June 1946, a match attended by a crowd of 66,000, with the match ending in a 0-0 draw. The replay was arranged for the following Wednesday and the match turned out to be one of the most controversial Old Firm encounters.

On the playing side, Rangers won 2-0 but other aspects of the match proved more controversial. At half-time, for instance, some Celtic players who had been very critical of some of the referee’s decisions wanted their club officials to complain. Others were sure that they could smell drink on his breath.

The second half became a fiasco. The play became tougher and Rangers were awarded a dubious penalty. The Celtic players were incensed and George Paterson, while holding the ball, argued with the referee and was sent off for not handing the ball over. Then Jimmy Mallan dragged his foot over the penalty spot in disgust and he was ordered off as well. Four spectators, angry about what was going on, jumped over the retaining wall in an attempt to get to the referee but the police intercepted them and they were removed.

The aftermath was even more unusual. Paterson and Mallan were suspended for three months, while Matt Lynch, who had not been cautioned, was suspended for a month. But even more incredibly, the Celtic board did not take any steps to appeal against the punishments.


Unfortunately, the overall poorish form of the years between 1939 and 1945 continued into the post-war years of the late 1940s. A new trophy – the League Cup – had commenced in season 1946-47 but in the four final seasons of the decade, Celtic never once managed to qualify from their section in this particular competition.

In the League, they finished 7th, 12th, 6th and 5th; while in the Scottish Cup, their best performance was reaching the semi-final in season 1947-48, before going down 0-1 to Morton. There was a Glasgow Cup win in season 1948-49, when Celtic beat Third Lanark 3-1 at Hampden in the final, with the attendance at 87,000; and a Charity Cup win in 1949-50, the so-called ‘Danny Kaye’ Final, when 81,000 turned up to see Celtic beat Rangers 3-2.

The fans were not happy with such a meagre reward for their attendance, especially as they had also suffered watching their side lose out in the final of the Charity Cups in 1946-47 ( Rangers 0-1), 1947-48 (Rangers 0-2) and 1948-49 (Partick Thistle 1-2).


Special Moments

1          Thanks to the efforts of a man called Willie Fanning, from Caroline Street in Parkhead, the Celtic Supporters’ Association was founded in 1944.


2          At the end of season 1945-46, the FA persuaded all the British associations to re-join FIFA.


3          At the end of season 1946-47, the SFA hosted an international match between a team representing Great Britain against a Rest of Europe eleven, with the proceeds all going to FIFA. The match was played at Hampden Park, a crowd of 135,000 turned up and GB won 6-1.


4          When Celtic travelled to Dundee for the final match of the 1947-48 season, the bottom of the league read;

                                                 Played                         Points

Celtic                                        29                                  23

Morton                                    27                                  23

Queen of the South             29                                  23

Airdrie                                     27                                  20

Queen’s Park                         28                                  17


The Spiders were already doomed but who would join them was still in doubt. Celtic needed a victory and got one at Dens Park, a late winner by Jock Weir keeping Celtic in the top division.


5          The plane carrying the Torino team back from Portugal crashed into a hillside at Superga, just outside Turin. The tragedy claimed the lives of 18 players. In total, 31 died in the disaster, including journalists, club officials and their English manager Leslie Lievesley.



Special Moments Outside Football


1940    In June, sugar, butter and bacon are rationed in Britain.

1941    Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, parachutes into Scotland.

1942    Soap rationing begins in Britain.

1943    178 are crushed to death in an air raid shelter, Britain’s worst civilian war disaster.

1944    D-Day on 6th June; the Allied landings begin on the coast of Normandy.

1945    In May, Germany surrenders unconditionally; in August, the first atom bomb falls on Hiroshima.

1946    TV licences become compulsory.

1947    School leaving age raised to 15.

1948    Mahatma Ghandi is assassinated in India.

1949    End of chocolate and sweet rationing.