Remembering a fine Celt
Celtic football club has known its share of joys and anguish over the past 126 years. From the joy of Lisbon and the Stein era to the despair of losing much loved sons before their time. John Thomson, Johnny Doyle and of course the wonderful Tommy Burns spring to mind when one contemplates such things. In the early 1930s the Club was stunned by the tragic accidental death of John Thomson, who in defending his goal in a match at Ibrox paid the ultimate price. In grainy newsreel footage we can see the Prince of goalkeepers lying prostrate on the Ibrox turf as team mates and opposition players, realising the seriousness of his injuries, frantically call for help. Among his team mates on that lamentable day in 1931 was an up and coming inside-forward with a powerful running style and an eye for goal. His name was Peter Scarff. Willie Maley had high hopes that the lad from Linwood would be a star and a replacement for the excellent Jimmy McMenemy.
Peter had burst into the team in 1929 and as a direct running inside forward soon had the fans buzzing. His contribution in the Glasgow Cup Final victory over Rangers was said to be crucial and as the Celts fought their way to the 1931 Cup final, Scarff was again a vital component of the team. The powerful Motherwell team of the era awaited Celtic in the final. They had put together a very strong side which would be champions the following season and finish second in the league on 4 further occasions between 1927-34. It would be no easy task for Celtic to win the cup. 104,000 crowded into Hampden to watch Motherwell have the better of a physical and bruising first half. Celtic were 2-0 down and Maley told his players in no uncertain terms at half time that they must match Motherwell’s effort and physicality as well as playing their own passing game. The second half saw Celtic more dangerous but the clock showed 82 minutes and still it was 0-2. Then the talismanic McGrory scored and belief surged through Celtic’s ranks and the support became more voiciferous. Scarff, Nappier and McGrory stretched the Motherwell defence in desperate attempts to force an equaliser. Scarff’s ability to go past defenders and either shoot or cross was causing Motherwell problems. However, as the clock reached 89 minutes and the Motherwell fans roared in anticipation of a famous victory, fate finally intervened. Motherwell defender, Craig chased a through ball towards his own goal as the keeper advanced to deal with it. Craig headed it back towards the keeper and to his horror it flew past him and into the empty net. Celtic had got out of jail in the very last minute, it was 2-2 and how their fans roared at their narrow escape!
In the replay of that final of 1931 Celtic played with a vigour and zest missing from the first match. McGrory and R Thompson hitting two goals each in an entertaining match as Celtic won 4-2 to claim their record thirteenth Cup victory. Peter Scarff played his part and as he celebrated with McGrory, John Thomson and the rest of the side he could never have envisaged the tragedies which lay ahead. Less than 5 months after that cup final victory, John Thompson was dead and within 7 months Peter had coughed up blood during a match with Edinburgh side Leith Athletic. In 1930s Glasgow, a city of crowded, damp, rat infested tenements, coughing up blood was more often than not a sign of the deadly disease tuberculosis. Peter Scarff was a fit young man on the cusp of a great career with Celtic. His 55 goals in 112 games over less than 3 seasons testified to his footballing ability. It is recorded that Willie Maley was distraught at the news of Peter’s illness. He had cried when Peter Johnstone was killed in World War 1 and was stunned when John Thomson was taken so tragically a few months earlier. Now he and Celtic faced the agonising wait to see if Peter Scarff would recover from what was at the time a cruel and often fatal disease. His fitness and fighting spirit saw his struggle on for another two years but on December 9th 1933, Peter Scarff died at the tragically young age of 24 Twice in just two years the Celtic support mourned for a lost son. Who knows the heights Peter would have attained with Celtic? He was capped by Scotland who recognised him as a rising star of the game when his illness had intervened and cut short not just his career but also his life.
Peter Scarff was remembered at his funeral in his home town of Linwood as a decent and loving young man and an excellent footballer. A tearful Willie Maley placed a Celtic shirt on his coffin as he was taken to his final resting place. Newspaper reports of the day speak of a dense crowd lining the streets as he was taken from the church. Stunned looking team mates who had attended John Thomson’s funeral 2 years earlier could have been forgiven for thinking that life could be unfair and cruel at times. Celtic had lost another bright young prospect but of course, much more tragically his family had lost a much loved son.
The Celtic supporters club in Linwood today is named in honour of local boy Peter Scarff. Time may have flowed on but the Celtic family remember and respect those who gave their all in that hooped shirt. Peter showed in just three short seasons that he was the real deal, a strong running inside forward with pace and goals aplenty. He did not get to fulfil his promise in a Celtic shirt as his time at the club he held dear was cut so tragically short but he is rightly remembered as a fine Celt and a great talent.
Rest in peace Peter. We who never saw you play thank you for all you did for Celtic. Hail Hail.