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Jimmy Delaney: The Stuff of Legend by David W. Potter

Release date: 30th November, 2006
Publisher: Breedon Books

List Price: £16.99
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"It is better to be a champion sport than a sports' champion." This wonderful aphorism was uttered by a man who starred for two of the world's greatest football clubs and who accomplished the unique achievement of gaining cup winners' medals in three different countries over three different decades.

In this uplifting biography, David Potter places Delaney's life in its a socio-political and historical context, hinting at a more sinister reason for his lack of international caps. Sectarianism was rife in Scottish football throughout Delaney's long career and as the author points out on a number of occasions, being a working class Catholic was likely to hinder a player's chances of consistently appearing for the national team.

Jimmy Delaney was born in Lanarkshire in 1914, just a few weeks after the start of the First World War. He was a good but not exceptional footballer, who seems to have been something of a late developer, attracting the attentions of Celtic in September 1933.

Rising rapidly through Parkhead's ranks, he developed into a tricky and speedy winger who could score goals and he became an integral part of a Celtic team that won the Scottish League in 1936 and 1938 and the Scottish Cup in 1937. It was one of Scottish football's greatest eras as crowds flocked back to bulging stadiums following the miseries of the Depression.

Delaney continued playing for Celtic in the limited competitions available during wartime, avoiding a call-up to the army due to a horrific arm injury sustained on the eve of the Second World War.

Considered surplus to Parkhead requirements at the end of the war, he joined fellow Celt Matt Busby at Old Trafford to take a central role in Busby's first Manchester United team. The side were runners-up in the league in the first three years after the war and lifted the FA Cup in 1948, coming from behind to win 4-2.

After short spells reviving Aberdeen and Falkirk in the early 1950s, Delaney joined Derry City in the Irish League and at the age of 39, lifted the Irish Cup in 1954 after two sensational games with Glentoran at Belfast's Windsor Park. He wound down his career with Elgin City before retiring to spend the rest of his working life as a labourer in his home village, the norm in those austere times.

Delaney managed to star 13 times for Scotland, as well as in several unofficial wartime internationals and for League of Scotland teams. He scored a brace of goals against Germany at Ibrox in 1936 which were said to have been "the goals that put Hitler off his tea", and the winning goal in the Victory International against England in 1946. But for the war, which broke out when he was 25 years of age, he would have played more for Scotland and perhaps have been in the all-time lists of goalscorers and appearances.

Not that this would have necessarily bothered Jimmy Delaney. A gentleman on and off the pitch, his family is represented in the current Celtic squad by his grandson John Kennedy. Perhaps the greatest compliment came from a long time opponent: "I could have played against Delaney in my bare feet," said Rangers captain Jock 'Tiger' Shaw. Champion sport or sports' champion? Indisputably both.

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