It would be hard not to have taken notice of events in Catalonia over the last week with the political situation growing tense. People are often quick to draw comparisons between Catalonia and our own Northern Ireland. However, it is not the political similarities I want to look at but rather the sporting links.
Barcelona have adopted the motto ‘Mes que un club’ or ‘More than a club’ – an expression of the club’s commitment to go beyond the realm of sport and show their embodiment of local life and culture. This thinking lead me to thoughts of a former Barcelona manager, Patrick O’Connell. An Irish native formerly a player of Belfast Celtic, a club who would have gladly taken on the motto ‘More than a club’.
Belfast Celtic was formed in 1891 at the behest of Frank Laverty, James Keenan and Alec Begley who were keen to have a football team representative of the Falls Road area of Belfast. This sense of local pride resonates well with the ethos of the Catalan club.
The newly formed club adopted the name ‘Celtic’ in homage to their Glasgow brethren and in turn were rewarded with some financial support by an admiring Glasgow Celtic. The Park Centre, a shopping centre in West Belfast, now marks the spot of Belfast Celtic’s former ground Celtic Park – aptly nicknamed Paradise.
Famous faces in famous places
Celtic’s reach stretched far and wide. As mentioned Patrick O’Connell was a former player who went on to represent clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United as well as gaining 6 international caps for Ireland. O’Connell finally hung up his boots in 1922 and went on to have a successful managerial career in Spain with five different clubs, his biggest success coming in leading Real Betis to their one and only La Liga title in 1935.
Jimmy Jones was a former representative of Belfast Celtic, a man who would go on to claim the Irish League goalscoring record, mostly thanks to his time at Glenavon, a record that still remains to this day. Charlie Tully was another former Belfast Celtic player, one who went on to represent Glasgow Celtic for 11 years and become considered a great of the club. Tully famously scored directly from a corner against England in an international fixture for Northern Ireland in 1952.
Arguably, Celtic’s most famous alumni was Elisha Scott. Elisha made 31 appearances for Ireland (IFA) between 1920 and 1936 but was most known as being a mainstay in the Liverpool squad with over 400 appearances, becoming by far their longest serving player. Scott came back to Belfast to finish his career with Belfast Celtic before going on to manage the club, picking up 10 league titles, 6 Irish Cups, 3 City Cups, 8 Gold Cups and 5 County Antrim Shields in a fifteen year period preceding the clubs premature demise.
A lasting legacy
Belfast Celtic dissolved as a club in 1949 but their impact and legacy remains to this day, a plaque at West Belfast’s Park Centre marks the spot of their former home. Keen to keep the spirit and name of the club alive, Belfast Celtic YM are a club currently competing in the South Antrim Football League with ambitions of moving into the NAFL in the near future. The club, formed in 2013, boast not only a senior men’s side but also a senior women’s team and 6 youth teams starting from the 2012 age group.
Mes que un club, The Grand Old Team certainly were.
If you would like to read more about Belfast Celtic, Paul McParlan has written an excellent piece on the club over on our sister site ByFarTheGreatestTeam