The Crest Dissected - Celtic FC

When we started The Football History Boys in February 2013, one of the first articles I wrote was about sectarianism in the Old Firm Rivalry between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. The Crest Dissected series meanwhile is one of the most successful in our short existence so today I take a look at the history of one of those great clubs, Celtic FC.

Celtic Football Club were founded on 6 November 1887 in a meeting at St Mary's Church Hall but would play their first fixture in 1888. One of the original members, Catholic Marist Brother Walfrid from Sligo in Ireland, saw Celtic as an opportunity to help the poor East End of Glasgow. The vision of the club upon founding was to: "supply the East End conferences of the St Vincent de Paul Society with the funds for the maintenance of the 'dinner tables' of our needy children in the missions of St Mary's, St Michael's and Sacred Hearts. Many cases of sheer poverty are left unaided through the lack of means." [1] Celtic was born with the intentions of being a charity club at it's heart.

The name Celtic was derived by the wish of the founders to have a strong Scottish identity, tied in with their Irish Catholic routes. It represented "a bridge of cultures across the sea" [2] but quickly found favour with the Irish contingent of people who lived in the city of Glasgow. Stephen Wagg also signifies how football showed its ability to be the "universal game" because in a time when the Irish immigrants were marginalised, football brought societies together to compete for the sake of the sport. [3]
The first ever Celtic crest

On 28 May 1888 The Celtic Football Club played its first ever fixture, against cross-city side Glasgow Rangers and won 5-2. [4] The match took place at Celtic Park and was a friendly encounter that began perhaps the greatest rivalry in all of footballing history. The 'Old Firm' was born as a newspaper writer at the time commented how the two sides "got on so well that you would believe that they were old firm friends". [5] That first fixture also saw the team's nickname coined, "The Bhoys". Although this was originally "The Bould Bhoys", with the Bh was aligning itself to the Gaelic spelling to keep in line with its Irish routes.

With football growing across the United Kingdom, professionalism was legalised in England and Wales in 1885 (read about it here). Scotland followed suit and this allowed Glasgow Celtic to begin to pay and purchase their players. The club took a number of players from Hibernian in Edinburgh and continued to grow in strength. In the 1888/89 season the side entered the Scottish Cup and amazingly reached the final but were unlucky to lose 2-1 to Third Lanark. It wouldn't take long before success came though, winning the 1892 final against Queen's Park 5-2 at Rangers' Ibrox Park.
 A postcard featuring 'The Bould Bhoys!' [6]

The following year would be a landmark one for Celtic as they moved to present home Celtic Park and then won the 1892/93 Scottish Championship title. Immediately Scotland had a great club, shown in the early 1900s as between 1905-1910 Celtic were victorious in the league for 6 successive campaigns. In 1907 and 1908 this was added to with the Scottish Cup making Celtic the first ever team north of the border to win the double. 

The Great War (1914-18) divided opinion on football across the United Kingdom. Football did not stop and during this time Celtic won the Scottish Championship every season between 1914-1917. Some saw football as a means for distraction from the horrors of war taking place across the Channel in France and Belgium. The opinion below representing those who wished the sport to continue:

"A friend of mine deplores the steps that are being taken to lessen the interest in the game of football during the present war. 'It's a shame' he says, 'that our national game should cease! Everybody cannot go to war, and there must be some to work and continue our trade at home. Therefore these fellows must have a little pleasure. If football is to cease, why are picture-halls and music-halls allowed to continue?' In the words of a well known writer, 'we are not a nation of mourning, but a nation full of hope and enterprise." [7]
Of course this was seen as controversial though with many believing just like most occupations, football should contribute to the war effort. The opinion below showing how footballers were expected to report for war but some:
Peter Johnstone died in battle
 "To be a good footballer you must be big, strong, courageous, active and alert'...all the qualities needed in a soldier. What have they done? An official wrote that there were over 4000 registered paid professionals. These men were the one class of the community who were in special training and conditioning when war was declared. There were enough of them to form three or four battalions, yet months have past before there was any attempt to form one football battalion." [8]
However whilst the club continued and were successful it did see some of its former players go and fight for their country, seven unfortunately dying. Leigh Roose was a goalkeeper, capped 24 times by Wales and perished at the Battle of Montauban. Other players included Patrick Slavin, John McLaughlin, Archie McMillan Donald McLeod and Robert Craig. The only contracted Celtic player to give his life was Peter Johnstone who was something of a Celtic legend. Johnstone had played 223 games for The Bhoys, winning 6 league titles but unfortunately died in the Battle of Arras in May 1917. We have written two pieces about football during World War I, read them both here and here.

Jimmy McGrory - A natural goalscorer
In the 1920s and 1930s an icon was found... Jimmy McGrory. The Glasgow born striker joined Celtic in 1922 and broke into the first team after a loan spell with Clydebank in 1923/24. His goalscoring record as quoted by FIFA stands at 550 scored in just 547 competitive appearances. At only 5ft 6ins tall McGrory was still a fearsome figure and magnificent header of the ball netted an phenomenal 63 goals in the 1927/28 campaign, 8 in one match in 1928. McGrory talked about his talents after his career:
"My mind was set on scoring goals, I got into positions from which I could head or shoot. When the ball did come, I did not have to waste any time. I hit it. I see players trying to control and manoeuvre the ball when it comes to them, then looking up to see what they are going to do with it. They waste so much time." [9]
In 1940 another hero from Celtic's early years stepped away from the game. Willie Maley was the side's first manager, appointed in 1897. Maley stayed at Celtic for 43 consecutive years and won a staggering 30 trophies as manager. When he retired he was 71 and had spent 52 years at the club including his time as a player. Maley was replaced by Jimmy McStay who took the helm for 5 years but his spell was trophy-less spell and disturbed by the Second World War that saw no real competitive football take place (to avoid the arguments of The Great War). His reign was ended as Jimmy McGrory returned to Celtic Park and became manager for the next 20 years.

Celtic initially struggled after the War but McGrory appointed Jimmy Hogan as his right-hand man. A coach who had Europe wide experience and helped stabilise The Bhoys in the face of a relegation battle. By 1954 Celtic were a title winning team again as they secured their first Championship since 1938 winning the Scottish Cup too. The 1950s were also the decade in which Jock Stein, a Scottish icon, moved to Celtic, joining from Llanelli Town for £1,200. Stein was initially vice-captain and then earned captaincy because of injury to Sean Fallon. The defender would play 106 league fixtures for Celtic and then moved into management, a role he would take at Celtic Park in 1965.

For Jimmy McGrory, perhaps one of his high points was the 7-1 thumping of rivals Rangers in the final of the Scottish League Cup at Hampden Park in 1957, retaining the trophy they won for the first time the year before. This would be where the good times finished for McGrory and in 1965 after a barren spell, Jock Stein was appointed as manager. Stein's time at Celtic would last until 1978, in which time 25 trophies would be won, most notably The Bhoys' only ever European Cup title. 

Jock Stein (left) with the European Cup in 1967
Jock Stein's era as Celtic boss began with a Scottish Cup victory and was followed by 9 successive seasons at the top of Scottish football. In 1966 their first title in 12 years was secured, a feat followed until 1974. 1966/67 was the golden year for Celtic Football Club, the year every single fan will know about. The Bhoys won every single competition they entered, the Scottish League Championship, the Scottish League Cup, the Scottish Cup, the Glasgow Cup and their only ever European Cup. Celtic scored a world record 196 goals that campaign and entered the European Cup for its first ever time. 

Captain Billy McNeill celebrates the famous victory
On 25 May 1967, 45,000 fans made their way to Lisbon for the European Cup final between Scottish representatives Celtic and Italian giants Inter Milan. Celtic had beaten FC Z├╝rich, Nantes, FK Vojvodina and Dukla Prague to get to the final but were facing an Internazionale side that had won the competition twice before, in 1964 & 1965. Celtic were the underdogs and quickly fell behind as Inter's Sandro Mazzola netted a penalty with just 7 minutes on the clock. It took an hour for Celtic to equalise as Tommy Gemmell smashed home from 25 yards. The Scots had the upper-hand as Inter sat deep and then with just 6 minutes remaining, prolific centre-forward Stevie Chalmers diverted in the winner... Celtic were Champions of Europe! 

As a result of winning the European Cup, Celtic were set to face Copa Libertadores winners Racing Club of Argentina in the Intercontinental Cup. The first match was played in Scotland with captain Billy McNeill securing the 1-0 victory but immediately the tie took on a bad tempered nature, particularly from the Argentineans. They travelled to South America for the second leg but lost 2-1 meaning the clash had to go to a decider, hosted in Uruguay. Racing Club were vicious and violent again but this time the Scots matched them. Racing Club won 1-0 but Jock Stein was not impressed, saying "I would not bring a team to South America again for all the money in the world." [10]

In 1970 Stein's men came so close to victory in the European Cup again as they defeated Leeds United in both legs of their semi-final. The home tie was played at Hampden Park in front of some 133,961 people a record in the European Cup that still stands. However at the San Siro in Milan, Celtic lost 2-1 to Dutch club Feyenoord and that is the closest the club have come to lifting the trophy since. 

Jock Stein would be involved in a serious car accident which meant he missed the 1975/76 season but he returned before eventually stepping down in August 1978. This was after Billy McNeill was appointed manager in May of that year with Stein being offered a role on the board of directors. The Celtic legend moved on, seeking a role south of the border, Leeds United giving him that opportunity. This is where we fast forward through Celtic's story... The Bhoys winning a couple of championships over the next two decades.

Liam Brady - Excellent player but failed as manager of Celtic
The 1990s marked a change in football. Sky broke onto the scene early in the decade and invested heavily in English football and suddenly money and advertising became important. In 1991, Celtic appointed only their 8th manager in 100 years. Liam Brady was an impressive attacking midfielder as a player but Celtic was his first role as a gaffer, the first man to be given the role as Celtic boss without having played for the team. Brady and Lou Macari his replacement struggled immensely with no trophies, Tommy Burns the next man at the helm could only manage a Scottish Cup. Celtic had been hit with heavy financial issues with the club teetering on the brink of administration. 

Henrik Larsson - The prolific Swede!
The early 2000s would see the change of Celtic's fortunes. Wim Jansen, Jozef Venglos and John Barnes would win just 2 trophies between them and after Kenny Dalglish guided the team home in the 1999/2000 season, Martin O'Neill was given the role. That summer O'Neill broke the club's transfer record with a £6m acquisition of Chris Sutton from Chelsea and Neil Lennon from O'Neill's former club Leicester City. On 28 August Celtic pummelled rivals Rangers 6-2 at Celtic Park to give the green and whites a massive early season advantage. [11] 00/01 saw Celtic win a fantastic treble as they dominated the league, cup and league cup competitions. Henrik Larsson shot to Europe wide fame too with his 53 goals in all competitions. With 35 SPL goals the European Golden Boot was secured and Martin O'Neill quickly become a Celtic fans favourite.

Celtic were back in the Champions League and O'Neill brought in the likes of John Hartson who went on to score 109 goals in 201 showings in all competitions. The following season Celtic were only involved in the UEFA Cup but reached the final of the competition, for the first time in 33 years. Porto were the opponents on 21 May 2003 in Seville, Spain, and the tie finished 2-2 after 90 minutes. Celtic had fallen behind twice in the game, Larsson equalising both times. Into extra-time it went and after 115 minutes Porto's Brazilian forward Derlei netted and that was how it stayed, Celtic were so close yet so far.

Martin O'Neill had an incredible Celtic record
At the end of 2003/04, Larsson's contract expired in Scotland and he moved on to Barcelona. The Swede had scored a total of 242 goals in 313 games in all competitions, 174 in 221 in the Scottish League. Larsson had 4 SPL titles, 2 Scottish Cups, 2 Scottish League Cups and a UEFA Cup runners-up medal. 03/04 was also the end for Martin O'Neill who stepped down to care for his ill wife but he left Celtic Park with an incredible record. He took charge of 282 games, winning 213 (76%) of them with 3 SPL titles, 3 Scottish Cups, a League Cup and the UEFA Cup runners-up medal. O'Neill was victorious in 7 consecutive Old Firm derbies, it would take someone special to replace the Northern Irishman and Gordon Strachan was the man chosen.

Strachan had the unenviable task of following O'Neill, someone who had great success and had recommended him for the role. Without going into too much detail, Strachan's time was one of rebuilding but sustained victories as Celtic and Rangers dominated the top flight more than ever before. Perhaps the time was something of a lull for Scottish football as the domination of the top two increased. That said, consistent appearances in the UEFA Champions League was good for The Bhoys who saw the likes of Scott Brown, Scott McDonald and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink join the club and make immediate impacts.

Strachan recorded 6 trophies between 2005-2009 and was replaced by Tony Mowbray for just the one campaign. His dismissal saw another club icon return, Neil Lennon, who had been so vital to the side as a player and wanted to return Celtic to the number 1 team in Scotland. Lennon narrowly missed out on the SPL title but won his first competition with the 2011 Scottish Cup final, beating Motherwell 3-0. Unfortunately though, 2011 was marred with sectarianism against Lennon as parcel bombs were posted to the gaffer and a fan run onto the pitch to attack him during a game against Hearts. It showed the bitterness that still existed between Celtic and Rangers as well as Glasgow's Catholic and Protestant communities. 

2012 was one of major change in Scottish football. Rangers were booted out of the top flight after financial ruin hit the club and they were effectively liquidated. The blue half of Glasgow was torn apart and sent to the lowest tier of Scottish football, some 4 divisions below the Scottish Premier League. In some ways this decimated the standard of the Scottish domestic game as it gave Celtic total dominance on the league. The Old Firm rivalry was put on hold, with the stats standing at 399 played, 144 Celtic wins and 159 Rangers wins.
A banner from the Celtic support mocking Rangers' financial woe
 Who would challenge The Hoops? Well at the end of last season Neil Lennon stepped down, his work was done with 3 SPL titles and 2 Scottish Cups. Ronny Deila took the helm and failed to qualify the club for the Champions League in spectacular fashion. Losing to Legia Warsaw in a qualifier, Warsaw were then thrown out of the competition for fielding an illegible player but Celtic's luck run out and Maribor sent them to the Europa League in their final qualifier  Some of the best news in recent times came for Glasgow when Celtic were drawn against Rangers in the Semi-Finals of the League Cup to take place on 31 January/1 February 2015. The 400th Old Firm Derby will take place and I for one cannot wait, Celtic and Rangers back on the grand stage, two clubs with phenomenal history's doing Glasgow proud.

By Gareth Thomas - TFHB (Follow me on Twitter: @GJ_Thomas & @TFHBs and 'Like' our Facebook)


[1] Tim Pat Coogan, 'Wherever Green is Worn: The Story of Irish Diaspora' (Palgrave: New York, 2001), p. 250.

[2] Stephen Wagg, 'British Football & Social Exclusion' (Routledge, Oxon, 2004), p. 158.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Celtic FC's club website, <>.
[5] The Inside Left Archive, found at: <>
[6] A Postcard from the early nineteenth century featuring "The Bould Bhoys!", found at: <>.
[7] "War Jottings". Aberdare Reader [Aberdare, Wales] 26 Sept. 1914. Welsh Newspapers Online. Web. 4 Feb 2014.
[8] J. Lawrence. Constitutional Club, Northumberland-avenue, W.C., March 4. "The Case Of Football." Times [London, England] 5 Mar. 1915: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web.
[9] FIFA website: 'McGrory stands among game's giants' found at:
[10] The Glasgow Herald, 6 November, 1967 found at:
[11] Read a full article about the match here:


Popular Posts