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Historians pay heed to McGrory's Celtic record

Known as 'Human Torpedo' and 'The Mermaid' for his heading prowess, Celtic FC's Jimmy McGrory set a target even Lionel Messi will struggle to match with 410 top-division goals.

Jimmy McGrory (right) in his Celtic heyday
Jimmy McGrory (right) in his Celtic heyday ©Celtic FC

Lionel Messi's Spanish-record haul of 253 Liga goals for FC Barcelona inspired UEFA.com to seek out the highest-scoring players in Europe's leagues; Alex O'Henley pays homage to Celtic FC phenomenon Jimmy McGrory.

James Edward McGrory, more commonly known as Jimmy McGrory, is Britain's leading goalscorer, boasting an astonishing tally of 550 goals in just 547 appearances in all competitions for Celtic FC and Clydebank FC between 1921 and 1937. Signed by Celtic's first manager Willie Maley, McGrory was loaned to Clydebank for a season, scoring 13 goals in 30 games for the Bankies before returning to Celtic Park, where he would proceed to become the club's record marksman.

Known as the 'Human Torpedo' and 'The Mermaid' for his heading prowess, although he was less than 1.7m tall, McGrory was the top league scorer in Europe in the 1926/27 and '35/36 campaigns with 49 and 50 strikes respectively. In 1927/28 he racked up 63 goals in all competitions, including a British record of eight goals in a single match against Dunfermline Athletic FC. By December 1935 he had reached a then world record of 363 career goals and he would go on to register another British record of 55 hat-tricks, one of which was netted in three minutes against Motherwell FC.

McGrory was likened by former Arsenal FC player Bill Paterson to a fearsome bull, with "shoulders like a young Clydesdale, neck like a prime Aberdeen Angus and a head the nightmare of every goalkeeper", while watching McGrory "hover hawk-like, then twist that powerful neck and flick the ball as fiercely as most players could kick it" gave journalist Hughie Taylor the most "tingling sensation" in football.

Celtic would try to sell McGrory to Arsenal who offered £10,000 for his services in 1928, luring him to London under false pretences to meet Gunners manager Herbert Chapman. Had he signed, McGrory would have become Britain's highest-paid player, but scoring goals in the hoops of Celtic clearly meant more to him than making money, the forward later saying: "McGrory of Arsenal just never sounded as good as McGrory of Celtic."

Jimmy 'The Mermaid' McGrory
Jimmy 'The Mermaid' McGrory©Celtic FC

Remarkably, he played just seven times for Scotland but he claimed six goals, including a double against England in 1933 when his winner was greeted with such noise by the 134,170 crowd it gave birth to 'The Hampden Roar'. A recurring knee injury forced McGrory to retire in 1937, yet inevitably he scored in his final game against Queen's Park FC – his 410th league goal.

Amazingly, he had his weak spots – he only ever took three penalties and missed two of them – but his contribution is noted in the Celtic anthem, the Willie Maley Song:

"And they gave us James McGrory and Paul McStay,
They gave us Johnstone, Tully, Murdoch, Auld and Hay,
And most of the football greats,
Have passed through Parkhead's gates,
All to play football the Glasgow Celtic way."