In what is by far the earliest goal of the series PAUL McQUADE looks at Patsy Gallacher’s legendary equaliser in the 1925 Scottish Cup final.
They called him ‘The Mighty Atom’. Standing at a mere 5′ 5″ and weighing little over nine stone, Patsy Gallacher was small – but this tiny bundle of energy was near impossible to suppress. He looked unwieldy and some thought feeble, but Patsy had the physical qualities of a gymnast and relentless stamina which few opponents could match.
He made his Celtic debut in 1911 and the club’s first official history described how he “caught the popular fancy with his unorthodox style, his inexhaustible treasury of tricks, his magical elusiveness expressed in uncatchable wriggles, slips, swerves, hops and famous ‘hesitation’ stops. Physically speaking, he should have been wafted off the field like thistledown.”
This atomic might was not for wafting off though. He helped Celtic to six league titles and three Scottish Cup’s during a majestic era for Willie Maley’s team. Then, in 1925, came the moment that made him the stuff of legend.
Some thought that the 1925 Scottish Cup Final would be a walkover for Celtic. Dundee had only won the Scottish Cup once before (against Clyde in 1910) and were not fancied to overcome the Glasgow giants who were aiming to beat the record held jointly with Queen’s Park of ten Scottish Cup triumphs.
75,157 spectators looked on at Hampden Park as the Dark Blues put up a strong display, scoring thirty minutes in and leaving the pitch at half-time with their lead still intact. The Dundee Courier waxed lyrical about the performance of Dundee’s keeper Jock Britton: “Many a joyous roar from the considerable Celtic support was choked down by the Dens Park custodian. It seemed he could not be beaten.” Despite further chances, Dundee kept Celtic at bay and there was now only a quarter of an hour left on the referee’s watch. It looked as though the Dark Blues would hold out and take football’s oldest trophy home to Dundee.
Gallacher, however, had other ideas. Celtic grabbed an equaliser and Dundee’s Evening Telegraph reported: “Gallacher it was who did it. A free kick and a ‘breenge’. That was all there was to it, and it was level pegging.” The Scotsman was just as succinct: “Gallacher, in company with a couple of other Celts, to rush the ball into the net.’
A breenge and a rush? This contrasted sharply with the report in the Glasgow Herald: “In a career of much distinction it is questionable if the clever Celt ever accomplished anything quite so sensational and clever.” The intrigue is in the detail: “In 76 minutes Celtic got the goal that always seemed imminent, Gallacher crowning a daring and devious bit of play by throwing himself bodily into the net and carrying the ball with him.”
Throwing himself into the net? Carrying the ball? What on earth was going on? The Dundee Advertiser added some more colour: “The ‘Mighty Atom’ wriggled and pushed his way through a litter of friends and foes to stagger into the back of the net with the leather.”
Dundee’s resistance was broken. With only three minutes of the game remaining, a header from Jimmy McGrory breached Britton’s goal again and won the cup for Celtic. In his autobiography fifty years later the record-breaking McGrory recalled what he referred to as “the greatest goal I have ever seen” in detail:
With that peculiar dragging motion of his, he meandered past man after man until the Dundee left back made a desperate effort to stop him. Patsy fell to the roar of “penalty” from the Celtic crowd but in falling he had craftily kept the ball gripped between his feet and as the keeper came out Patsy somersaulted into the back of the net still with that ball lodged between his feet . . . I had to run into the net to free Patsy.
With no film footage of the cup final or even action photographs the only other accounts of Celtic’s equaliser come from contemporary newspaper cartoons which show Patsy stuck in the goal-net after the goal.
22-year-old Robert Kelly, who would later become Celtic Chairman, was at the final and referred to Patsy’s goal has being an “almost superhuman effort” when “having tricked the goalkeeper and again almost having been grounded by an attempted tackle, he somersaulted, with the ball wedged between his boots, right in the net, from which his delighted team-mates had to extricate him.’
Almost a century on Celtic supporters still talk of ‘The Mighty Atom’ and the goal like no other.