PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland

Belfast Celtic

At the foot of the Donegal Road in Belfast there stands a bright, modern shopping complex. But for those old enough to remember, it will always evoke a certain sadness, because the shops were built over the site of Celtic Park - 'Paradise' to the faithful - for 58 years the home of Belfast Celtic.

The club was formed in the summer of 1891 and the first Chairman, James Keenan, provided the first and only suggestion for a name, Belfast Celtic. The origin of his choice stemmed directly from Glasgow Celtic, then three years old, and the Belfast men realised that they would have to live up to all its expectations. The chairman added that the purpose of the team would be to, "Imitate their Scottish counterparts in style, play and charity", but their main aim was to win the Irish Cup!

They didn't have long to wait before they won their first league title, which came in season 1899-1900, the first of fourteen leagues and eight Irish Cups.

The club became an institution on the Falls Road and in the Twenties they were certainly the team to beat. At one time Celtic had five international goalies on their books at the same time, and no international select was complete without two or three celtic players.

Towards the end of the First World war Celtic had broken most of the records in Irish football and things seemed set for continued domination after World War II, until disaster struck in 1948.

Unlike their local rivals Linfield, celtic were never a sectarian club, but the fact that they and the majority of their supporters came from west Belfast meant that derby matches were inevitably fraught with tension.

Until Boxing Day 1948, terracing violence had never affected the players, but on this day that was all about to change.

The Celtic v Linfield match had been a scrappy affair, with a player from each side being sent off. But the storm broke ten minutes from time. With Linfield leading by a goal to nil Celtic were awarded a penalty. As Walker stepped up to take it hundreds of Linfield supporters rushed on to the pitch and attacked some of the Celtic players, resulting in a broken ankle for one of them.

The following day the directors issued a statement part of which said, "The attack on our players was without parallel in the annals of football. The protection afforded to our players was quite inadequate."

Rumours that Celtic were going to withdraw from the league were soon confirmed, and Belfast Celtic ceased to grace the competitive scene at the end of the 1948-49 season.

Thereafter they played only exhibition games, one of which was against the Scotland national team, which Celtic won by 2:1.

After this tour Celtic ex-stars came together just twice more. The first occasion was an emotional match at Celtic Park on 17th may 1952 against Glasgow Celtic, whose team included ex-Belfast Celtic man Charlie Tully and the great Jock Stein.

It has been widely agreed that, since the departure of Belfast Celtic, Irish football has generally never recovered from the loss. The fighting spirit seemed to go out of the game and attendances sank dramatically.

Every Irish football fan wanted to see the Celtic because they knew they would see football at its best. There are no such events now, no crowds and no team even remotely similar in style. The game in Northern Ireland is dying and has been since 1949.

In any history of Irish football there will be a chapter devoted to the glory and triumph of Belfast Celtic, 1891-1949. For it is only the glory that remains - the glory, the memories and and a shopping centre built on what was once Celtic Park.

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