When, on the The 26th of April 1904, Donegal immigrants to Scotland Henry and Catherine McGrory witnessed the birth of their son, little did they know that their beloved newborn was to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of British football. This record still stands today as testimony to the legend that is Celtic’s own, Jimmy McGrory.
550 goals in the top flight tells it’s own phenomenal story. 408 goals in 408 league games tells us some more about the man with a bullneck and the nickname “The mermaid”, because of his awesome ability to leap higher than most and execute a headed ball harder than most players could kick it.
This astonishing achievement is made all the more remarkable when you consider that McGrory was only 5ft 6inches tall, yet almost one third of his goals were from headers-one allegedly from the halfway line!
Born in Garngad, a Celtic stronghold of Glasgow, Jimmy grew up playing street football and being regaled with tales of great Celts past and present. His strength and penchant for beating the goalie were soon to be recognised at a higher level and St Roch’s Juniors snapped him up with a promise of 2 pounds a game.
“The Roch” were a good feeder club for Celtic as rivals Rangers were unlikely to pursue an interest in their players due to the name of the club and the background of their players, most being of a catholic persuasion.
McGrory was singled out by Celtic as a special talent and he made his debut for the hoops in 1922. Finding it tough to make the breakthrough he craved at such a young age, Celtic farmed him out to Clydebank for a year and he scored 16 goals for the “Bankies” in 33 games.
This was a decent enough return for him but it was only a foresight of what was to come from this prodigious potential.
Returning to Celtic the following year, McGrory was a regular tormentor of defenders, but it was his determination to impress boss Willie Maley that singled him out from the rest.
This was exemplified when he buried his father on the 1st day of the season and that same afternoon, Jimmy pulled on the hoops and scored the goal which beat Falkirk. This enduring attitude set the tone for his coming years at Celtic Park.
84 goals in his first two seasons surely underlines McGrory’s magical gift. How much would a player of his ability command in today’s market one wonders? His eight goal haul against Dunfermline only serves to highlight how good he really was and his worth to the Celtic team.
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