The Empire Exhibition Trophy
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The Empire Exhibition Trophy

The Empire Exhibition Trophy was a football tournament held in Glasgow in 1938 as part of the Empire Exhibition held at Bellahouston Park, This article takes a look at the history of the football tournament, the clubs from Scotland and England who competed in it, and the results of every game, right up to the final where Celtic beat Everton.

The city of Glasgow was home to the Empire Exhibition of 1938. Held at Bellahouston on the south side of the river Clyde, the Empire Exhibition was to be 'an exposition of the work, life, culture and progress' of the British Empire. Glasgow was selected as host for the exhibition for two main reasons - firstly because Glasgow was the 'second city of the Empire' and secondly because it would mark the 50th anniversary of the International Exhibition which was also held in the city. 

Glasgow, then as now, has always had a love of football, and the organisers of the Empire Exhbition took the impressive step of holding a football tournament as part of the exhibition. Four Scottish teams and four English teams would be invited to participate and the tournament would be a straight knock out. The four Scottish clubs that entered the tournament were the four biggest clubs Rangers, Celtic, Hearts and Aberdeen. Then English champions Arsenal and FA Cup holders Preston North End were unable to come to the tournament but with Chelsea, Sunerland, Brentford and Everton taking the four English places a tantalising tournament was on the cards. The winners would, after all, have every right to call themselves the best team in Britain!

All of the matches would be played at Ibrox Park, the home of Rangers, because of its proximity to Bellahouston. The Empire Exhibition Trophy had a trophy up for grabs, designed in the shape of the Tait Tower (which was built in Bellahouston Park especially for the Empire Exhibition). The 8 teams playing for the Empire Exhibition Trophy certainly whetted the appetite of the citizens of Glasgow and the crowds for all the games were very decent.

The first match of the tournament kicked off on the 25th of May 1928 when Celtic faced up to Sunderland in front of a crowd of 53,976. If the crowd came expecting goals then they were to leave dissapointed as the match finished 0-0 - the replay was scheduled for the following day, where Celtic managed to run out 3-1 winners in front of a crowd just over 20,000 to take their place in the Semi-Final.

The following day, the 27th of May, a crowd of just over 30,000 filtered in to Ibrox stadium to see Aberdeen trounce a strong Chelsea team by 4-0. Three days later a crowd of 45,403 witnessed Hearts beating Brentford by 1-0. Three games in to the Empire Exhibition Trophy and it was all of the Scottish clubs who had progressed to the Semi-Finals so far, and next up was Rangers.

Surely having home advantage would help Rangers see of Everton in the last match of the opening round, to make it four from four Scottish clubs battling it out for the trophy. But it wasn't to be as Everton stole the match by 2-0 in front of a home crowd of 47,682.

The first of the Semi-Finals was played on the 3rd of June and saw Celtic square up to Hearts. A large crowd of over 50,000 saw the other team from Glasgow win at the home of their rivals by dispatching the Edinburgh club by 1-0. Celtic would have to wait another three days to see who they would face in the final. In a close encounter in the second Semi-Final Everton finally dispatched Aberdeen by 3-2, watched by a crowd of just over 20,000 (impressive with no Glasgow club playing!).

The tournament so far had been everything everyone could ever have hoped for, the crowds were testament to that, but the crowd that packed in to Ibrox for the Final to watch Celtic take on Everton was by far the biggest crowd of the tournament, with over 82,000 people packing in to watch what was, in essence, a 'Battle of Britain' - and to the victor the spoils.

It must be said that despite the tournament being part of what was after all a 'celebration of the Empire' there was certainly a bit of the 'Auld Enemy' about this game - it was Scotland V England and the expectant crowd were hoping for a 'Scottish' victory - some fans were heard to shout before the game "Fetch a polis man, Everton's getting murdered". The match itself though was a keenly contested one with both teams really cancelling each other out and the score remained 0-0 after 90 minutes. Extra-time was to be played to try and separate the teams and within 7 minutes of the first period Johnny Crum managed to score for Celtic, celebrating by running behind the goal to in front of the jubilant fans and doing a 'highland fling'. Celtic held out until full time to clinch the Empire Exhibition Trophy.

The tournament had been a rip-roaring success from start to finish and was fully embraced by the public as part of the Exhibition. The format of the football tournament had worked so well it would be repeated further down the line many times, like in the Coronation Cup in 1953, but more on that another time.

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