Martin Donaldson with A Celtic State of Mind – Down in Albion

Celtic v Albion Rovers: Celtic’s first visit to the newly-opened Cliftonhill.

Looking back through the history books and into Celtic’s inaugural season in Scottish football, this new Glasgow side played eight different teams and finished as runners-up in the Scottish Cup to Third Lanark. With no official league set-up yet established, the Scottish Cup was the premier competition in Scotland, so Celtic reaching the final that year was an incredible achievement for a fledgling club with big ambitions. Of those eight sides Celtic played during 1888 and 1889, only three are still registered as Scottish League clubs: Dumbarton, who we saw off in the semi-finals; Clyde, who were defeated in the fifth-round, and Albion Rovers, who Celtic overcame 4-1 in the third-round tie.

Celtic and Dumbarton were elected to the new league set up in season 1890/91, with Clyde joining in 1891/92. Albion Rovers would have to wait until season 1919/20 and post-World War 1 league reconstruction before contesting a league match against Celtic. This season would also mark the first time that the Scottish champions, Celtic, would play at the newly-opened Cliftonhill Stadium.

By the time Celtic arrived in Coatbridge on Wednesday 14 April, Albion Rovers were perilously close to the bottom of the league, however they were looking forward to their first ever Scottish Cup final just three days later. Rovers had recently disposed of Rangers in an epic semi-final tie, finally winning the second replay 2-0 at Celtic Park.

Perhaps with their minds set on Scottish Cup glory, a weak Albion Rovers side were unable to cope with a dominant Celtic display. With around 11,000 fans paying the admission price for the 6:15 pm kick-off, Celtic set off quickly to entertain the sizeable midweek crowd.

Willie Maley’s side took the lead in the first minute when the talented Tommy McInally ran on to a loose pass from the Rovers defence and stroked the ball into the net, leaving the keeper helpless. Wave after wave of Celtic attack followed thanks to the trickery and pace of outside-right, Andy McAtee. Patsy Gallacher added a second goal, finishing off a cross from the skilful McAtee. Celtic scored a third goal before half-time when defender Willie McStay scored from a free-kick.

The one-way traffic continued into the second half, but Celtic were forced to shuffle the side after talismanic left-back Joe Dodds collapsed on the pitch. Fearless Joe would leave the field meaning Celtic would need to complete the match with ten men. Alec McNair and Willie McStay marshalled the makeshift Celtic defence, while Patsy Gallacher dropped back into midfield, but these changes didn’t affect the flow of the match.

Tommy McInally scored his second and Celtic’s fourth goal after a jinking run from outside-left, Adam McLean. The dazzling skills of McLean were rewarded as he scored the finest and final goal of the match. The talent at the disposal of manager Willie Maley was evident throughout this one-sided 5-0 victory, but unfortunately these skills were not enough to retain the title as Celtic finished runners up to Rangers.

Albion Rovers would go on to lose the Scottish Cup Final 3-2 to Kilmarnock in front of 95,000 fans at Hampden. Rovers maintained their place in Division One until the end of season 1922/1923 when they were relegated along with Alloa Athletic.

Martin Donaldson

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