Belfast Celtic , “Star of the C”
At last Jimmy’s gone out, so…
You simply cannot relate a once proud football club’s history in one small article, it is inevitable that some statistics and information is sacrificed to the alter of expediency, so here is my brief resume on the other “Grand Old Team”.
The Irish Football League began in 1890 and included teams like Cliftonville, Linfield, Bohemians, Ulster and others.
At a meeting at 88 Falls Road in 1891, representatives from local junior clubs met, including Clondara and Millvale and decided to amalgamate to form a new football club, they called it Celtic, in deference to its Glasgow cousins founded three years earlier by another Irishman, Brother Walfrid. Belfast was added a few years later for legality, its very first chairman was James Keenan. They had an awful lot to live up to, it is no secret that they copied their Glasgow counterparts. Indeed its secretary received a large donation of £100.00 GBP. from Glasgow Celtic to help them get started, a huge sum then.
They wanted to imitate their Glasgow counterparts, in style, play and in charitable works, but their main aim was to win the Irish Cup. The club initially led a nomadic existence, utilising fields near Shiels Street and then Whiterock at the Klondyke before finally settling on the Donegall Road, they named it Celtic Park, “Paradise” to the faithful in 1901, adding later, stages, toilets and pavilions, rest rooms, presumably because its directors were in the wines and spirit trade, business is business.
The team donned the famous green and white hoops and also in 1901 the club became incorporated. Its support was drawn from the local Nationalist mainly Catholic community, but its support also included around ten percent from the Protestant community, another club “Open to All”. (Lets pay deference to those who go against their own historical ties to follow their hearts instead of following the traditional route of tribal football). Celtic Park also enjoyed in its curriculum cricket, cycling and athletics.
Belfast Celtic enjoyed a lot of success on the park, it won its first of fourteen League titles in season 1899-00. beating its fierce rivals Linfield 1-0. But its golden age began later in 1934, when its manager Austin Donnelly had moulded a team that would win four consecutive Irish League titles from 1925- 1929. The men from Paradise went on a winning spree with a style of football that was fast moving and entertaining that delighted its faithful supporters, with only six defeats in 96 match’s. Older players were coming to the end of their careers and a new group of players was needed to drive the team on. Dave “Boy” Martin and Johnny Brown were sold to Wolves for £7,500 GBP. It would take until the 1935-36 season before the team began another winning run off five League titles in a row. Belfast Celtic enjoyed both joy and disappointment in one day when they won the County Antrim Shield at Windsor park, a mere 24 hours later losing to Glasgow Celtic 1-2 at Paradise in the Bob Ferguson testimonial game.
Other honours were won and there is an appendage added, naming them.
In 1911 the sky’s over Belfast were billowing smoke from the Linen factories, cranes dominated the sky at Belfast docks as the Titanic and its sister ship were being assembled at Harland and Wolff, Belfast was buzzing. In this so called quieter time before the expected World War , however, other forces were at play. At a meeting just outside Celtic park, Winston Churchill was nearly lynched by a Protestant crowd and William “Lord” Pirrie the owner of Harland and Wolff was beaten up, their crime was to promote Home Rule, indeed violence was never far away in the politics of that particular part of Ireland. It was against this backdrop that Belfast Celtic continued to play and its support continued to enjoy watching it play until It dropped out of Senior football at the end of season 1914-18, it re-entered in season 1917-18. When it was invited back by the Irish League.
Sectarianism was never far away in the North of Ireland, it spread its tentacles into every section of the community, stifling hearts and denying the freedom that one would hope to enjoy, life was hard enough without this enormous added burden. So, like in Scotland ordinary people enjoyed whatever spare time they had watching the beautiful game, crowds were large but with some of them came the baggage of hate. It was this hatred that brought the demise of Belfast Celtic. Its important to say that unlike its rivals Linfield, Celtic was never a sectarian club, but the fact that its supporters came mostly from west Belfast meant that the derby games against Linfield were always fraught with tension.
The curtain came down on boxing day 1948, until then violence had never occurred on the pitch, Celtic were playing their fierce rivals Linfield, it was not a particular game of note, a scrappy affair and each team had had a player sent off. Violence erupted ten minutes from time with Linfield leading 1-0 when Celtic were awarded a penalty, as Walker got ready to take it, Hun-Dregs off Linfield supporters rushed onto the pitch and attacked the Celtic players, one of whom received a broken ankle. The game was up.
The next day the directors issued a statement condemning the attack on their players and severe’ly criticising the inadequate protection afforded by the police. Rumours began that Celtic were going to withdraw from the league and they were soon confirmed. Belfast Celtic ceased to grace the Irish competitive scene at the end of season 1948-49. They did play two or three exhibition games after that, one of which was at Celtic park on the 17th. May 1952 when they played against Glasgow Celtic whose team contained the ex Belfast player Charlie Tully and the legendary Jock Stein.
Irish football never recovered, its spirit seemed to ebb away and attendances dropped off massively, it had lost its soul. All right thinking Irish supporters wanted to watch Belfast Celtic because of the way they played and the grace and style that they brought to the league. Another sad reminder of the destructive element that sectarianism brings. Belfast Celtic 1891-1949.
“When we had nothing, we had Belfast Celtic. And when we had Belfast Celtic, we had everything.”
Footnote: Belfast Celtic played a key role in the Fergus McCann takeover of Glasgow Celtic, when the shares of Belfast Celtic’s director Tom Colgan, inherited from one of the Celtic founding Grant family were bought by Fergus McCann, allowing him to takeover from the old White, Kelly and Grant families.
When Fergus McCann took over the club, he was astonished to find out that the board held 5000 shares in Rangers, he promptly sold them.
“Mike are you still up there? I’m coming Jimmy”.
Irish League 14.
Irish Cup 8.
City Cup 11.
Gold Cup 6.
County Antrim Shield 7.
Dublin-Belfast, Inter-city Cup 1.
Belfast and District League 1.
Northern Regional League 4.
Substitute Gold Cup 4.
Irish Intermediate League 7.
Steel and sons Cup 5.
McElroy Cup 7.
Above article is by Mike. Should you wish to contribute the address is firstname.lastname@example.org