They shall not pass


By Jordi Sunyer of esports

I start with an impression. I have always believed that among Catalan footballers who know Scottish football, there has always been more sympathy for Celtic than for the Rangers. I venture to say that none of them has to do with the religious sectarianism that forges the rivalry of the Old Firm.

Traditionally, the behaviour of the Protestant followers when they visited Barcelona was far more savage than that of their rivals, starting with the destruction caused at the Camp Nou when winning the 1972 Recopa against the Moscow Dynamo.

They should also be reminded of the symbol of the British unionism that the Rangers have represented. What no one has argued, however, is the story of James Maley.

Maley was born in 1908 and was the second of nine brothers of a humble family of Calton, a district of East Glasgow still punished by social problems. It was a district of Catholic majority due to the strong presence of families of Irish origin, such as Maley.

Guided by his father, James forged solid political convictions and learned to fight.

Pneumonia forced him to have part of a lung removed, and he migrated to the United States believing that there was a better future. When he returned to Glasgow, in 1932, Maley joined the Communist Party. Soon he was distinguished as a strong speaker, whom people recognized and stopped when he was going through the working districts, such as Govan, home to a famous worker and illustrious Rangers figure, Sir Alex Ferguson.

James Maley was worried about the rise of fascism in Europe. One day in December 1936, he was at his home in Calton, when the radio played a speech by Dolores Ibárruri. Maley was mature enough to understand that the defence of a democratic regime chosen by the people was above distance, cultures, borders. Days later, with half a thousand other Scots, he left by bus from George Square in Glasgow, to go to defend the Republic.

British brigades received six weeks of basic military instruction in Albacete. The conviction, remembered Maley, disguised the disorganisation and the lack of resources, but the need for reinforcements was vital for the Republican army. In February 1937, as part of a heavy-arm company, James Maley participated in the battle of Jarama, who recalled how a bleed escaped with great luck. Maley, with other volunteers from that crowded battalion, survived two days hiding in a field of olive trees until he was captured. They asked if they were English and Maley argued that that question began to save their lives. Had they taken them to be Russians, olive oil would have mixed with their blood.

Also, under Franco, the capture meant execution. But the British government, tempered in many other aspects of the conflict, interceded for its subjects. The condemnation of the English brigadists was switched for twenty years in prison. Franco filmed prisoners, whose images were shown in the British newsreels. James Maley’s mother watched the film in a movie theatre. After finishing the projection, she begged the one who operated the projector to cut two frames to save an image of her son until he returned. And Maley returned, entering an exchange of prisoners with Italian soldiers captured by Republicans. He paid attention to his mother and stayed in Glasgow, but did not stop his activism, with the solid base of the experience. “And now, you dare to disagree with me,” he used to end.

But, above all, James Maley was a fervent follower of Celtic, and a regular in Parkhead. He knew how to marry having grown up under Catholicism, exposed by his Irish name, with his political ideas. He did not religiously educate the children.

Willy, one of them, asked one day: “How do I justify that I am not a Catholic with my surname, my ideas and my football team?” James Maley replied: “Let them be, do not give them explanations, and let them rot in their prejudices.” Willy wrote a play inspired by the experiences of his father: From Calton to Catalonia.

James Maley, who did not smoke or drink, died ten months before turning 100 years old. Two days later, Celtic played a match at Hampden Park Cup. Before leaving the players, two big banners covered a Celtic fan sector. It read: “James Maley RIP. They shall not pass. They will not pass.”

Maley Willy 1

Professor Willy Maley, pictured,  found this article recently in a Catalan sports newspaper about his father, James, who was one of the many Scots who joined the international brigade who fought against fascism and General Franco, the Spanish dictator. 


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