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.”

Pic­ture: SNS

LION RAM­PANT: Jim Craig dur­ing his days on the park for Celtic.

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