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The Mighty Quinn – The Weekend Long Read

30 January 2021


Over one hundred years have now passed since the floruit of the great Jimmy Quinn. He still remains a potent legend in the impressive pantheon of that great Celtic club. Indeed, it is significant in the Willie Maley song that the first verse referring to the early days of the club states that “Gallacher and Quinn have left their mark”. The Gallacher was, of course, Patsy Gallacher, and the Quinn was the miner boy from Croy.

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Jimmy came out of the pits to play for Celtic and, after his career was over, that was where he returned. He was a simple working miner, like so many Celtic heroes, whose life differed from so many others only in that he was a great football player. No pretentiousness, no snobbery, not even a noticeably wealthier lifestyle. He was simply Jimmy Quinn of Croy.

Croy was an Irish village, deliberately created by the William Baird Company to house the Irish immigrants and to keep them apart from the Protestants of Kilsyth. There was a tradition every 12 July that the barricades were manned at a spot called Finger Post corner on the outskirts of the village to keep out those intent on attacking adherents of the Catholic faith. To this day, it will be hard to find anyone in the village who does not love the Glasgow Celtic.

Quinn joined Celtic in early January 1901. Symbolically at the start of a new century, the great Willie Maley was embarking on a new beginning for Celtic. He had been manager since 1897, and although the Scottish League had been won in 1897/98 and the Cup in 1899, he was worried about the massive strides taken by this other Glasgow team, the Rangers, who seemed as if they would mount a long-term challenge to the likes of Celtic, Hearts and Queen’s Park. The men from Ibrox had won the League in 1898/99 and 1899/1900, looked like doing the same in 1901, and it was really up to Celtic to stop them.

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But for that, Maley needed youngsters. His spies scoured the country, and consistent reports reached his ears about this youngster called James Quinn of Smithston Albion. Maley met him, was impressed by his earnestness, enthusiasm and build, took a chance and signed him on as a left winger in the first instance.

Jimmy was unlucky in 1901 and 1902 to be on the losing side in Scottish Cup finals, but he did have one great day at the Glasgow Exhibition Trophy final of 1902 when his hat-trick beat Rangers.

Some say the Rangers are guid at fitba’

That Smith and Gibson and Speedie are braw,

But Jimmy Quinn, he diddled than a’

At the Glasgow Exhibition, oh!

Yet consistent success was hard to come by for the youngster. Maley could not really make up his mind what Quinn’s best position was, nor could Quinn himself, for although he was always willing to play anywhere he was told, the brawny youngster never seemed able to settle on to a consistent seam of form.

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Season 1903/04 was a pivotal one for Jimmy. It was the first in which Celtic wore the green-and-white horizontal stripes (in time they would be called the Hoops) as distinct from the vertical ones, and it was also the first season of the new Hampden Park, opened on 31 October 1903. The grand venue’s first Scottish Cup final would be staged on 16 April 1904, and appropriately the teams taking part would be Celtic and Rangers.

Quinn’s appearance in the centre-forward position for that final was fortuitous. Alec Bennett had been the centre-forward, but had also been the centre of speculation over a possible transfer to Rangers, a club for whom the player, a non-Catholic, had a certain sympathy. Maley decided to drop Bennett from the final, play Bobby Muir on the right wing, and move Jimmy Quinn, who had hitherto been all over the forward line, to the centre-forward position.

The Scottish Cup final was Quinn’s big chance. He seized it, determined to make a name for himself as a spearhead. He had been more than a little dispirited by his failure to hold down any position and had been thinking of going back to the mines in Croy, but this was a Scottish Cup final. He had twice experienced the bitterness of defeat in that gala encounter, and at one point in the first half may well have felt that a similar thing was about to happen.

Celtic were two goals down, and it was beginning to look as if Maley’s idea for the forward line was not going to work. Maybe it would have been better for Bennett to have played after all; maybe Quinn, who had thus far been overcome by nerves any time the ball came near him, was not really a centre-forward at all. But there was a great deal of the game to go yet, for half-time had not even been reached. Quinn got the ball on the halfway line and kicked it forward. It held up in the wind and Jimmy charged forward, using his mighty bison-like shoulders to barge two Rangers defenders out of the way before drilling home a great goal. Minutes after that, fine work from Bobby Muir on the right enabled him to fire a ball into the goalmouth where Quinn hammered home a second.

Thus at half-time things did not look all that bad. Two goals each. Indeed, looking at the large crowd of 65,000 in the new stadium, the managements of both teams might well have settled for a 2-2 draw, a replay and another big gate. But destiny called on Jimmy Quinn. Ten minutes remained when a ball came to him from the left. He was about 30 yards from goal. He feinted to pass out to the right, but instead charged head down towards the Rangers goal. Using his weight, he once again shouldered the Rangers markers out of his path, reached the edge of the box, and drilled the ball past the advancing Watson.

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Celtic supporters went mad, Jimmy was surrounded by joyful team-mates, but, aware that ten minutes remained, the marksman simply walked back to the centre-line, face on the ground, determined that the team should not now lose the Scottish Cup. Indeed, they did not and Jimmy Quinn was the hero of the hour, having scored a hat-trick in a Scottish Cup final, an unprecedented feat.

It was Celtic’s first national honour of the 20th century. It was also the springboard for total domination of Scottish football for the next six years, with Jimmy Quinn the centre-forward of the mighty attack comprising Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Somers and Hamilton, which can still be recited like a litany by most Celtic supporters today. Alec Bennett had been talked out of his departure for Ibrox. He would go there eventually, but played his full part in the successes of the next few years.

But there was a sting in the tail of that 1903/04 season. In the Glasgow Charity Cup final, Quinn was the victim of a nasty challenge from Rangers’ Nick Smith and was carried off to hospital and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the summer. This incident did little to endear Rangers to Quinn, and would perhaps be a significant backdrop to a couple of incidents later in his career.

The first came on 25 March 1905 in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Parkhead (there were as yet no neutral venues for semi-finals). It was raining, and Celtic were having a bad day. In fact, they were 0-2 down, and showing little signs of getting back into the game as time slipped away. But Quinn had once before rescued Celtic from being 0-2 down and there was still hope.

A steepling ball came into the penalty area, but it was too high for anyone. Rangers full-back Alec Craig had jumped for it, but on landing slipped on the wet turf and, to break his fall, grabbed Jimmy, ending up holding his leg. Jimmy naturally shook his leg to rid it of such unwelcome, if accidental, attention, and in doing so his foot came into contact with Craig’s head.

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Referee Tom Robertson of Queen’s Park thought this was deliberate, and Quinn was ordered off for violent conduct. Craig, a decent and honest man, intervened on Quinn’s behalf but Robertson was adamant. The crowd, meanwhile, outraged by this decision, and perhaps seeing a little class prejudice in their hero being sent off by the referee who had such connections with the middle-class, snooty Queen’s Park, invaded the field and the game had to be abandoned.

Celtic conceded the tie, for there could be no justification for such an attempt at mob rule, but contested the decision against Quinn. Although two Rangers players, Craig himself and Jamie Stark, said that there was nothing deliberate in Quinn’s action, the SFA backed up the referee and suspended Quinn for a month, a decision sustained and upheld when Quinn later appealed.

This was bad news for Jimmy, for it deprived him of a chance to play for Scotland against England at the Crystal Palace. He had already impressed on his International debut against Ireland, and had looked likely to be picked for the trip to London. Sadly he was suspended, and the feeling that Celtic players were discriminated against and not welcome to play for the Scotland international side began to grow.

But Jimmy still had one last laugh in 1904/05. Celtic and Rangers finished joint top of the Scottish League, and instead of using goal average or goal difference (Rangers would have won on both methods) a deciding game was played at Hampden. In fact, a Glasgow League encounter had already been scheduled, and the Scottish League decreed that the winner would be the Scottish champions. Quinn did not score that day, but was instrumental in both the Celtic goals as they won 2-1. Quinn had won the first of his six consecutive League titles that he and Celtic would collect between 1905 and 1910.

The other violent clash involving Quinn and Rangers came on New Year’s Day 1907. This one concerned Rangers’ Joe Hendry, who had just fouled Celtic’s Jimmy McMenemy. Quinn came charging across to remonstrate and, in so doing, slipped on the wet turf, knocked Hendry to the ground and accidentally collided with his face. The referee, an Englishman called Kirkham from Burslem, thought that it was all deliberate, Quinn was sent off and eventually suspended for two months.

The merits of the case however paled into insignificance in comparison with the reaction of the Celtic support. They felt that this was all a deliberate ploy by the authorities to prevent Celtic from becoming the first team to win the Scottish League and the Scottish Cup in the same season, and Quinn, already a hero, now became a demigod in the eyes of the Celtic fans. A campaign was started to compensate him for loss of earnings, and a grand total of £277 was raised as money poured in from Scotland, Ireland and the United States. Concerts were held, and Jimmy was presented with the money a gold watch, and his wife Annie was given a gold pendant.

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The rest of Scotland gaped in amazement at this treatment of the Celtic cult hero. But it had already been obvious for some time that Quinn was a special player in the eyes of the Parkhead faithful. For example, he was referred to as “Jimmy”. Everybody knew who was meant. As the saying went: “What is the difference between King Edward and Glasgow Celtic?” Well, the King has his Queen, but Celtic have their Quinn!” Brake clubs (the primitive equivalent of supporters buses) would call themselves the “Jimmy Quinn Charabanc”, the horses which pulled them would be named “Jimmy” and “Quinn” and even the village of Croy itself suddenly found itself the object of national attention because that was where Jimmy Quinn came from.

Yet in spite of this, Jimmy remained a quiet man, embarrassed by all the accolades, but nevertheless determined that he would continue to fulfil his destiny playing the game he loved and for the team that he loved. He would be seen walking from the railway station to get the tram for Celtic Park, head down trying to avoid people’s gaze, but if someone did recognise him, he would smile in acknowledgement before moving on.

In 1907 his stock rose dramatically after his suspension. He was not picked for Scotland in any of their three games – to the absolute fury of his fans and to the puzzlement of many non-Celtic lovers of the game – but he did help Celtic to their first national double. In fact, the key game was Quinn’s first back after suspension. It was a Scottish Cup tie, as luck would have it, against Rangers at Ibrox.

“Masterly inactivity” would perhaps sum up Quinn’s contribution that day to Celtic’s 3-0 win. He was content to retain a low profile, carefully refusing to retaliate when his old enemy Joe Hendry “accidentally” stood on his stomach, and drawing Rangers defenders to himself while the rest of the forward line did the scoring. This was, of course, the heyday of the mighty half-back line of Young, Loney and Hay, but it was also clear to most spectators that Quinn’s mere presence on the field was enough to spook the Rangers.

Thus Celtic won the double in 1906/07. (They had also won the League in 1905/06). The myth that this was not possible had been shattered. The only thing that spoiled a perfect season was Scotland’s inability, without Quinn, to beat England at St.James’ Park, Newcastle, in an insipid international in which Jimmy’s presence might well have made all the difference. The England defence would not have relished his strength and “the vehemence of his charging” to which the newspapers kept alluding.

But if 1906/07 was good, 1907/08 was superb. It was the season in which Celtic won everything they entered, a feat not paralleled until Jock Stein’s team did the same in 1966/67. Basically it was the year in which Maley’s young team all matured at the same time, they got on marvellously well both on and off the field, and they played marvellous football. Jimmy Quinn was at the epicentre of it all, and it was probably about this time that he earned his nickname “The Equator”, because everything revolved round him! His friend Willie Loney was frequently given the same name as well.

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Quinn scored 24 goals that season, a fair amount considering that he was out for a long spell immediately after the New Year with a toe that turned septic, and caused complications. Still, it was this term that revealed the other side of Quinn’s play. Previously it had been claimed by his detractors that he was simply a “rumble-them-up” sort of centre-forward, relying on brute force and using a great deal of shoulder-charging. Now his admirers saw another side to Jimmy.

He was now a great passer of the ball as he gave a master-class in leading the line. He could distribute to his wingers Bennett and Hamilton, he could interplay with the prodigiously talented inside-forwards Somers and McMenemy, and he could be a partner for centre-half Willie Loney, who would frequently join the attack, particularly for set pieces. In such cases, Quinn could hang back and help out the defence. He was a complete player, and totally deserving of the accolades that the Glasgow Herald, in particular, would hand out to him. “Quinn is a very master.” “Quinn leads the Celtic forward line with panache and vigour.” “Quinn is simply Quinn – and that sums it up!” These offer a telling example of the tributes during that tremendous season.

“Charging” is a word that one reads often in Edwardian football reports. A player was allowed to shoulder-charge an opponent, particularly a goalkeeper, as long as the goalkeeper’s feet were on the ground and he held the ball in his arms. The charge had to be with the shoulder, not the elbow. This practice, barbaric as it sounds, continued in Britain up to the 1950s and although we wince at the thought of it in these softer, gentler times, no-one seemed to criticise its use in Jimmy Quinn’s day. Quinn, of course, with his bison-type shoulders, excelled at it.

There was, however, a fine line between legal charging with the shoulder and fouling with the elbow, and it was the task of the referee to distinguish. On one occasion in October 1907, Jimmy was sent off for illegal charging by an infamous referee, J B Stark of Airdrie. Celtic fans and Quinn sympathisers now held their breath. Quinn’s last suspension was two months. Would this one be more? Could it even be sine die ?

Fortunately, the SFA decided that Jimmy should be let off with a warning. The referee himself had been in trouble previously. The game concerned – Hibs v Celtic at Easter Road – had been a shambles in which other players had been sent off and carried off in the dreadful, internecine, fratricidal atmosphere that sometimes occurred when the Edinburgh Irish met the Glasgow Irish. Moreover, there had been a certain excuse for Jimmy’s “charge” on his opponent. It had been to avenge a wrong previously done by the Hibs player to the diminutive Jimmy McMenemy.

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It was as well that Quinn was not suspended, for 1907/08 would not have been the same without him. Not only were Celtic advancing comfortably on all fronts, but Jimmy revisited the international scene. In particular, he returned to the land of his forefathers, to Dublin on 14 March 1908, when Scotland beat Ireland 5-0. Jimmy Quinn scored four of them – a shot from the edge of the box, two tap-ins and a “charge through” – and the Glasgow Herald praised his unselfishness and distribution. Not to the extent that the Dublin press did, though. Stressing that Jimmy’s parents were Irish, they reported that the talk in the Dublin hostelries that night was “Quinn, Quinn and more Quinn” with one newspaper even declaring: “Not since the days of Charles Stuart Parnell was a man talked about so much in this city”. Others shamelessly took over the description of Parnell, and called Jimmy “the uncrowned King of Ireland”

All this meant that Quinn could hardly be passed over for the “big” international against England at Hampden on 4 April. But vast was the consternation among the Quinn faction when it was announced that Jimmy would switch to the left wing to accommodate Andy Wilson of Sheffield Wednesday. Wilson was another fine centre-forward, but hardly in the Quinn class. To be fair, Quinn had experience of playing on the left flank – indeed, he had appeared there once or twice for Celtic that season when team circumstances demanded it – but it did seem strange to play the mighty man out of position in such an important game.

Criticism of this move tended to die away, however, when early in the game Jimmy charged down the left wing and crossed for Wilson to score. The crowd, a record 120,000 (at least), erupted in raptures at that. Yet after that magnificent goal, England came into the game and earned a debatable equaliser near the end. The conventional wisdom after the game was that if Jimmy Quinn had been in the centre and someone like Bobby Templeton had been on the left wing, Scotland would have won comfortably.

Quinn had no reason to be disappointed about that and the rest of 1907/08 saw Celtic mop up the Scottish League, the Scottish Cup (in a very one-sided final against an overawed St Mirren) and the Glasgow Charity Cup to add to the Glasgow Cup that had been won in the autumn. Celtic had climbed Parnassus, and although the motivating forces were the mighty half-back line of Young, Loney and Hay, as well as the tricky inside-forwards Peter Somers and Jimmy “Napoleon” McMenemy, the player who made it all happen for Celtic was the spearhead Jimmy Quinn, now quite clearly the most talked-about man in Scotland, and possibly England as well.

The Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, died at about this time in April 1908, and there were repeated rumours of the ill health of King Edward VII. Who would replace both these men? Well, Jimmy Quinn, of course! But if the Pope died as well, then he might have to ask for a little help from his friend Willie Loney! Croy became famous. Charabancs would arrive there on a Sunday and disgorge passengers, hoping that they might get a chance to see this mighty man. There was no-one in Scotland vaguely like Jimmy Quinn, often referred to simply as “Jimmy” “Jamie” or “Jeemy”.

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Yet all this adulation sat ill with a profoundly shy man. He had the next campaign to think of. There was no time to rest on laurels. The 1908/09 season remains a dreadful one in the annals of Scottish football, for that was when the lovely new Hampden Park was ripped to shreds after the Scottish Cup final – and all, indirectly, through Jimmy Quinn. It was Jimmy who was responsible for Celtic’s late equalising goal in the first game, when goalkeeper Harry Rennie stepped over the line, ball in hand, to avoid Jimmy’s shoulder charge. It was Jimmy who scored Celtic’s goal in the replay and it was Jimmy whom all the hotheads clambered over the fence to see when he and some other Celtic players stood waiting in vain for extra time, and before things got so tragically out of hand.

In vain did Quinn try to wave them back before realising that safety considerations were of the essence, and that a speedy return to the pavilion was the better option. But although much has been written of the Hampden Riot (which was not, in spite of what some have said, a sectarian disturbance but rather a feeling of having been cheated out of extra time so that a third and even more profitable game could be played), comparatively little has been said of the immediate aftermath when Celtic had to play eight games in 12 days in order to win the Scottish League and pip Dundee.

Jimmy played in all eight games and scored seven goals, never shrinking, never “wanting a break, Boss”, never avoiding the draining and exhausting experience. He was determined that Celtic would win their fifth title in a row, which they duly did on the evening of Friday 30 April 1909 by beating Hamilton Accies 2-1 at Douglas Park, Hamilton. Incredibly, the next day they played again in a pre-arranged tour game in the Highlands! These men were made of steel and Jimmy Quinn was the symbol of them all, ruggedly determined and with no little skil,l either.

However, he had seriously disappointed his fans in Scotland’s game against England at the Crystal Palace the week before the first instalment of the 1909 Scottish Cup final. England beat Scotland 2-0 with two early goals, and Quinn was exceptionally unlucky when a shot from the edge of the box went just past, then his header hit the bar. But Quinn’s moment for Scotland would come.

Season 1909/10 saw Celtic win the League for a phenomenal sixth time in a row, although they would lose in the Scottish Cup semi-final to Clyde. Quinn scored two absolutely sensational goals that term. One was in the Glasgow Cup final at Hampden, when Jimmy, already limping from a slight knock and three Rangers players (one of them the goalkeeper) went up for the same ball. No-one in the 55,000 crowd quite knew what happened but the ball ended up in the net and Jimmy finished with three Rangers men on top of him. It was the only goal of the game.

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The other goal that was still the talk of Ayrshire during the war – not only the 1914–1918 war, but the 1939–1945 war as well! It happened on Christmas Day 1909. In Edwardian Scotland, Christmas Day was no big deal. The Presbyterian Church frowned on its adherents doing anything to enjoy themselves. But those who were at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, got a Christmas treat that they were never likely to forget. It was a muddy day, the overnight frost having thawed suddenly. The pitch was anything but suitable for football; passing accurately was well nigh impossible in such energy sapping circumstances.

Celtic were struggling, with defender Alec McNair injured, and Jimmy was helping out the defence. Suddenly the ball came to him when he was still ten yards inside his own half of the field. His marker slipped on the wet surface. Jimmy saw his chance. There was no point in trying to find a colleague as the ball might stick in the mud, so Jimmy, head down, charged on goal with four Kilmarnock defenders trailing behind him. He was about 25 yards from his target when he feared that one of the defenders was catching up on him. He did what he liked doing best. He shot and scored a brilliant goal into the top corner of the net. “Even the lovers of Kilmarnock applauded vigorously” reported one newspaper.

There would be even more cause to laud Jimmy Quinn by the end of the season. Jimmy had long been a cult hero with Celtic fans, but now this hero-worship spread to all Scotland as well after the international match on 2 April 1910. Scotland’s performances hitherto in 1910 had been none too impressive, but this game against England was widely recognised as the best ever.

The scoreline was 2-0. The first goal arrived when Quinn hit the bar and Celtic colleague Jimmy McMenemy netted the rebound, then the man from Croy scored the second himself. Deftly avoiding a crushing sandwich between two England defenders, who banged into each other, he charged through and found the net. The very impressive forward line of Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Higgins and Templeton (only Higgins of Newcastle United had no Celtic connections, although Bennett now played for Rangers and Templeton for Kilmarnock) toyed with the panic-stricken England defence throughout, to the cheers of the Scottish crowd. That night in the Glasgow and Edinburgh Music Halls, “My darling Clementine” became “My darling Jimmy Quinn”!

It was the apotheosis of Jimmy Quinn. Everyone in Britain now knew who he was. Trains on the Glasgow-to-Edinburgh line would see passengers leave their seats to view the village of Croy, where resided the hero. And yet, he was anything but a hero in his demeanour, going to chapel on a Sunday, talking to his neighbours, inquiring after the health of someone’s ill mother, talking to the children of the village. The press might have called him “King James” and “Jamie the Great” (strong stuff that in Edwardian days!) but Jimmy was unaffected by it. He was, as someone put it rather well, just “an ordinary man”.

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The story is told about how, in another Scottish town on 6 May 1910, word was being spread about the death of King Edward VII. A boy overheard the bad news as the word went around along the lines of “He’s deid” and “The Great Man’s awa’” and so on. Automatically he assumed that the only great man it could possibly be was Jimmy Quinn. Fortunately, Jimmy still had a few years left in him yet!

Quinn was 32 in 1910 and, inevitably given the amount of injuries that he had suffered – many of them deliberately inflicted by despairing defenders – he began to slow down and missed games through fitness problems. The great Celtic team had reached its peak as well, although Quinn did manage another two successful Scottish Cup finals in 1911 and 1912. In 1912, as well, Quinn played for Scotland against Wales, scoring the late winner and rendering the 31,000 Tynecastle crowd “demented with joy”. He also played his final international game against England in 1912, but the selectors once again put him on the left wing, where he was not a failure, but no great success in the mundane 1-1 draw.

After 1912 injuries, an operation to his leg and general decline meant that he did not appear for Celtic very often, although it was not until 1915 that he played his final game, against Hearts at Parkhead in front of large crowd which contained many men in khaki, and already, a few severely disabled soldiers home from France and Belgium. He had played little part in the great 1913/14 season, although he was very much part of the set-up, being willing, for example, to be seen helping to carry the kit hamper off the train at away fixtures. On such occasions, he would smoke a clay pipe, and star-struck locals would nudge each other and say “That’s him”, but then they would remark how true it was that he looked just like an ordinary man.

When his career finished, it was back to the pits at Croy, where every man was required for the war effort. He continued working there through the trauma of the general strike in 1926 and the tragic aftermath, the depression of the early 1930s. Then, late in his life, came the horror of his son John being killed in Holland in 1944.

Jimmy Quinn died on 21 November 1945 and he was buried in Kilsyth cemetery. His funeral was attended by almost everyone in Scottish football, and he had a surprise mourner, the great Billy Meredith of Wales, against whom Quinn had played in 1910 and 1912.

Great footballers never die, of course, for they live on in memory and tale. It is often said by the sneerers that nothing gets lost in the telling of the epic deeds of great men. Yet one only has to look at the contemporary accounts of Jimmy Quinn to find out that nothing had been exaggerated, and that he was the hero of thousands of Celtic fans, and not a few Scotland fans as well. No-one would ever have heard of Croy, if it hadn’t been for the mighty Jimmy Quinn.

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There is also the undeniable fact that Jimmy Quinn was a household name to people other than football fans. There is, for example, the true story of the Latin teacher whose star pupil was mispronouncing the Latin word “quin”, which should have been pronounced as in “queen”, rather than “Quinn”. “No, no, it’s ‘quin’ said the erudite sage – ‘Quinn’ was a football player!” I’ll say he was!

Born in 1948, David Potter first saw Celtic at Dens Park, Dundee in March 29. It was a 3-5 defeat, which equipped him admirably for the horrors of the early 1960’s. He had “followed” Celtic for a few years before that and recalls having been called upon to impersonate Jock Stein and receive the family silver teapot which had to do for the Scottish Cup as it was presented on April 24 1954, after he and his father had spent a nerve wracking afternoon listening to the radio!  Since then, he has “followed” every Celtic game with bated breath, and has written extensively about the club in magazines and books. His favorite team was that of 1969 (which he rates marginally better than 1967) and his favorite player was Henrik Larsson.


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