Real Celtic Men and Loyalty: The Tale of Jimmy McGrory and Jimmy McGovern

Loyalty to a cause which is greater than the career of the self. A type of altruism where the decision made by an individual brings joy, comfort and success to the greater number of the community he serves.

In today’s career centric and economically exploitative game however, it’s very rare to think of even a handful of players or managers who embrace such selfless values.

Think about the scarcity of one team players like Paolo Maldini or McStay for instance or even managers who stay with a certain team for a lengthy period.

Loyalty – sadly –  just isn’t a defining feature of today’s grotesquely monetised game.

And for that, we can thank the likes of SkyTV and Thatcherite policies of financial deregulation, both of which were byproducts of the 1980s ‘Greed is Good’ dogma. A price which we are all still currently paying for.

Careerism, egoism and a general chasing of the money by both player and manager alike may well be normalised in our global game, but that doesn’t make it right.

As the outcry of our fans in relation to recent events at Paradise have clearly shown.

A Real Celtic Man

It wasn’t always like this however.

Thankfully, us fortunate members of the finest football family in the world have genuine idols such as Jimmy McGrory to think of.

Jimmy McGrory of the Garngad

A man defined by an enviable quality of pure loyalty to the four leaf clover on his Hooped top.

A man so unmistakably humble that when he vaulted the fences of the Garngad backcourts to nip away for a game of golf with some amigos within more affluent surroundings, he hid away his best clobber under labourers clothes, just incase it brought a sense of shame or big headedness as his observant neighbours watched on.

For McGrory, community and the people who made it just so, was what it was all about. Thus, it was the green of the jersey and not that of the dollar bill, that he gave his all for.

Unlike some recent ‘Celtic men’ pretenders who are all too  happy to settle for the Fools Gold of the English ‘hire and fire’ managerial merry-go-round.

McGrory was also a man of inimitable talent who knocked back the head spinning wages of the mighty Arsenal in the early 1930s to remain at his beloved Hoops. Despite the fact the money men of Celtic’s board were all too happy to accept the £10,000 on offer for him.

It should be remembered that this was a time typified by stagnant wages with tremendous economic tumult featuring both within the Scottish game and beyond. All of which was due largely to the economic depression of the age which was kicked off with the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

If McGrory had chosen to leave, which was never even a thought, never before would size 6 shoes have seemed so large to fill.

In total, Jimmy would come to spend an entire playing and, bar a few years at Kilmarnock, an entire management career at his beloved Celtic FC spanning five decades by the time he left in 1965 to be replaced by the bold Jock Stein.

Jimmy McGrory:

A Special Kind of Loyalty

Much has been written in the past about the early days of McGrory of the Garngad and, rightfully so, his goal-scoring feats are often commemorated by young and old Tims alike.

The remainder of this article will shed light on something a little bit different however, a never before recorded anecdote about McGrory as told by the nephew of one of McGrory’s friends from the 1930s.

Alexander Taylor, a lifelong Tim originally of Anderston but often to be found in the backcourts of Govan’s ‘Winey’ as a youngster, got in touch with me late last year to share this original tale regarding McGrory.

Alex told me of his uncle James ‘Jimmy’ McGovern (1912-1951) who was the match secretary for Govan’s own version of the Hoops, St. Anthony’s (‘The Ants’) in the 1940s.

James belonged to one of the original families who had moved into the infamous Moorpark, soon to be known as ‘The Winey’ scheme of Govan, at 3 Lettoch Street. This was a mostly Catholic enclave made up of in-migrants from the Gorbals to the Gallowgate.

Aerial view of the Winey (1930s – true date unknown)

James later decided to migrate to the other side of the Atlantic in Canada as the years passed by.

Unfortunately James was to experience one of life’s cruelest of blows as, at the young age of 39, he was struck down with illness and soon passed away in 1951.

However, before he drew his last breath at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, James had a visitor of some merit call by his bed. As was captured in print at the time,

Word reached Celtic Park this week of the death in a Toronto hospital of Mr. James McGovern, formerly of Glasgow. Despite the many activities of the Celtic party, Manager Jimmy McGrory visited Mr McGovern when he heard of his serious illness…’

McGrory, at this point a seasoned manager of distinction of one of Europe’s most celebrated clubs, decided to take time out of his and Celtic FC’s pre season schedule in order to pay his final respects to a man he knew fondly from his days in the Junior game at St. Roch’s.

Talk about humility and remembering where you come from.

If that’s not pure Celtic Family loyalty as shown by a true Celtic Man, then I don’t know what is.


*A further excerpt regarding the life of Jimmy McGovern:

Jimmy McGovern Obituary – RIP



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