A Record Attendance at Love Street (1949)

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Celtic, 11th February 2024)

St. Mirren v Celtic 1949

St. Mirren v Celtic 1949

The years immediately following the end of the Second World War saw crowds of unparalleled size flock to Scottish football matches. Football hadn't entirely disappeared during the war, but the major competitions had been suspended and had been replaced with less-popular regional leagues and cups.

The gradual lifting of wartime restrictions and the reinstatement of the League and Scottish Cup for season 1946/47 brought some normality to proceedings. In addition, a new League Cup competition was introduced whose sectional format was a novelty to Scottish football. It is difficult to understand now just how new and exciting this appeared to fans who had been starved of 'real' football for so long.

In 1949, the League Cup was given greater prominence when the sectional matches were rescheduled to be played ahead of the League season. In that season, St. Mirren were drawn in Division A, Section A alongside Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers.

On August 20th 1949, Celtic were welcomed to Love Street. After two rounds of matches, Saints had beaten Aberdeen 3-1 and had lost 1-5 to Rangers, a scoreline which had flattered the Ibrox side. The Hoops were not the force they would soon become, but they had made an unbeaten start to the section, beating Rangers 3-2 in the opener and following this up with a 5-4 midweek win at Pittodrie.

At first glance, the fixture was nothing more than a run of the mill game, the result of which would not decide the final section placings but nevertheless it attracted a huge crowd of 47,438 - Love Street's record attendance. This was just ten more than the previous record attained in March 1925 when the same two sides fought out a goalless Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie.

The programme for the match, issue number 21 of the new series, was an eight-page A5-sized issue printed black on white matt paper. The front cover carried a banner displaying the Club name above the illustration of a player in St. Mirren colours. The opponents and date of the match were given, but not the year. As was common in early season issues, not all advertising space had been allocated and the bottom panel of the cover remained blank.

St. Mirren v Celtic 1949

Celtic goalkeeper Miller clears from a corner with
St. Mirren's Milne on the ground and Celtic's Boden chasing the ball
The large Northbank crowd can be seen in the background

"Club Notes", spread across two pages, welcomed Celtic and commented on their high-scoring, unbeaten start to the season. However, it was noted that their defence was suspect, having already conceded six goals in their first two matches, attributing this to their use of attacking wing-halves who left the backs with too much to do.

As for the home side, the "Notes" remarked that the team were fortunate to overcome Aberdeen with a patchy performance but had fared better against Rangers. The defeat at Ibrox was traced to defensive lapses, but no blame was attached to goalkeeper Willie Miller, who had given a confident display. The notes concluded with upcoming fixture information, reports on recent injury news and the progress of the reserves.

The centre pages displayed the team line-ups, each side showing one change from the players who took the field. For St. Mirren, Alex Crowe took the number four shirt in place of the listed Jimmy Drinkwater whilst, for the visitors, Robert Milne appeared in the left-half position instead of Pat McAulay.

On page seven, the Half-Time Score Board listed the fourteen other League Cup ties being played that day and the remainder of the programme was occupied by adverts.

It can be reasonably assumed that the unexpected size of the crowd would have made this issue a sell out and, with the passing years, not many copies will have survived. It has rarely been seen on dealers lists and so will command a fair price when one does appear.

Celtic spent most of the early stages of the match in Saints' half but they squandered a number of chances against a nervy home defence.

However, it was St. Mirren who took the lead after twenty minutes. Davie Lapsley swung a free-kick in from the halfway line towards goal and Johnny Deakin, sprinting through a static Celtic defence, headed the ball beyond Willie Miller in the visitors' goal.

The home side could have doubled that lead only eight minutes later when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Alec Boden on Gerry Burrell. However, Willie Telfer's carefully placed kick was turned around the left-hand post by Miller for the first of a string of saves which the Celtic custodian would make during the 90 minutes.

Thereafter, both sides had periods of dominance without causing real trouble to the opposing defence and St. Mirren took the plaudits with a 1-0 win.

Just ten days later, another 45,000 crowd attended the midweek League Cup clash between St. Mirren and Rangers which ended in a 1-1 draw, but the record remained intact until the Club left Love Street in 2009.