January 25, 1916
The announcement of the death in Glasgow Royal Infirmary of Alex “Sandy” McMahon, the Hibernian, Celtic, and Scottish forward, recalls a player who was, at the height of his career, regarded as one of the cleverest forwards who ever appeared in Scottish football.
As a product of Edinburgh football he rivalled the late Willie Groves until both were eclipsed by the greater endurance as a first-class player of Robert Walker. Groves was associated with the Hibernians until the rise of the Celtic, which took place when McMahon was beginning his career as a senior.
Of the famous old brigade only McGhee remained firm in his attachement to the Easter Road club, and McGhee did a lot for McMahon in the latter’s early days in the senior game.
At that time McMahon was a big, lumbering fellow, who in ordinary attire suggested anything but an athlete. He was, however, transformed when he got into football uniform, and his great promise was easy to detect.
An E.S.F.A. player
In 1889, when the Celtic were for the first time finalists for the Scottish Cup, McMahon was winning his spurs as a representative match player, playing for the East of Scotland Association for the first time, if memory serves, in a match with the Cleveland Association at Dunfermline.
At that time the E.S.F.A. played matches with Glasgow, Renfrewshire, and Dumbartonshire, and McMahon, presumably, played against each of these centres, at all events he was “capped” by the E.S.F.A. in season 1889-90 and 1890-91, when the “old Hibs” were flickering out.
But for the fact that McMahon had played in a Scottish Cup tie with the Hibernians he would, in all likelihood, have played for the Heart of Midlothian in their winning Scottish Cup campaign of 1890-91, at any rate he went with the Hearts to Falkirk and looked on at a towry game with East Stirlingshire, when he shared the fate of the Tynecastle players who were stoned as they left the ground where John Adams fisted at ball in his goalmouth, an incident which helped to hasten the adoption of the penalty-kick rule.
McMahon went to Glasgow after the demise of the Hibernians, but was not immediately taken up by the Celtic, who were at that time getting to the end of their original band of players.
Some time previous the Hibernians had had promised them the service of a young Glasgow player of promise for a match played at the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1890, but the Celtic forestalled them, and so an association which might have begun in Edinburgh first took place in a Celtic holiday tour in England, the Parkhead management discovering that the ex-Hibernians centre was better suited on the left wing.
From this tour dates the celebrated Celtic left wing partnership of McMahon and John James Campbell, the latter being the young Glasgow player who disappointed the Hibernians. The pair made a dazzling wing, and half the clubs in England would have taken them over at heir own price.
McMahon made a flight to Nottingham, and Campbell a stay in Birmingham, and at a later time the partnership was renowned at Parkhead, being only dissolved when A.D. put its mark on both players and they had to be replaced by younger men.
As an Internationalist.
McMahon got 15 S.F.A. and Scottish League “caps,” Campbell 14. McMahon played against Canada in 1891, England in 1892-3-4, Wales in 1902, Ireland in 1893 and 1901, the English League in 1892-3-4-5 and 1900, and the Irish League 1894-6-9.
The international or inter-League match partnerships of the pair were England in 1893, Ireland 1893 and 1901, and the English League matches of 1893 and 1900. Somehow or other the great club partnership was never a great success in representative matches. In 1893, for instance, the England v Scotland match at Richmond showed them to be a very ordinary wing, and McMahon was past his best when the club partnership ws renowned in a representative match connection in 1900.
One of the great days of McMahon’s football career took place in 1892 when the Celtic won the Scottish Cup for the first time. The runners-up were Queen’s Park, and such was the interest in the match that one of the historic “breaks-in” took place at Ibrox when the club first met. The play was interrupted again and again, but McMahon gave so fine a display that the Celtic partisans carried him shoulder-high of the field although it was patent that the Celtic win would not stand.
When the teams met again the Celtic won 5-1 and McMahon scored first, third and fifth goals.
McMahon’s “sand dancing”
The fith was got from a corner and was headed through by McMahon. This was a speciality of his. His height, made him conspicuous in a line up, and that deadly header of his was the turning point in many a match.
He had wonderful command over the ball, but at times he marred his effectiveness by developing a style of play which bewildered the man in opposition but at the same time brought his own forward line to a standstill.
This prank of his earned him the title of the “sand dancer.”
With the fear of the Celtic hanging over them club opponents hesitated to knock McMahon off the ball, but international match opponents had a summary methid of dealing with McMahon, hence largely his comparative non-success as an internationalist.
McMahon was chief of the “stylists” of his day, his poise being beautiful. It was hardly too high a fight of fancy to descrive it as the poetry in motion in football, but, as indicated, McMahon had his defects of his quality.
At the same time he was a brilliant player and a scrupulous opponent who will be kindly remembered.
(Source: Edinburgh Evening News: January 29, 1916)