Willie Maley’s life story: Part 1

May 11, 1924
40 years behind the scenes in football.
To-day we publish the first instalment of the experiences of Mr Wille Maley, manager of Celtic F.C., which he is telling exclusively for “The Sunday Post.”

1924 William Maley

It is a most absorbing narrative – one which has been eagerly awaited for some time – for during Mr Maley’s forty years in the game and behind the scenes in football, he has been an outstanding personality, and has had many exciting adventures. He tells the romantic stories of hos the famous Celtic stars were captured, relates numerous extraordinary personal experiences, and lifts the veil upon many secrets.

In this opening chapter Mr Maley unfolds for the first time the full details of the signing of the Scottish idol, James Quinn.

Like all mortals, I suppose I am not too fond of counting the fleeting years of my football life.

I do occasionally bring myself up with a jerk when I realise that I have been actively associated with the game for nearly forty years, and when I am being told by many of my friends that the story of my career should not be further delayed.

It is, indeed, with a degree of pleasure that I am taking up my pen for this purpose.

I flatter myself that I have always been a keen student of human nature, and this enables me to reveal to the public the human side of football, in preference to the prosaic aspect, as it has presented itself to me, in the course of my activities behind the scenes.

Not long ago I was asked by an intimate acquaintance what I regarded as the greatest thing in my football experience.

My answer was very prompt and decisive. It was, “The capture of James Quinn.”

And I was not forgetting the discoveries of such players as James McMenemy, whom I signed on Saturday evening in a close in Argyle Street; the fixing of Alec Bennett in his father’s office; the amazing case of Alan McLeod, whose signature I obtained at midnight in the wilds of Fifeshire, and who, greatly to the loss of Scottish football, made a dramatic exit from the game; and the finding of Patsy Gallagher, a strip of a lad whom the critics declared would not last in football for six months, and yet proved, and remains so to-day, one of the most brilliant exponents of the game.

Nor was I overlooking my nerve-trying adventure down in Sheffield when, whilst approaching a Liverpool player, I escaped by the skin of my teeth being reported to the English Association, and, further, I was not forgetting the occasion when some of the Celtic team went on strike, the great riot scenes at Hampden, and what I saw of the Ibrox disaster.

The greatest idol.
So I could go on – I will, of course, deal at length with all these landmarks in my career – and yet towering above everybody and everything there appears the greatest idol Scottish football has worshipped – Jamie Quinn.

Quinn – what memories! I feel the moment I mention his name the Scottish football enthusiast is at attention. Those who witnessed his wondrous deeds never tire of hearing them detailed over and over again, and those who never saw the swift-moving, lion-hearted centre lead the Celtic attack just lament that he came and went before their time.

I can with every confidence claim a more intimate knowledge of James Quinn than anyone in the football world.

We were friends, within ten minutes of our meeting on that memorable day when I first approached him, and we are friends to-day.

He visits me regularly, many a chat we have over old times, and nothing delights Jamie more than to pay a visit to Parkhead to see the promising lads getting a show.

How I came into the game.
I want to pass over very quickly how I personally came into the game, and finally took over the managerial duties of the Celtic F.C.

I was born at Newry, County Down. My father was a sergeant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, stationed there at the time. When I was a small boy we moved to Glasgow, becoming drill instructor to the 23rd Renfrewshire Riffle Volunteers at Cathkin. The battalion ran a football team, and, naturally, I followed its fortunes. At practice time I was always there to get a kick at the ball.

As a youth I played for the Hazelbank Juniors. I did well, but my father was not anxious for me to spend too much time chasing a ball.

I was sent to an accountant’s office in West George Street, Glasgow – quite a valuable statistical experience I got too – but I wasn’t desirous for an indoor life.

I took up football seriously then. I played for Third Lanark, and when the Celtic F.C. was formed in 1888, I was prevailed upon to throw in my lot with the Parkhead team.

I played in their first match as a left half. Later my name was added to the committee, then I became match secretary, and finally I was appointed manager.

In this capacity it has naturally fallen to my lot to be associated with the arduous work of team building. True, the Celtic has been fortunate in producing many noted players.

But, oh, those innumerable fruitless errands the tedious journeys into remote parts of the country, the strain on one’s persuasive powers, the disappointments, the fear of the other manager stealing a march on you, the anxiety in your mind when you get a player, wondering if he will justify your enterprise.

For example, very few people know that when Quinn first came to the Celtic he did not impress one of our Directors.

That gentleman actually suggested we should dispose of him. If – I shudder even now what the consequence would have been if Quinn had gone – Quinn, the master marksman, the player whose name was actually discussed in a millionaires’ club in London, a circle in which football had never been discussed before, but was the topic of conversation because a member happened to pick up a German newspaper, which was enthusiastic about Scotia’s wonderful footballer; Quinn, the fellow for whom huge crowds waited each Saturday at Queen Street Station just to get a glimpse of their hero hurrying for the train to the mining village of Croy, where he still lives; Quinn, who was publicly feted – much to his embarrassment – at a crowded gathering in the South Side of Glasgow.

Yes, Quinn was and is a very modest and unassuming fellow. He detested hero-worship like the plague. I don’t think he ever realised what a wonderful player he was!

Jimmy – he’s always been Jimmy to me – is devoted to home life. In 1921 the Canadians were anxious to see him. He was within an ace of becoming one of the Scottish touring party.

His trunk was packed, his passport secured, and his ticket purchased.

At the last moment he decided not to go. His mother was ill.
“I canna leave the old lady, not for a’ the tours in the world,” he said and he remained behind.

How I captured Quinn.
Innumerable times I ask myself – “Shall I ever get another Quinn?”
I doubt it very much.

How did I get Quinn? The full story has never been told, and I am going to relate it in detail.

I cannot recall who was the first to mention his name to me, but he was much talked about when playing for the Smithston Hibs in a series of Dumbarton junior ties.

One day at least half a dozen friends said – “That fellow Quinn is playing well, Willie. You should see him. He’s a fine strong player and such a shot. Wonder if he would be any good for the Celtic?”

“You never know,” I answered. “I’ll need to see him.”

Other matters were keeping me busy. Then a few days later more enthusiasts would come along and say – “Did you notice, Willie, that that fellow Quinn is at it again?”

And so on, until I felt that it would be as well to see this chap Quinn. We were wanting a centre with dash, and a chap who could get goals – a fellow who could put the finishing touch on the play of the other forwards.

One Saturday I discovered that Smithston Hibs were playing at Stenhousemuir. I decided to go there. Off I went to Queen Street Station.

A clash with Rangers.
Just as I had purchased my ticket I got a nasty start, for at the station I ran into no other than the late Mr Wilton, manager of Rangers, accompanied by a Director. The competitive element!

“Hello, Willie,” cried Mr Wilton good-naturedly. “Where are you bound for?”

Now, I felt absolutely certain that the Light Blue gentlemen were going my way, too. Who would not have been?

In a second I began to kick myself metaphorically for dilly-dallying. They must know about this Quinn, I said to myself.

But alertness and a little bit of luck go a long way.

“Why, Willie,” I replied, “where are you going?”

Imagine my relief. The Rangers’ manager was not a bit enthusiastic.

“Oh,” he said, “we are just popping over to see a fellow at Falkirk.” Don’t think he’s much good. I suppose you are going there too?”

Ah! Here was a chance to think out a plan.

“Yes,” I answered. “I thought I would go to Falkirk to-day. You never know what might crop up.”

And so we travelled together, and chatted on things in general. Sometimes I was a bit absent-minded. I couldn’t avoid it. I felt that I must see Quinn that day, and that at Falkirk I must do the vanishing trick. Loss of time, even a couple of hours, might be fatal.

On leaving Falkirk Station I espied a cabman with whom I was well acquainted.

Leaving my companions for several moments on the pretext that I wanted to have a few cheery words with the old fellow, I went across to him, and quickly told him to drive to the ground – it was a junior match – in about an hour’s time.

This meant the cabbie would bring his noble charger and chariot when the half-time whistle sounded.

I re-joined the Rangers’ representatives, and proceeded to the game at Bainsford. I was not in the least interested. I didn’t know which player the Ibrox men were watching. Whether they tumbled to my game was always a mystery to me.

Anyway, when half-time was approaching I said to them – “Well, gentlemen, there’s nothing interesting me here. I think I’ll go.”

It was quite on the cards that they were glad to see my back. My departure gave them more freedom. Naturally!

I was soon out of the ground. My cabby friend was there all right – at a respectable distance away, according to instructions.

“Drive me to Stenhousemuir,” I said, “at full speed.” What a boon a taxi would have been in those days. But the steed did well. I soon discovered the venue of the match. It had started later than the other game. Though the crowd I pushed my way to the ropes.

Quinn – and Crocked, too.
“How’s the game going, boys?” I inquired of some of the spectators.
“Oh, fine,” was the reply. “We’re winning, but —“
“Is Quinn playing?” I inquired, betraying real excitement.
“No the noo,” was the reply.
“What!” I cried.
“Well, he’s just going off the field,” answered my informant.
“Yonder he is.”

Sure enough it was Quinn. He had been injured just before I arrived, and was limping off the field. I hurried round the crowd and followed, for Quinn was alone. On he struggled – and finally turned in at the Plough Inn, which I discovered was the team’s dressing headquarters, and, incidentally, quite a nice place wherein the players could talk over the match!

In the doorway I overtook the young fellow.

He had limped all the way from the ground to the Plough Inn, but I was at once impress with his physique. Of course, he was just a laddie, but his build was there all right.

“Are you Quinn?” I asked.
“Aye, that’s my name,” he replied simply. Jamie was always a retiring fellow, and unless you knew him well it’s a terribly hard job to force the conversation.

“What’s wrong, my lad?” I inquired when I saw the young centre forward stopping, as if in considerable pain, to rub his knee.
“Och,” he replied, in a casual and disappointed tone, “I’ve hurt my knee in a tackle.”

In an unfamiliar role.
“But what are you going to do?” I asked anxiously, for there was no trainer, and I knew the importance of prompt attention.
“I’ll just tie it up,” he replied nonchalantly.

1924 Jimmy Quinn 1

I explained to the young fellow that I knew something about injured knees, and that if he liked I wold help him.
“I’ll be very glad,” said Quinn. I went out, called a boy, despatched him to the chemist’s for a bottle of embrocation, returned, summoned the girl in the hotel, asked her to get some hot water, applied fomentations, and then later the embrocation, giving the strained knee – for such was the injury – a good rubbing.

With coat off, sleeves rolled up, I worked hard for half an hour, and occasionally noticed that Quinn, whose Identity I had, of course, verified from his own lips, was looking at me very hard.

When I had finished the job I said, “By the way, Quinn, do you happen to know who I am?”
“I’m no’ very sure,” was his answer.
I said my name was Maley, and the club – Celtic.
“Well,” Quinn declared with a smile, “I just guessed it was you, Mr. Maley.”

And so we became friends – real friends – just as we are to-day!

I broached the subject of his signing for the Celtic, but Quinn immediately took up a firm stand.

“No, no, Mr Maley,” was his answer. “I shall never play senior. I want to remain with the juniors. Besides, I’ll not be good enough for a big team.

We talked and talked, but it was no use. Jimmy was not having any! Finally I had to leave him. The other members of the team were expected back at any moment, and I did not want too many folk to see me on the job.

I told Quinn to regard my visit as confidential, that he would be wise to make no promises to any other body, and that I would see him again.

He repeated he would not become a senior, but added he would be pleased to see me again, and that he would keep my confidence. I trusted Quinn from that moment, and he never betrayed my confidence.

At Jimmy’s home.
Well, soon afterwards, it was a dark night in December, I went out to Croy to see Quinn at his home in Smithston Row.

In those days the colliers were very jealous of their players, and although I thought that in the darkness I was well under cover, word soon went round that an agent was down to see “Queen,” as they called him.

Jimmy was at home in the family circle. Father, mother, and brother Peter were there, seated round a roaring fire. As a visitor, I was made welcome, and steaming tea came from a big kettle. And then to business, but what a job!

“Now, what about it, Jimmy?” I asked jovially.
Jimmy sat in silence for a few minutes. The other members of the family did not disturb his meditations. Finally he said. “No, Mr Maley, I’d rather remain with the juniors.”

So I got my persuasive powers to work, but all in vain. Jimmy’s mind was made up.

Almost in despair I turned to the lad’s father.

“He must please hissel,” was the rather curt answer.
“Aye, that’s so,” echoed mother.
“Yes, just that,” added Peter.
“No, I’ll no’ sign,” declared Jimmy.

You might wonder about my anxiety to sign this youth whom I had not seen kick a ball. Yes, but I felt that I was on the right track – instinctively so.

And, what was more, I had heard that other clubs were inquiring about Quinn.

One obliged friend had actually informed me that Partick Thistle were pretty confident that they would get the boy all right.

Besides, constant reports of the player’s ability were still reaching me. I meant to have Quinn. I was never so sure that I was on the right track.

A chance shot.
I did not give in, and as a last resort – a chance shot, almost grotesque in its conception – I suggested to Quinn that if I could show to my management that I had got his signature, even though he never played as a senior, it would prove to them that I had at least done my job.

After much more argument James declared that he would put his name to paper on the condition that it did not bind him to play senior. What a useful agreement, eh!

Surely it was a queer signing-on process, and as Jimmy’s pen scratched away in the dim light of the cottage lamp I could not help visualising the absurdity of the business – if the conditions were fulfilled. Call it a wily move, if you like, or an apparent foolish business, the great point was that at last the first step had been made, although so remote.

I paid Jimmy £2 and his brother Peter a similar amount in lieu of “time lost” though the pair were not on the night shift in the pit. Still they had to rise early the next morning.

Wishing the family “Good night,” I returned to Glasgow with the last train, and next morning duly reported progress to my Directors. They were amused, but felt that I would succeed in the matter.

In the month of January the Celtic went to Rothesay for special training in view of the Cup ties. I thought this presented an opportunity for a good move. Why not invite James Quinn to spend a holiday with the boys?

I write him a note, explained that all his expenses would be paid, he would meet the Celtic fellows, and find them a most genial crowd.

Quinn accepted the invitation, and travelled with us. My idea was to get him into the ways of a senior player, and thus cause him to make a sensible decision.

Quinn took to the life at Rothesay as a duck to water, and within a few days I got out a new form, and signed him as a senior player, no difficulty whatever being encountered. He got £20 down and a wage of £3 10s. He played his first game at outside left. For some little time Quinn did not hit it off. Some folk thought that he would not be a success. Indeed, as indicated at the outset, one of our Directors actually moved that Quinn be placed on the transfer list.

If that critic’s view had been regarded seriously what a tragedy would have been enacted in the history of Celtic F.C.
(Sunday Post: May 11, 1924)

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