History Made — The Story of Partick Thistle’s long road to Scottish Cup Glory.
It is impossible as a Partick Thistle fan not to think of the time we stunned Jock Stein’s famed Celtic, even though it happened long before I was born.
Whether it’s tales from the older boys in the pub who were there or wishing that you could have gone yourself when watching the highlights on YouTube, the pride is still there, even as we approach the half-century of what remains Celtic’s record League Cup final defeat.
However, fifty years before that and sadly losing its battle with the sands of time is the only time (to date) we have won the Scottish Cup.
The list of sides who have gone on to win it for the first time since in the fast-approaching 100 years makes even the most ardent Jags fan wince, but the story of that remarkable victory needs telling a new audience.
There were 11 games played from the second round to the final, beginning with a visit to Easter Road to face Hibs on February 5th, 1921.
And they had Kenny Campbell in goal to thank as an inspired performance kept The Hibees at bay, as we held on for a goalless draw.
That meant a replay three days later at Firhill, and this time Hibs were grateful for their goalkeeper Bill Harper for preventing them from exiting the cup.
This second goalless draw was Thistle’s fifth in succession, having not scored in any competition since a 2–0 victory over St. Mirren in the league on January 4th.
They would break the run of games without scoring on February 12th when they beat Greenock Morton 4–0.
That set them up nicely for the third replay with Hibs — and this time, the Hibees were beaten 2–0 at Celtic Park in a game described by The Courier as being played in “disagreeable conditions” of wind and rain.
After the drama of three replays against Hibs, the third-round clash at Firs Park against East Stirlingshire was considerably low-key as Thistle edged out the hosts 2–1.
The victory over The Shire was Thistle’s 5th game in February of 1921 alone, the game taking place on the 19th for reference, and was our 12th fixture since New Year’s day, a 1–0 win over Third Lanark at Firhill.
A 2–1 defeat at Clyde and a 1–1 draw at Firhill with Kilmarnock preceded our next match in the cup, a trip to Fir Park to take on Motherwell.
Described by The Sunday Post’s Bob Mercer as “just a trifle lucky”, Thistle fell behind courtesy of Hughie Ferguson’s goal before equalising through McFarlane “piloting” the ball beyond the goalkeeper, as eloquently told by Mercer.
Ferguson restored Motherwell’s lead before the break, and it seemed that Thistle’s long run in the cup was in danger, but up popped Willie Salisbury, and Thistle headed for yet another cup replay.
That replay took place on March 8th, three days after the original tie, none of this “week after the original tie” stuff you see today.
Predictably, it required a third replay to determine the semi-finalist, following a goalless draw.
As with Hibs, Thistle finally triumphed in the third replay over Motherwell.
Ibrox hosted the seemingly inseparable sides, and Bobby McFarlane and Alex Lauder set up a semi-final with Hearts.
The semi-finals took place on March 26th at Ibrox and Celtic Park.
Rangers eased into the final with a 4–1 victory over Albion Rovers at Celtic Park courtesy of a Tommy Cairns brace and a goal each from Andy Cunningham and Sandy McFarlane.
Almost predictably, Thistle and Hearts played out a draw, meaning that all bar one of Thistle’s ties in the cup had gone to a replay by this point.
The semi itself was Thistle’s second fixture in their last three hosted at Ibrox, and they would play their next two fixtures there, a 1–0 defeat to Celtic in the league and the replay with Hearts.
After one goalless draw and multiple do-overs at nearly every stage, Hearts were understandably the favourites for the rematch.
Still, it would be Thistle who came closest to winning this time, James Kinloch and Matthew Wilson spurning great chances, and it meant for the third time in the cup run, Thistle would have to contest a second replay.
Sandwiched between the two replays for Thistle was a 2–2 draw at Firhill with Aberdeen, Joe Harris and Willie Salisbury were Thistle’s goalscorers.
Thus, it came down to a Celtic Park showdown for the right to reach the final at, erm, Celtic Park. We’ll come to that bit later.
After two drawn games derided in the press for their poor quality, Thistle and Hearts served up a third, but fortunately, Thistle won out this time.
Jimmy Kinloch, who had missed one of the two big chances that Thistle spurned in the first replayed match, made amends by scoring both of the goals to send Thistle through to play Rangers.
After capitalising on Hearts’ Wilson’s poor clearance, Kinloch then took his time to beat Kane in the Hearts goal after 13 minutes of play and a maiden Scottish Cup final for Thistle was secured by a strike from distance by that man Kinloch again.
In perhaps the most typical Partick Thistle fashion, this Herculean effort to reach the Scottish Cup final was followed three days later by a 1–0 defeat to Hamilton Accies.
The loss to Accies gave Thistle eight days to stew ahead of the final against Bill Struth’s seemingly unstoppable Rangers.
The 1921 Scottish Cup final is one of real intrigue, even if you’re not a Thistle supporter because of its closeness in time to Black Friday, which happened three days earlier.
Coal miners had been on strike since the end of March 1921.
They widely expected that their Triple Alliance allies would join them, the Triple Alliance being the name of the triumvirate of the Trade Unions supporting the Miners, the Railwaymen and Transport.
But on Black Friday (April 15th), the Transport and Rail Unions voted not to do so, the name Black Friday coming about from Labour radicals feeling there had been a betrayal of trust and breach of solidarity.
Back to the game and the final took place at Celtic Park, and the decision to raise the admission from one shilling to two caused consternation among the match-going punters, especially during social unrest.
As a result of the raised gate prices, the “Boycott Final”, as it became known, attracted only 28,294 to Glasgow’s East End for the showpiece event, the previous season’s final between Kilmarnock and Albion Rovers had attracted a crowd of 95,000 to Hampden Park, by comparison.
Thistle’s two meetings with Rangers had ended with two defeats to nil, losing 3–0 at Ibrox on October 16th, 1920 and 2–0 at Firhill on January 3rd, 1921.
As mentioned earlier, Rangers were convincing champions in Bill Struth’s first year in charge at Ibrox as manager, going on to lose just one of their 42 league games that season, winning 35.
They had two players who would score more than 20 goals that season in Andy Cunningham (27) and Geordie Henderson (23), while two more got more than 10, Sandy Archibald and Tommy Cairns both scoring 16 each.
Thistle were also without their two best players in Willie Hamilton, who missed the game with illness, and Jimmy McMullan, their star half-back, injured on international duty with Scotland the week of the final.
So just how did Thistle win it? Well, in an otherwise analytical report on the final by Celtic manager Willie Maley for The Sunday Post, he suggests that Rangers beat themselves.
He does, however, credit Thistle’s defence, which dropped back to frustrate Rangers short passing game, which had worked so well for them in the league that season.
Rangers dominated the first 20 minutes of the game, Andy Cunningham and Sandy Archibald saw efforts blocked by the tenacious Thistle defence while Tommy Cairns also missed from close range.
In this spell of Rangers dominance, the winning goal for Thistle arrived courtesy of a Willie Salisbury cross and a finish from close range by Johnny Blair.
Such was the accuracy of Blair’s effort that Rangers goalkeeper Willie Robb did not attempt to deny the Thistle outside-right.
And Thistle nearly had a second goal just before the interval when Jimmy Kinloch, the hero of the second replay of the semi-final against Hearts, saw his effort at goal held by Robb in the Rangers goal.
Try as they might, Rangers could not find a way back into the game, thanks in part to the stellar defending on show from Thistle, who drafted in Walter Borthwick to replace Willie Hamilton.
Thistle also had the ageless Celtic legend Jimmy McMenemy playing, who showed at no stage his being almost 41 years of age.
McMenemy had joined Thistle in 1920 after spending 18 years at Celtic, where he scored 142 goals in 456 games, lifting 11 league titles and six Scottish Cups — winning a league and cup double in 1907 and 1908 then again in 1914.
Nicknamed Napoleon by his peers for his tactical prowess and leadership qualities, he would stay at Firhill until 1923, finally retiring aged 42 before going on to coach after a sabbatical from the game to run a pub.
He coached at Thistle briefly, then returned to Celtic as a trainer, then as Willie Maley’s assistant.
Passed over for the Celtic job when Maley retired in 1940, he retired himself soon after, dying in Glasgow in 1965 at the age of 84.
He is also related [distantly] to the former Southampton and England manager, Lawrie McMenemy.
It seems unfathomable considering everything that has occurred since this defeat to Thistle extended Rangers wait for the Scottish Cup to 18 years, but it had.
They would eventually get their hands on the cup for the first time since 1903 in 1927 when they defeated Celtic 4–0 in the final.
Thistle and Rangers would meet again in the Scottish Cup final in 1930, with the match going to a replay.
Unfortunately for Thistle, there was no repeat of 1921, and we lost 2–1.
Such was the scale of the change in fortune to come for both sides that John Torbet’s goal in that 1930 final replay would be the last time Thistle scored against Rangers in the cup until Damon Gray scored THAT goal at Ibrox in 2008.
The record for the most games played in a Scottish Cup run is 11 matches, set by Third Lanark in 1878 and equalled by Vale of Leven in 1890.
However, Thistle broke ground by becoming the first side to play that amount of matches and win the trophy — the two sides above were losing finalists.
Unsurprisingly, it has only happened once since, by East Fife in 1938, although Hibs did play 11 matches in reaching the 1924 final.
And with the advent of no replays in the current Scottish Cup season, such gruelling schedules are (probably gladly) a thing of the past.
In summary, Partick Thistle played 11 matches in the Scottish Cup en route to winning it, needing nine attempts to win three games.
They were without two of their best players and had to call on a 40-year-old they’d signed, glittering C.V. as such — and they beat the best team in the country who only lost one game all season out of 42.
If that isn’t a very Partick Thistle way of getting things done, I don’t know what is.