Robert Kelly was born in Blantyre in 1902, one of 10 children of James Kelly, Blantyre businessman, player and captain of Glasgow Celtic FC.
Robert was educated at St Aloysius and St Josephs, Dumfries and became a stockbroker by profession. Like his father, he became a director of Glasgow Celtic FC and was chairman of the club between 1947 and 1971. He was appointed to Celtic Board in 1932 following the death of his father.
He later became Celtic’s first President. For the best part of the next two decades Kelly’s influence would be all encompassing. He was a mostly conservative figure with an exceptionally high regard for tradition and discipline. Never one to duck from confrontation, with players or the football authorities, his reign was laced throughout with controversy.
As an administrator and legislator he was a highly regarded talent and his expertise were utilised by both the Scottish Football League and the SFA, serving as president for both authorities.
His persuasive debating skills were demonstrated in 1952 when he took on and defeated the SFA – who were threatening Celtic with expulsion unless the Irish tricolour was removed from the Parkhead flagpoles – in what became known as the ‘Flag Flutter’. In 1969, he was knighted for services to Scottish football.
He died on 20th April 1971 after a period of ill health. His rule of Celtic had been total. His sternness, stubbornness and meddling in team affairs had rankled many a player and fan. Yet, ultimately, he was the man who had overseen the greatest period in Celtic’s history.
Pictured in the 1930s is Robert Kelly, then again in 1969 at Celtic Park after being knighted, and finally at Rutherglen in 1971 at his funeral.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016
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Elizabeth Dobson Grieve And the team nearly went under because of the Kelly’s. Thank goodness for “the bunnet”