The following article about Blantyre Celtic Football Club has been written using information researched by myself and also calling upon researched information by the late Jimmy Cornfield and Neil Gordon with additional subject material graciously provided recently by Jimmy Whelan. The words also call upon the old Blantyre Gazette historical reports recorded by Hugh McQuade. Thank you to Gerry Kelly for the wonderful photos printed here with his permission.
Blantyre Celtic F.C. were a Scottish football club that played under the auspices of the Scottish Junior Football Association. Formed in 1914 as Blantyre United, they changed their name to Blantyre Celtic two years later starting out originally in 1916 at St Joseph’s Church Hall. Their home ground was at Craighead Park near Springwell, which they occupied in 1919 and they had as local rivals Blantyre Victoria, known locally as the Vics. In many ways they were the poorer cousin, as they existed in a poorer area of the village and lacked the financial support that the Vics gained from having a large social club attached to their home ground. In those early years, founder members of Blantyre Celtic were Mr E Morgan, Mr F Mulvanney, Mr P Scullion, Mr M Bradley, Mr T OBrien, Mr F Smith, Mr J Higgins and Mr P Cassidy.
The club reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Junior Cup three times: (1923–24, 1937–38 and 1945–46) but lost on each occasion.
The stadium could hold around 3,000 people and a record attendance was accomplished in season 1951 to 1952 when a capacity crowd attended the Scottish Junior Cup tie against Johnston Burgh. In their formative years Celtic played in the Lanarkshire Intermediate League before being admitted to the Lanarkshire Junior League, which later amalgamated with the Central Junior League. Between 1982–86, their Craighead Park ground was also used by the Glasgow Tigers speedway team as their home track. The Club President was Mr W Wallace and treasurer was John Cornfield.
Blantyre Celtic played in green and white hoops, identical to those of their namesake Celtic. Their most famous players were Peter Cassidy and Jimmy Johnstone. It is also wrongly reputed that former Celtic manager Jock Stein began his career at Blantyre Celtic. It was at the Vics.
A wartime newspaper reported, “Blantyre sportsman, Mr. Peter Cassidy (58) whose death occurred this week at his home at 41 Logan Street., following a lengthy illness, patiently borne. All his life a keen follower of football, Mr. Cassidy associated himself and acted in a valuable capacity with the old Blantyre Harp whose pavilion was originally situated near the site of Harper’s Garage in Glasgow Road, and whose playing pitch more often than not was at the gas-works. When the Harp became defunct, Mr. Cassidy found an outlet for his love of the game with Blantyre St. Joseph’s School, and during his period of management with the boys, they went through a season (1928) winning every trophy, and many clever stars of the game have no hesitation in giving Mr. Cassidy most of the credit for their success.
When Blantyre Celtic was inaugurated, Peter was in at the beginning and for many years rendered valuable service to the club as treasurer, scout, secretary and president. He was president when he retired through ill health about nine months ago and his service and personality will be sorely missed at Craighead Park. For over 30 years he was employed at the Whistleberry Colliery, but during the last few years he was engaged at the R.O.F. at Cardonald, Until his health broke down. The loss of his son John, in the Royal Navy (killed in action in 1942) was a sad blow which he never really surmounted, and the lad’s death had an adverse effect upon Peter’s general health. Peter was a regular attender in an invalid wheel chair at both local football grounds during the past few months, where he was accorded every facility to witness the games in comfort. Mr. Cassidy was survived by his wife and family of six.”
The player who is credited with the most appearances was Mr Danny Malloy, who played in 300 games between 1946 and 1949. Dennis Logie scored the most goals in one season when he netted 30 in 1948 -1949. Celtic’s best run in the Scottish Junior Cup was when they reached the semi-final in seasons 1937-1938 and 1946 -1947.
The newspaper report below appeared in January 1960, when fellow footballer Jimmy died, and is a fitting tribute to a man who gave freely of his talent, labour and time to the young sportsmen of our community. Another local man who was a contemporary of Jimmy and Peter was Paddy Slaven, whom provided the same service for the numerous footballer’s and boxers in the village. I think it would be true to say that in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, a period covering some 50 years, the young budding footballers, boxers and sportsmen of the village were never in better hands than these 3 men.
From 1960….“Blantyre Celtic lost a good servant by the death of Jimmy McCue in Cleland Hospital last Sunday morning. Jimmy who was 86 lived at 58 Viewfield Avenue, Blantyre. He had been ill for the past 3 months and had been in hospital for 10 days. He trained Blantyre Caley when they won the Scottish Juvenile Cup in the 1916/17 season. When the Caley went defunct, the junior team of Blantyre Celtic was formed, Jimmy became their trainer and carried the duties of looking after the fitness of the players for more than 40 years. He was naturally a very enthusiastic Celtic supporter, but a very fair sportsman, and, if the better team won was always prepared to give honour where honour was due. During his long service to the Craighead club, he put numerous players through his hands and many lads whose physical fitness he looked after became prominent in Senior Football later on in their careers. A few names at random are; Frank McGurk (Clyde and Birmingham)Willie Telfer (Motherwell and Scotland, Tommy Miller (Hearts) Tommy Brogan (Glasgow Celtic and Hibernian) Jimmy Docherty (Third Lanark and Airdrie) Andy McCall (Blackpool) Hughie McLaren (Derby County) Bobby Craig (Sheffield Wednesday) Frank Connor (Glasgow Celtic). Jimmy was the type that will be missed by the Blantyre Club. One of Jimmy’s sons, Neilly was a member of the prominent Blantyre Celtic half back line of McCue-Telfer-McNamee, in the days of the Intermediate League dispute. Neilly, is now following in his father’s footsteps as the trainer to Blantyre Celtic.”
Two players of distinction who started their careers with the “Wee Celts” were Dougie Fraser, who signed for Aberdeen, and the legendary Jimmy (Jinky) Johnstone of Glasgow Celtic. In 1963 the great Jock Stein farmed out Jimmy to the Blantyre club when he was manager of Glasgow Celtic. Jimmy was capped by the Scottish juniors in 1963 before going on to have an illustrious career with the Glasgow giants and playing a significant part when Celtic (the Lisbon Lions) became the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967. Jimmy Johnstone played for Scotland on 22 occasions. He later joined Elgin City for a short spell before being reinstated back to Blantyre Celtic in 1981. He retired due to injury approximately 6 months later, bringing the career of one of the all-time greats of Scottish football to an end.
A well-known local man Willie Chassells, who played for 6 junior teams, had the rare distinction of playing for both Blantyre Celtic and Blantyre Vics. He coached various junior and amateur teams before returning to coach Celtic between 1981 and 1985. Willie ended his football career when he retired after 4 years as physio with the Scottish Amateur Football Association.
The club enjoyed marginal successes post WW2, however, in 1988 Celtic resigned from the league owing to the fact that the could not fulfill their league matches because of financial difficulties. They moved grounds to a nearby field which they called Craighead Park, which opened on 29th September 1991. However, the banks came calling in 1992 and the club folded. All was not lost though. In 2010, the club reformed as an amateur team in the Blantyre area who are now enjoying some impressive success.
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Finally, Blantyre project reader, Jimmy Whelan wrote a poem in 2010 about Blantyre Celtic, reprinted here below:
It all began in St. Joseph’s church hall
A committee was formed, they knew it all
The Wee Celts were born, from but a dream
The formation of a fine football team
First established in nineteen nineteen
Irish immigrants, fulfilling their dream
To take this club to its primal best
With aspirations, to surpass the rest
Building this team, took some time
With peaks and troughs along the line
The nineteen forties, their greatest accolade
Semi-final of the Scottish Cup, what a parade
The slopes of Craighead was the place to be
Monsignor Ashe, our patron, how grateful were we
Some famous players have displayed their worth
The Greatest Celt ever, performed on this turf
Some fine local lads have graced the green
Grant, McAdams, Fallon, the finest we’ve seen
All having the honour to behold that fine crest
Admiration and pride for the badge on their chest
In the nineties it all came to an end
Banks came a calling, the money was spent
Craighead Park the Celts spiritual hame
Was reduced to rubble, Oh Lord what a shame
From out of the ashes in Two Thousand and Ten
Rise, a new Blantyre Celtic with a squad of brave men
With hopes and dreams, to be up there once more
The pitch comes alive when the Wee Celts do score.
Jimmy Whelan 2010