It would be wonderful to look back at Scottish football in the 1930’s and tell tales of Hearts and Hibs domination or Aberdeen and Motherwell winning the treble, but that’s just not the case. The final table from 1931 looks very much like the table today, Rangers winning the league by two points over their Glasgow rivals. It’s interesting to note, however, that the third team in Scotland’s second city, Partick Thistle, came fourth that year.
Rangers’ dominance would continue throughout the thirties, the club winning six out of the nine championships on offer with three of them domestic doubles. There is no doubt they were the best team in Scotland. The late Bill Struth was the man in charge of the Ibrox club, guiding Rangers to 14 league titles in the 19 years that preceded the Second World War, going on to become the first manager to win the domestic treble in 1949.
Across the Clyde, Celtic’s first league title that decade came in 1936 as they finished above Rangers and Aberdeen, a triumph which put to an end a ten-year championship drought. Legendary Celtic manager Willie Maley picked up his 15th winners’ medal that year, the great man going on to lift 30 trophies during his tenure, striker James McGrory being the star of his historic side.
To this day McGrory holds the record for the most career goals in British football, the Glaswegian netting a staggering 550 goals in 14 seasons – including a remarkable 408 goals in 408 league games. In the year Celtic won the league McGrory would end the season on a remarkable 51 goals; his name can still be heard echoing around the eaves of Celtic Park today.
The number of Scottish players who can command a high transfer fee are few and far between these days, but back in 1936 Tommy Walker was another of a large group of top-class Scotsmen. A Hearts legend, Walker – an inside forward – went down in history during the 1930s for his 192 goals in 170 games despite the Edinburgh club not achieving much in the way of success during the decade.
After the war he would move south to join Chelsea, but he had first attracted interest from Arsenal during the 1936 season as he helped Hearts to finish third behind the Old Firm. It was reported that the London club had offered a world record fee of £12,000 to Hearts, but the threat of a supporter boycott persuaded the board not to sell their greatest asset. Walker never won a trophy for Hearts, but he did manage to score the only goal of the game as Scotland beat England 1-0 at Wembley in 1938; some things are better than trophies.
It was a common occurrence in the thirties to see many of the teams finishing at the top of the table scoring over 100 goals, two clubs deserving special praise for their efforts. In 1936, Falkirk, while playing in Division Two, conceded only 34 goals while scoring an amazing 132 to finish the season with the staggering goal difference of plus 98. Not to be outdone, two years later Raith Rovers ran away with the Second Division as they scored 142 goals, an incredible average of four per game.
The 1939-40 campaign was cut short after only five rounds due to the start of the Second World War, the suspension of league football meaning that some teams continued to only play friendlies. With Scottish teams being able to offer higher wages than their English counterparts, a few high-profile guest players made their way north. Stirling club King’s Park had the pleasure of welcoming the now legendary Bill Shankly to Forthbank for a short time at the end of the decade.
Unfortunately two years later a Luftwaffe Heinkel III dropped a single Hermann bomb on Forthbank, the only German bomb that hit the town during the war. The club never played again, but at least they can take solace in the fact that one of football’s greats pulled on their shirt before their tragic demise.
Read more from Andrew on his blog, Gib Football Show.