Saturday, 27 January 2018

Hampden is burning

Hampden is burning

Season 1908-09 was a good one for Willie Maley’s Celtic as they battled with a very useful Dundee side for the championship and secured it on the last day of the league season at Hamilton. It was their fifth straight title and no one it seemed could break the stranglehold this fine side had on the Scottish league. The Scottish cup offered another chance though for Celtic’s rivals to knock them off their perch and some were determined to stop Maley’s side completing a memorable double. The Hoops battled past teams long consigned to the history books as far as senior Scottish football is concerned to reach the final at Hampden. Leith Athletic were beaten 4-2 in Edinburgh before Port Glasgow Athletic were soundly defeated at Celtic Park. Airdrie were despatched in the Quarter Finals before Celtic beat a stubborn Clyde side in the semi-final. They were through to the final and the possibility of a glorious double. Waiting for them in the final were Glasgow rivals Rangers.

Relations between Celtic and Rangers supporters in that era were reasonably cordial although the press spoke of ‘bad blood’ between fans after a particularly vicious brawl at a match between the clubs in 1896. One Newspaper described the fans involved as, ‘The scum of the city, drunken and brutal in their behaviour and language.’ Further trouble occurred in 1905 when Jimmy Quinn of Celtic was sent off for allegedly kicking Rangers’ defender Albert Craig. Celtic fans invaded the field and the Referee was assaulted, according to reports of the time, with an iron paling. There was a rivalry between the clubs but that visceral edge was to heighten considerably in the years ahead.

Rangers had yet to adopt their sectarian signing policy in full. That was to change when Sir John Ure Primrose, Mason, Orangeman and unionist Politician, became Chairman and saw not only the political but financial benefits of a Rangers becoming exclusively Protestant in nature. He dedicated Rangers to the ‘Masonic cause’ in 1912 and at the height of the Irish home rule crisis of the era could be found sharing a platform with Sir Edward Carson. The Irish Barrister leading the anti-home rule faction in Ireland. According to books such as ‘Floodlights and Touchline; A history of Spectator Sport’ he was also spouting the sort of anti-Catholic invective which might appeal to those of limited intellect.

However, that was all in the future as Celtic lined up to face Rangers in the Scottish cup final in April 1909. The crowd of around 70,000 was the highest yet seen for the Cup Final and they saw an entertaining game in which Celtic, led by their talismanic striker Jimmy Quinn, battled back from 2 goals down to secure a draw amid great cheering. The replay again had old Hampden busting at the scenes and after a bruising encounter, in which Quinn had again scored, the teams stood at 1-1. Some of the players left the field while others lingered as if expecting extra-time to be played before they too headed for the changing room. Some of the crowd began to jeer and whistle feeling that the draw had been contrived to get more money out of them in a second replay. The mood turned ugly and press reports of the time testify to the ferocity of the violence which then erupted. One newspaper reported…

Keen dissatisfaction prevailed among the crowd, and protests were heard on many hands, culminating in threats and an outbreak of disorder among the more rowdy elements. The first overt action which resulted in the lamentable scone of the day was the invasion of the playing pitch by a number of the dissatisfied onlookers, their evident intention being to proceed to the dressing-rooms, whither the players had retired. A considerable force of police was, of course, on the ground, and they naturally endeavoured to keep the crowd in order, and to induce them to leave the field peacefully. What actually first led to a collision between the police and the civilians is at present matter of the most conflicting opinion. Soon, however, the mob wore venting their rage on the police force, who were subjected to a fusillade of stones, bottles, brickbats, and every conceivable missile of which the roughs could become possessed. Overwhelmed and swept aside by superior numbers, the police rallied, and endeavoured to cope with their assailants. To this end they were forced to use their batons, and shortly they were engaged in a hand to hand conflict. The gravity of the situation became apparent when a number of the policemen were seen to have sustained such injuries that they were rendered prostrate, and had to be carried off the field.(The Scotsman, April 1909)

The violence, in which supporters of both sides took part in grew in ferocity and soon the mob were on the field doing their best to destroy the goal posts and attack the Police…

‘Maddened by excitement, and relying on their overwhelming numbers, the rioters now proceeded to the extremest limits. The goal-posts were attacked, and uprooted, the nets torn to pieces, and the woodwork around the enclosure broken down to be used as weapons, against the police. Acting with commendable patience and restraint, the police force, who were shortly reinforced by the arrival of reserves from almost every district in the city, persevered in their attempt to clear the ground. A number of mounted Policemen were found to be of great assistance; but the mob took a. malicious delight in surrounding the horsemen, and endeavouring to force them to dismount. They beat man and horse most unmercifully, and in some cases the man was pulled to the ground. Not only had the police to persist in their own work of overcoming the mob, but, they had to protect, and rescue each other. Where a solitary policeman was trapped he was dealt with in the most outrageous manner, and it is little wonder that rumour had it that several of them had been killed.

When the mob started burning the pay boxes, the arriving fire Brigade were greeted with stones and violence too. As they attempted to control the fires, their hoses were cut and one fireman had several ribs broken in the attack. It took 200 Policemen and 16 mounted officers to eventually restore order, but the injury toll was high and the hospitals of Glasgow working flat out to deal with casualties. It was at the time the most serious riot in the history of Scottish football. Both clubs were ordered to pay Queen’s Park £150 towards the damage to their stadium and the SFA paid them an additional £500.

The question of a second replay was raised but both Celtic and Rangers were against the idea and petitioned the SFA to abandon the competition of that year. The press stated…

‘Mr Maley, representing the Celtic, and Mr Mackenzie, representing the Rangers, were recalled and questioned by the Chairman as to a letter appearing in several newspapers of that morning purporting to be a petition to the Association, to abandon the match. Mr Mackenzie said that as regarded the Rangers they accepted responsibility, and the Celtic, who had also agreed, to the document, had a copy of it in their possession.  

With that, the 1909 Scottish cup was withheld and for the first time in peace time there was no winner of the country’s major cup competition. It was a remarkable display of unity by the wilder elements of the Celtic and Rangers support who undoubtedly acted together to bring destruction and violence to the cup final. As the divisions between the clubs widened in the years to follow, it remains unlikely we’ll ever see such joint action again. One press report put the scene at Hampden on that day of rage in almost poetic terms...

‘The South Side of Glasgow trembled to the noise of emergency vehicles, the groans of the injured and to the clamour of the rioters. Above all this hung a pall of smoke. Hampden is burning.

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