Celtic is a club like no other. Its story is a unique one, of a football club founded to raise money to help alleviate poverty within the predominantly Irish immigrant community of Glasgow’s East End. Yet, from its inception, Celtic has been a club open to all. From those humble and charitable origins, Celtic have gone on to become one of the most famous names in world football. In 1967, they became the first British club to win the European Cup, while domestically they have won, to date, 47 league titles, 36 Scottish Cups and 16 League Cups. The story of Celtic continues – of success on the field, backed by a strong organization off it, and all underpinned by a commitment to remain true to the charitable roots of the club, this is just the latest chapter...
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About the Author
Brian Wilson spent eighteen years as Labour MP for Cunninghame North and served in five UK Ministerial capacities. On leaving politics in 2005, he became a Non-Executive Director of Celtic plc. He lives on the Isle of Lewis.
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ORIGINS: THE IRISH CONNECTION
THE CELTIC FOOTBALL and Athletic Club was instituted for reasons closely related to Irish identity and Catholic charity. It emerged out of the poverty that prevailed in Glasgow's East End of the 1880s. This was an age of dreadful housing conditions, high infant mortality and little formal education. It was an age when Irish emigrants retained a passionate concern for the fate of their native land. But it was also an age of innovation and enterprise, when the willingness tow accept daunting challenges was more commonplace than in any subsequent period. The men who founded Celtic would probably not, in any other context, have wished to be regarded as classic Victorians. But the spirit in which they set about their task, and the level at which their ambitions were pitched, were characteristic of that thrillingly productive and creative period.
Numerous attempts to found a distinctively Irish football club in the East End, to play at the highest level, had come and gone. Dozens of teams had been formed by the Catholic parishes, but none of these had a strong-enough organisational basis on which to build a 'senior' club. The inspiration for thoughts about a first-rate Irish club in the west of Scotland came in part from Edinburgh, where the Hibernians club had been prospering since 1875. It had been initiated by Canon Edward Hannan, and was run along exclusivist Catholic Irish and temperance lines, based on the Young Men's Catholic Society in St Andrew's parish. By the mid 1880s it had become one of the leading teams in Britain, and when Hibs won the Scottish Cup in 1887 it was a triumph in which all of Scotland's Catholic Irish shared. Before they could return to Edinburgh with the cup, the Hibs had to join in the rejoicing of the West of Scotland Irish, as later recalled by Tom Maley in the Glasgow Observer: 'They were fêted by their Glasgow supporters, who drove them to St Mary's Hall, East Rose Street, and gave them a dinner and later presented them with mementoes of their first great deed.'
The Hibs' secretary, John McFadden, addressed the assembly and, having recounted the club's history, urged his audience 'to go and do likewise'. The listeners included several of those who were soon to found Celtic. They observed the way in which Hibs' victory inspired community identity, pride and confidence, and that the banners carried by the Hibs supporters were often emblazoned with the words 'God Save Ireland'. There were those in that St Mary's audience who recognised that an Irish team in the west, operating at the highest level, would increase the self-confidence and strengthen the sense of identity of the Irish Catholic community as a whole.
The East End was, at this time, the only area of Glasgow which did not support a senior football team. Meetings were held among representatives of the parishes – St Andrew's, St Mary's and St Alphonsus. Willie Maley, who was to play a key role in the club's history, recorded his own version of subsequent events:
'There emanated a desire to put the matter to the test, and several meetings were held to decide what course of action should be taken to put the proposed club right on the way. As in all things Irish at the time, jealousies arose and various good men drew out rather than submit to being shoved aside by the more pushing sort always to be found. St Mary's representatives, with the greatest enthusiasm, eventually forced matters to an issue, and at a big meeting held in St Mary's Hall it was decided to proceed with the formation of the club to look for the necessary ground. The St Andrew's representatives felt themselves side-tracked and withdrew from the project, although several of their best folks stuck to their guns and helped the project along.'
Yet a remarkable point was that, while the idea of forming a football club was accepted, there were other aspects of the Edinburgh formula that were not – including the Hibernians' name, the temperance emphasis, and the direct association with the Young Men's Catholic Society.
The initial discussions about the formation of a club involved priests and leading laymen of the East End and beyond. In particular, the headmasters of the Sacred Heart and St Mary's schools, Brother Walfrid and Brother Dorotheus respectively, enthused over the prospect of a football team. They had been fighting the effects of poverty, ignorance and alcoholism among the Eastenders for decades, and were acutely aware that many of the children in their care were hopelessly under-nourished and prone to disease. Brother Walfrid especially had become adept at inspiring others to voluntary effort on behalf of the many charities upon which the East End parishes relied. Local politicians took a leading role in the discussions. John Glass, John O'Hara and Thomas Flood led the local Catholic Union committees (the Catholic Union was the body set up to contest school board elections). Dr Conway, a much-loved GP, J.M. Nelis and Joseph Shaughnessy – all of them founder members of the St Aloysius' Association in 1887 – represented Glasgow's small Catholic professional class, while James Quillan and William McKillop were leading figures in the Irish National League in Glasgow. Such a breadth of involvement indicates that, from the start, this was a co-ordinated drive involving all sections of the Catholic community in the Glasgow area.
The landmark meeting at which the decision was taken to form the Celtic Football and Athletic Club was held in St Mary's Hall on November 6, 1887, with John Glass presiding. Glass was in business as a joiner, a member of St Mary's and a leading figure in Glasgow Irish political circles. His commitment and imaginative approach to the Celtic concept were to prove vital in bringing it to fruition and in sustaining it through the early years. He was later to be described by Willie Maley as the man 'to whom the club owes its existence' and by J.H McLaughlin as 'the originator and motivator' of Celtic.
From the very earliest days, there were differing shades of opinion about what the precise nature and purpose of the new club should be. These centered largely on the extent to which the example of Edinburgh Hibernians should be emulated. But enough was resolved by the time of that November meeting for a committee to be formed and a constitution adopted. The name of Celtic was also agreed upon (with the strong support of Brother Walfrid), as opposed to the widely-canvassed alternative of Glasgow Hibernians. Within a week of the St Mary's Hall meeting, six acres of vacant ground had been leased adjacent to Janefield Cemetery, and voluntary work was soon under way on constructing a new stadium. Meanwhile, fund-raising efforts were in hand and the following circular was issued in January 1888. It did not, it must be said, make any concession to ecumenism, and it cannot be accepted as the definitive statement of Celtic's aims.
CELTIC FOOTBALL AND ATHLETIC CLUB
Celtic Park, Parkhead
(Corner of Dalmarnock and Janefield Streets)
His Grace the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Clergy of St Mary's, Sacred Heart and St Michael's Missions, and the principal Catholic laymen of the East End.
'The above Club was formed in November 1887, by a number of the Catholics of the East End of the city.
'The main object is to supply the East End conferences of the St Vincent de Paul Society with funds for the maintenance of the 'Dinner Tables' of our needy children in the Missions of St Mary's, Sacred Heart and St Michael's. Many cases of sheer poverty are left unaided through lack of means. It is therefore with this principle object that we have set afloat the 'Celtic' and we invite you as one of our ever-ready friends to assist in putting our new Park in proper working order for the coming football season.
'We have already several of the leading Catholic football players of the West of Scotland on our membership list. They have most thoughtfully offered to assist in the good work.
'We are fully aware that the 'elite' of football players belong to this City and suburbs, and we know that from there we can select a team which will be able to do credit to the Catholics of the West of Scotland as the Hibernians have been doing in the East. Again there is also the desire to have a large recreation ground where our Catholic young men will be able to enjoy the various sports which will build them up physically, and we feel sure we will have many supporters with us in this laudable object.'
The good and great of Catholic Glasgow headed the subscription list, with Archbishop Eyre's name at the top. The Archbishop of Glasgow 'knew nothing of football but was always prepared to support any scheme that had for its object the welfare of the poor of his flock'. In less than six months from the date of the St Mary's Hall meeting, a level pitch had been formed, surrounded by a cycle track. A rudimentary open-air stand, to accommodate 1,000 spectators, was erected with dressing rooms and committee rooms underneath. The committee met weekly and the opening date for the new Celtic Park was fixed for May 8, 1888, with Hibs and Cowlairs as the attraction. Earlier that day, Queen Victoria was to be in Glasgow for the opening of the great Glasgow International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art at Kelvingrove, described by its promoters as a 'vast encyclopedia of innovation and manufacture'. In the East End of the city, however, enthusiasm was centred on the opening of Celtic Park rather than on the Royal occasion. The event was advertised in the Glasgow Observer, and the paper commented:
'The courage of the committee in venturing such a grand undertaking at the commencement is the surprise of many. Some idea may be formed of it when we state that it is the opinion of competent judges that the Celtic Park is second to none in the country, and that is saying a great deal ... It is with unqualified pleasure we offer our Celtic friends our congratulations on the great success that has crowned their labours so far and we with them a long and prosperous career.'
'The following week, the Observer reported: 'On Tuesday evening the weather was all that could be desired; a trifle chilly perhaps, but bright and pleasant notwithstanding. In and around the pavilion were clusters of clergy and people ... Prompt to the advertised time, Dr Conway and Mr Shaughnessy emerged from the pavilion and entered the field, heading the procession of players. The Doctor placed the ball amid the cheers of the spectators, who numbered fully 5,000.'
After a goal-less draw had been played out, the players and officials adjourned to the Royal Hotel, George Square. Dr Conway, who was the club's first chairman and honorary president, presided and proposed a toast to 'The Hibernians'. In response, Mr McFadden of Hibs declared that 'it would be a sorry day indeed for the Irish in Scotland when residents of one city should act in an unfriendly way towards those of another'. Mr Thomas E. Maley then gave a reciprocal toast to 'The Celtic'.
On Monday, May 28, Celtic played their own first game in front of 2,000 spectators. Rangers provided the opposition and Celtic, who won 5-2, wore white shirts with green collars and a Celtic cross in red and green on the left breast. The first Celtic team was: M. Dolan (Drumpellier), E. Pearson (Carfin Shamrock) and J. McLaughlin (Govan Whitfield); W. Maley (Cathcart), J. Kelly (Renton), and P. Murray (Cambuslang Hibs); N. McCallum (Renton) and T. Maley (Cathcart); J. Madden (Dumbarton), M. Dunbar (Edinburgh Hibs) and C. Gorevin (Govan Whitfield). After the game, St Mary's Hall was once again the venue for supper and with much toasting and music, 'proceedings were of the happiest character'. Celtic were in business. They now applied to join the Glasgow and Scottish Football Associations, and further games were quickly arranged.
The early history of Celtic, and the personnel involved, continued to be of unusual relevance because of the remarkable continuity which persisted thoughout the first century of the club's existence. The man who dominated the first five of these decades, Willie Maley, played at right-half in that inaugural side, although he had come to be involved, by his own account, more by accident than design. Within a few weeks of the St Mary's Hall meeting, three of Celtic's founding fathers – John Glass, Brother Walfrid and Pat 'Tailor' Welsh – visited the Maley home in Cathcart, with a view of securing the services of Tom Maley, a schoolmaster, who had played with Partick Thistle, Third Lanark and Edinburgh Hibernians. It was a shrewd move by the emissaries, who must have known that, apart from offering his own considerable ability, Tom Maley was also the man whom others would follow westwards from Hibernians. Willie Maley recalled:
'Tom was not at home, and I arranged to get him to meet the party in Glasgow to hear the proposals. Brother Walfrid said, 'Why don't you come with him?' I replied that I was only a second-rater and had almost decided to give up the game for cross-country running. He persuaded me to come in with Tom, and when Tom decided to join up my name went down too, and so I was at once initiated into the wonderful scheme of things that this committee of men, with no football knowledge at all, had built up, and which their tremendous enthusiasm brought to fruition.'
Willie Maley joined Celtic as a player, but quickly became a committee man. He then took on the duties of match secretary, and this post was later converted into the managership, which he retained until 1940. John Glass was the architect of such recruiting efforts, and he shrewdly concentrated his attentions on one of the finest players in Scotland at that time, James Kelly. This was another signing, before Celtic had kicked a ball, which had enormous implications for the club's subsequent history. The son of Irish parents who had immigrated to Scotland in 1842, Kelly was born in 1865 in the village of Renton, on the banks of the Leven. His story is representative of those who would soon establish Celtic as one of Britain's leading football club. During Kelly's childhood, the new sport of football was developing rapidly in the Dumbarton area; the spacious flat land along the Leven, and a tradition of team games such as shinty in the area, helped to ensure that football developed more rapidly there than anywhere else in Scotland. James Kelly started playing for Renton when he was eighteen. Throughout his youth, he was involved in the local Young Ireland Association and the Irish National League. No doubt he was present when Michael Davitt – the founder of the Irish National League – addressed a rally in Dumbarton in 1887.
His father, David, was a hammer-man in the local forge, and the extreme poverty of his family pushed him towards professional football, which did exist in practice, if not in theory, at the time. By the time he signed for Celtic in the summer of 1888, James Kelly had been in a Scottish Cup-winning side, and had also starred in Renton's celebrated 'world club championship' victory over West Bromwich Albion just ten days before Celtic's first game. It had seemed likely that he would be attracted to the Edinburgh Hibernians, for whom he had played on several occasions, but was wooed to the fledging Glasgow club by the persuasive Irish tongue of John Glass. The signing of Kelly represented a huge success, which ensured that other high-quality players would follow. He quickly became very much involved in the running of the club, was one of the first directors in 1897, and initiated a Kelly dynasty within Celtic which survived into the club's second century. If John Glass had set his sights a little lower than Tom Maley and James Kelly, the subsequent history of Celtic would have been very different.
The second fixture at Celtic Park was against Dundee Harp, who went down 1-0 to the infant club in front of 6,000 spectators. By the end of June, Celtic had drawn 3-3 with Mossend Swifts and lost 4-3 to Clyde. The life-span of new clubs tended to be brief in those days – a point illustrated by the company in which Celtic found themselves when being admitted to membership of the Scottish Football Association on August 21, 1888. The other successful applicants that day were Champfleurie and Adventurers from Edinburgh, Leith Harp, Balaclava Rangers from Oban, Temperance Athletic of Glasgow, Whifflet Shamrock and Britannia of Auchinleck! None survived to tell the tale.
Although the Scottish League did not yet exist, it was possible to put together a very full programme of fixtures during Celtic's first full season, 1888/89. Of fifty-six matches played, forty-two were won and three were drawn. Celtic lost the major tournament, the Scottish Cup, to Third Lanark only in a replayed final at Hampden, after accounting for Shettleston, Cowlairs, Albion Rovers, St Bernard's, Clyde, East Stirling and Dumbarton. The major power in the land was still Queen's Park, who deprived Celtic of the Glasgow Cup, while Renton gave them a quick knock-out from the Charity Cup.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Ian Bankier,
1. Origins: The Irish Connection,
2. Social Background: Religion and Politics,
3. The Early Days: Pioneering and Professionalism,
4. Towards the Twentieth Century: Business & Battles,
5. A Taste of Success: The Six-in-a-Row Side,
6. The Great War: Hostilities at Home and Away,
7. The Twenties: Taking a Back Seat,
8. John Thomson: The Legend Lives On,
9. Fifty years of Celtic: The Golden Jubilee and the Empire Exhibition,
10. At War Again: Apathy and Unrest at Celtic Park,
11. Turmoil and Travel: The Quest for Divine Inspiration?,
12. Confrontation: Flying the Flag,
13. Enter Jock Stein: The Playing Days,
14. Fleeting Glory: The Wilderness Years,
15. The Return of Stein: Back on the Road to Greatness,
16. Lisbon Mania: Champions of Europe,
17. A World-Class Side: And the One that Got Away,
18. Glory Glory Days: And the End of an Era,
19. Success Under McNeill: And a Temporary Parting,
20. The Return of Cesar: And the Centenary Celebrations,
21. Who Owns Celtic? Shareholdings and Personalities through the Years,
22. The Battle for Control: Celtic Saved at the Final Hour,
23. The Lean Years: The Long Road Back to Silverware,
24. The McCann Era: Rebuilding On and Off the Park,
25. Revolving Door: Celtic's Managerial Merry-go-round,
26. The Road To Seville: Martin O'Neill Restores Celtic at Home and Abroad,
27. Success under Strachan: Three-in-a-Row and European Progress,
28. Neil Lennon and the Club that 'Means a World',
29. The 'Ronny Roar' and Two More Titles,
30. Brendan Rodgers, 'The Invincibles' – and Remembering Lisbon,