Selkirk, Borders born centre forward Sandy McMahon started his career with Woodburn F.C. in Dalkeith and then with Darlington St Augustine’s before relocating to Edinburgh. There he played with Leith Harp and Hibernian before a first venture to the professional game in England with Burnley. He returned to Hibs in February 1889 but found the club floundering due to the mass recruitment of their players by Celtic.
McMahon eventually followed the path of other former Hibernian favourites, such as Willie Groves, to Celtic in December 1890. His Celtic debut came in a 3-1 League win at Vale of Leven in January 1891. His first moment of glory came in the 1892 Scottish Cup Final replay, when he scored two goals in the 5-1 victory over Queen’s Park. In 1892 he also had a short spell at Nottingham Forest (immediately before they joined the Football League), hoping to earn some money as the game had just been professionalised in England. However, he was soon tempted back to Celtic, as payment may have been illegal in the early days but was still rampant in one form or another across all the clubs.
McMahon won his first Scotland cap in April 1892, when he played in a 4-1 defeat to England at Ibrox. He scored his first goal in a 6-1 win over Ireland at Parkhead in March 1893, he again scored in a 2-2 draw against England at Parkhead in April 1894, He waited 7 years for his next Scotland cap, which came in spectacular style, he scored four goals in the 11-0 rout of Ireland in February 1901, once again at Parkhead, winning his final cap a year later against Wales to take his total to 6 goals in 6 international appearances. He also represented The Scottish League on eight occasions between April 1892 and March 1900, scoring 4 times.
He played for Celtic until 1903, scoring a phenomenal 171 goals in 217 League and Cup appearances. Equally adept at centre forward or inside left, he won three Scottish Cup medals, in 1892, 1899 and 1900, and four Scottish League medals, in 1893, 1894, 1896 and 1898. He also scored in the 1899 Cup Final when Celtic beat Rangers 2-0, and in the 1900 Final when they beat Queen’s Park 4-3. McMahon eventually left Celtic in 1903, joining Partick Thistle where he retired a year later.
His nickname was “The Duke”, and he was also described as the “Prince of Dribblers”. “The Duke” nickname was derived from the French President Patrice de Mac-Mahon, duc de Magenta, the descendant of an Irish soldier who had severed under Napoleon. However, the nickname is also likely derived from a certain likeness to the Duke of Wellington from the Napoleonic War era, but then that tale isn’t quite as romantic.
In May 2015 a biography called “Sandy McMahon And The Early Celts” written by Celtic historian David Potter was published, its title alone probably reflects how important was McMahon’s contribution to Celtic’s early history.