Remembering Jimmy McMullan

Jimmy McMullan shakes hands before a 1926 FA Cup quarter-final against Clapton Orient
Jimmy McMullan shakes hands before a 1926 FA Cup quarter-final against Clapton Orient

He captained Scotland to what is probably their greatest ever victory yet today his name is rarely mentioned amongst fans of the beautiful game.

James ‘Jimmy’ McMullan was a pioneering professional footballer who blazed a trail through England and Scotland during a dazzling career in the 1920s and 30s.

He was a Manchester City hero at a time when the Blues were the number one team in town.

But it was whilst wearing the dark blue jersey of Scotland that he achieved footballing immortality.

McMullan was captain of the ‘Wembley Wizards’, the team that taught England a stern footballing lesson on March 31, 1928.

The prospect of a Scots side thrashing the Auld Enemy 5-1 at Wembley is beyond the realms of fantasy for even the most diehard Tartan Army member.

Yet, on a cold, rainy afternoon in London, that’s just what Scotland did.

Such is McMullan’s lasting fame in Manchester that a street was named in his honour in 1977 - more than 10 years after his death.

But there is no monument to him in Denny, the Stirlingshire town in which he was born and raised.

Born in 1895, McMullan began his career at Denny Hibernian in 1911 before signing professional terms with Third Lanark.

In 1913 he joined Thirds’ Glasgow rivals Partick Thistle, who at the time were a major force in Scottish football.

Partick turned down a £5000 offer from Newcastle United for the player in 1921.

McMullan, who had long desired a move to English football, was furious. A determined individual at the best of times, he responded by walking out on Thistle and signing on as player-manager at non-league Maidstone United.

As an established Scottish international player, the move sparked uproar in the press - but McMullan stuck to his guns.

The Partick directors eventually persuaded him to return to Glasgow in time for the start of the 1923/24 season.

McMullan fulfilled his ambition of playing in England at the age of 30 when Manchester City paid £4700 for his services in 1926.

Then, as now, City had money to spend and a burning desire for success, as club historian Gary James explained to The Falkirk Herald..

“Jimmy really drove the club forward. He joined what was then quite a weak City side and pretty much single-handedly turned them into a force that could challenge for honours.”

In an era before World Cups and European Championships, the Scotland v England fixture was the most eagerly anticipated in world football.

An SFA panel of selectors picked the team in those days and announced the line-up in the week before the game.

The press reacted with derision when the 1928 team to face England was revealed.

Not one of the Scottish forwards stood over 5”7 in height, and they faced an England side that included the legendary goalscoring machine Dixie Deans.

The night before the game, McMullan addressed the Scotland players in their London hotel. “All I’ve got to say is, go to your bed, put your head on your pillow and pray for rain.”

His prayers were answered. London was battered with heavy rain, and the Scots coped with the heavy Wembley pitch far better than their counterparts.

England hit the post with the opening attack of the game, but Alex James opened the scoring after three minutes and from then on there was only one team in it.

Ivan Sharpe, the celebrated English sports writer, was in the crowd that day.

“England were not merely beaten,” he wrote. “They were bewildered – run to a standstill, made to appear utterly inferior by a team whose play was as cultured and beautiful as I ever expect to see.”

The 11 Wembley Wizzards would never play another game together.

McMullan left City in 1933 to become manager of Oldham Athletic, and later took charge at Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday.

He died in November 1964 - but his name, like the rest of the Wembley Wizards, lives on.