Craig reckons forgotten run still eclipses Celtic’s streak
Lisbon Lion says Parkhead side’s wartime unbeaten record is the high benchmark
ONE of the heroes of Lisbon has hailed the current Celtic team for surpassing his team’s best domestic run, but has offered a reminder that they have a long way to go to beat the real domestic record.
Brendan Rodgers, their manager, claimed, following Sunday’s win over Hearts, that his players now ‘stand alone’ in the club’s history and their 27-match unbeaten domestic record beats that of the Lisbon Lions which Jim Craig, a member of the team that won every available trophy in 1966/67, reckons should be properly acknowledged.
However, having become something of a club historian since his playing days ended, regularly giving talks at gravesides on behalf of the Celtic Graves Society, which seeks to ensure that proper tribute is paid to former players, as well as speaking at supporters club gatherings, he believes it is important to acknowledge the feats of the team who set what looks an unchallengeable record 50 years before the European Cup win that transformed the club’s standing in the global game.
“Records are there to be broken and this team has done brilliantly to stay unbeaten longer than we managed to do 50 years ago,” he said.
“However I’ve had a few calls about this and while it has been a great run this season, the real record is the run between 1915 and 1917 which started after they lost 2-0 at Tynecastle on November 13, 1915 and ended after 62 unbeaten matches, 49 of which they won, when they lost to Kilmarnock on April 21, 1917. That was the second last match of the 1916/17 season, so that means they had an unbeaten 36-match run in the league from the start of that campaign.
“When you look back at what they achieved it was a phenomenal performance. Because of the war no one was allowed to be a full-time professional player so they were all holding down jobs, mostly in the shipyards or munitions factories and some of them even down mines.
“There was no Scottish Cup so the league was the only major domestic competition, although they also won the Glasgow Cup in the course of that run in the 1916/17 season, beating Rangers and Clyde and that was considered a much more important competition at that time, so it could even be considered a 38-match run.”
Craig noted that the nature of wartime football meant the players were exposed to some scheduling that would not be contemplated by their modern-day counterparts.
“There was even an occasion when they played two matches on the same day, on April 15 1916, when they beat Raith Rovers 6-0 at Celtic Park in the afternoon, then had to travel to Motherwell where they won 3-1 at Fir Park that evening,” he noted.
“It was all the more remarkable because it was achieved in such difficult circumstances with people going off to war, so it wasn’t a very big squad.”
It did, however, contain some of the great names from the club’s first 30 years in existence.
“Their success was built on the great back three of Shaw, McNair and Dodds… goalkeeper Charlie Shaw and full-backs Alex McNair and Joe Dodds, they had Willie McStay at centre half, while the forward line included Patsy Gallagher and Jimmy McMenemy,” said Craig. “These are famous names in Celtic history. They deserve full credit for what they achieved and maybe because it was so long ago they don’t always get it.”
Craig jokingly claimed to be pleased that the Lisbon Lions’ run that has now been overhauled was now even tougher to beat.
“I’m not sure how things would have worked out if they had kept it going, but I hadn’t been in the team in the first half of the season,” he laughed.
“There had been a tour to America the previous summer that I wasn’t able to go on because I was sitting my finals and they had played well so the team was settled when they got back, with Willie O’Neill at right back.
“I was a regular visitor to the boss’s office in the first half of the season, but the conversation would always be the same and always ended with Jock saying: ‘We’re winning… I can’t change a winning team.’
“We beat Partick Thistle 6-2 in mid-December, but there was some criticism after we drew with Aberdeen on Christmas Eve, though and then we were beaten by Dundee United on Hogmanay which forced the change.
“We beat Dundee 5-1 in my first game back and I kept my place after that.”
LION RAMPANT: Jim Craig during his days on the park for Celtic.