Friday, 13 September 2013

The Celtic Principle
As AGMs go it was a difficult one for the Celtic board. Of course the family dynasties which owned most shares in Celtic were in little serious trouble as they could easily defeat any motions they disliked. However on that September day in 1957 Bob Kelly reiterated a vital component of Celtic’s DNA. Various shareholders had rightly asked why the club was faring so poorly in the league again and pointed out that the title of 1954 was the only one Celtic had won since the war and only the 4th in the previous 30 years. Kelly played a straight bat and reiterated the Club’s policy of developing their own players and pointed out that many of the youngsters on the books were showing great promise. It was then, according to the minutes of the AGM, that a fan raised an issue which led to Kelly rounding on him and reminding him of a great pillar of the Celtic philosophy. The shareholder in question asked if the club’s lack of success could be remedied by raising the number of Catholics in the team to 9, 10 or even 11? Kelly responded to this by stating in unequivocal language that this was never the Celtic way nor would it ever be. He said…

‘It has been the founding Fathers’ doctrine and Club policy that Celtic field the best possible team regardless of denomination. Non-Catholic’s had throughout the club’s history played their hearts out for Celtic and the policy of the founding Fathers’ would continue! With the new school of youngsters there is no doubt that Catholic youth will show up well and have every opportunity to show its worth but the principle (of a mixed team) will remain the same as always.’

Kelly sat to a storm of almost unanimous applause. There was no doubting his commitment to an open an inclusive Celtic. A club which was founded by immigrants and proud of its Irish Catholic heritage but also open to all who had the ability and character to wear the Hoops.

It was at that same AGM in September 1957 that Kelly appointed Jock Stein as coach of the Celtic reserve side. He recognised Stein as a leader and increasingly shrewd tactician. Jock had been seriously injured in a game against Rangers and the damage to his ankle left him with a limp all his life. Kelly was clear that Stein was the man to make things happen at Celtic by developing the new crop of talented young players in the correct manner. He said of Stein…

‘Jock’s misfortune (his injury) has in some ways been our good fortune. Jock Stein is the ideal person to take these boys on and create a training school which could easily be the nucleus of our teams of the future.’

Kelly was of course right in his judgement that Jock was the coming man. The Manager in a track suit who would leave the office and work with the players on the training field had arrived. It would take a few years and Stein leaving to manage Dunfermline and Hibs before Kelly’s judgement was proved correct. His return to Celtic, a club of which Stein said was... ‘Not my first love but it will be my last’ gave him the platform to become a giant of British and European football.

A few short weeks after Kelly slammed any notion of Celtic being an exclusive club the team travelled to Hampden to play great rivals Rangers in the League Cup Final. The huge Celtic support knew the club were long odds to win the cup on that October day in 1957. Rangers played what Sports Reporter Cyril Horne called ‘The Power Play which so disfigured the sport,’ but they were torn apart that day as Celtic destroyed them in epic style. The final result was of course Celtic 7 Rangers 1 and the press were astonished that the ‘Iron Curtain’ Rangers defence had been so readily breached by the rampant Celtic forwards. One newspaper of the day said…

‘Eleven players of Celtic Football Club did more in 90 minutes at Hampden Park for the good of the game than officialdom has done in years. For with a display of such grandeur as has rarely graced the vast ground, they proved conclusively the value of concentration on discipline and the arts and crafts of the game.’

The humiliation of Rangers at Hampden that day in 1957 was no doubt all the sweeter for Celtic fans as they knew well the Ibrox club’s shameful ‘No-Catholics’ policy was in full swing by then. Not that they were alone in such discrimination as much evidence attests to the fact that many other employers of the time behaved in a similar manner or at least ensured a glass ceiling limited opportunities for advancement for the 17% of Scots who were Catholics.  Those were the days when  James Breen, Head Master of St Patrick’s Catholic Secondary School, Coatbridge marched into the local Bank Manager’s office and asked why recruitment forms were sent to the other High schools in the area but not his.  He embarrassed them into including Catholic youngsters in their recruiting drive. This gutsy and determined man was remembered in a fine obituary in the Herald when he died in 1999. It stated…

‘During his time in Coatbridge, which had a 52% Catholic population, James visited local bank managers to ask from where they recruited trainees. In each case he was told it was from Coatbridge High. Single-handedly, he ended the blatant sectarian embargo. He also recalled his pupils being spat upon by workers during a visit to an engineering works in Coatbridge.’

This was the world which Celtic lived in during the 1950s and the world many of their supporters experienced every day in the work place and wider community. That Celtic avoided such mean spirited discrimination says much about the ethos at the Club. From the days of Brother Walfrid through to the modern era the club has selected players on ability and character and not on ethnicity or religious denomination. Today we proudly count men like ‘Sunny’ Jim Young Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Bobby Evans, Jock Stein, Bertie Peacock, John Thompson, Henrik Larsson, Scott Brown and a host of others among our greats. I wouldn’t have it any other way as the Celtic I know and love is open to all.

It is fair to say that Scottish society has changed greatly since those far off days when discrimination was so blatant and widespread. We still see echoes of it but they come from an increasingly beleaguered and diminishing group who are for the most part out of step with mainstream Scotland. The irony of this year’s Orange Order Parade marching past the Time Capsule in Coatbridge was not lost on many of us. For they inhabit a rather sad time capsule of their own. I’m not claiming that Jim Breen was the Rosa Parks of Coatbridge but he stood up for what was right and people like him help our society evolve and improve. We owe him thanks and respect for that. Similarly with Bob Kelly at the Celtic AGM in September 1957 who reiterated the Celtic founding principle that men of all faiths and none are welcome at our Club. Others chose the bigoted route and claimed for themselves some tawdry and tainted glory but we all know the cost of drinking at that poisoned well.  I’m proud to say Celtic were never like that and I wouldn’t hold them so dear if they were. Nor would Celtic have thrived without the help of men from all walks of life who played their hearts out for the club.

Hail Hail to them all and long may it continue for in diversity is strength!.





  1. Excellent article.

  2. Thanks Henry, some principles are worth fighting for. HH