Football Dictionary Header Facebook

Glasgow Celtic Football Club History

Founded: 1888 League: Iron Bru Premier League
Nickname(s): The Bhoys, The Hoops, League Position 2009-10: 2nd (Premier League)
Stadium: Celtic Park Manager: Neil Lennon
Capacity 60,837 Chairman: John Reid


Early Days

The birth of Celtic Football Club took place in the church hall of St Mary’s in the Calton area of Glasgow on 6th November 1887.  The idea was formalised by a Marist Brother as a move to raise funds and banish poverty amongst the Irish immigrants in the area, similar to what Hibernian had achieved a few years before in Edinburgh. Brother Walfrid, the man who established the charity, like the immigrants was from Ireland himself and felt that the name ‘Celtic’, reflected both the impoverished settlers and the land they had settled in.  Although football was the binding idea for the cause, the only goal that really mattered was that the Irish received a better quality of life.

Glasgow’s East End slums were a growing problem with death tolls, particularly in children, being particularly high. Walfrid had seen all this first hand and whilst religion played a huge part in the foundation, a voice in the community and Irish identity were paramount of importance within the charity. On 28th May 1888 Celtic took to the field for their first official match in the history of the club against a Rangers IX, winning 5-2 in a ‘friendly encounter’ resplendent in white shirts with a green collar, long black shorts with green and black hooped socks.  This would mark the beginning of Celtic as a team to watch and in the years that followed, success would not be hard to come by.

By 1892 the club had won the Scottish Cup and League titles followed in 1893, 1894, 1896 and 1898 but they reclaimed the Scottish Cup again in 1899 and 1900. Between 1905 and 1938 Celtic would win the league a further fifteen times including runs of six-in-a-row (1905-1910) four-in-a-row (1914-1917) with another twelve Scottish Cups in the trophy cabinet. During Celtic’s first period in history they had moved forward in leaps and bounds amassing 34 major trophies between 1888 and 1939. Thirty of those trophies were won under Celtic’s first ever manager, Willie Maley between 1897 and 1939.

To commemorate the Empire Exhibition of 1938 in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park a competition was held between four English and four Scottish clubs.  Of the English clubs (Brentford, Chelsea, Everton and Sunderland) only Everton chalked up victories until faced by Celtic, who beat them 1- 0 after extra time in front of 82,000 supporters at Ibrox park, the goal scored by the legendary Johnny Crum.

Celtic had a new manager during the war years of 1940-1945 in former player Jimmy McStay but there were no official competitions during this period. However, to mark the end of World War II a match was arranged to compete for the Victory in Europe Cup. Rangers had declined the invitation due to other commitments and the offer was taken up by Queens Park instead. The score line ended 1-1 with the match being decided on corners, Celtic edging the game by one corner to win the trophy.

Post War 1950s, 60, 70s, 80s etc

By 1946 Celtic had already installed their new manager Jimmy McGrory who was a former player for the club. During his playing career he had amassed 550 goals, a British record which has never been broken. Despite his success at club level he was capped only seven times for Scotland, scoring seven goals. However, this would be a template for Celtic’s Scottish players for many years to come. During a twenty year period as Celtic manager McGrory won one Scottish League, two Scottish Cups and League Cups. The greatest success of those trophies was the League Cup Final of 1957. Celtic were up against rivals Rangers at Hampden to contest the League Cup in a sunny day in October. The Bhoys thrashed Rangers 7-1, a score line that remains a record win in a British Cup Final to this day. McGrory’s Bhoys also took home the Coronation Cup in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Celtic defeated Arsenal and Manchester United on the way to beating Hibernian 2-0 in the final at Hampden Park.

In 1965 Celtic installed their fourth manager in the clubs history by appointing Jock Stein. Stein was also a former player and captain for the club between 1951 and 1956 but he had begun his management career with Celtic long before now. After he had retired from playing, he coached the reserve and youth teams and played a hand in the purchase of the clubs playing fields at Barrowfield. He got his first taste of success in 1958 with an 8-2 aggregate win over Rangers in a Cup game featuring a team of second string players. However, Stein would leave Celtic’s reserve and youth side to pursue roles outside of the club only to return as First Team Manager. This would turn out to be Celtic’s most successful period in history. Celtic had not won a trophy for eight years but Stein rubber stamped his arrival with a Scottish Cup Final win over his old club Dunfermline. This came only weeks after he returned to the club and would be the spring board to greater things.

Celtic were starting to make head way in Europe as well as recapturing their domestic form. Stein was showing signs of being a great manager.In 1967 he led Celtic to victory in the European Cup Final by beating Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon. It was a narrow score line but Celtic’s attacking play enabled them to battle back from an Inter penalty. Celtic had become the first British club in history to win the competition and also the first Northern European team to win the competition. The team Stein had assembled were all Scottish with no big money buys like Inter Milan, but they also had the proud fact that every single player was born within a 30 mile radius of Celtic Park. Stein and Celtic would be back at the European Cup Final in 1970 but lost out to Feyenoord 2-1 in extra time. However by now Celtic were a force in Europe taking on the elite football clubs and beating them regularly. Domestic success should not go unnoticed though as Stein won ten Scottish Leagues Titles, eight Scottish Cups and six League Cups. During his Celtic managerial career between 1965 and 1978 the highlights are surely the nine-in-a-row titles as well as the 1966-67 season where they won every trophy they competed for.

Reluctantly, Stein made way for yet another former player and captain as the board felt it was time for someone else, with Billy McNeill taking over from ‘The Big Man’. Stein refused the role he’d been offered and left the club. McNeill has been Stein’s captain marvellous for all those years but it was his turn now to get the team moving. Instant success came in the form of the league title, with a victory in the final game of the season. ‘Cesar’, as he was known in his playing days notched up two more league titles, one Scottish Cup and one League Cup during his reign between 1978 and 1983.; McNeill left club due to a poor working relationship with the board, a seed that would grow within the club through the eighties and nineties.

Davie Hay, a former player came in to succeed McNeill but saw little though memorable success during a four year spell. In the 1985 Scottish Cup Final a Davie Provan wonder free-kick and a ‘charismatic’ diving header by Frank McGarvey helped beat Dundee Untied at Hampden, despite being 1-0 down from the first half. The most memorable match for Hay though came in season 1985-86 when on the final day of the season Celtic had to win their match against St Mirren by three clear goals and Hearts to lose to Dundee in order to win the league. Hearts went down 2-0 whilst Celtic turned on the style with a 5-0 victory.

Hay left the following season after a relatively unimpressive reign with Billy McNeill returning to the club. The timing of Billy’s return could not have been more crucial as the club strived for success and it was of course Celtic’s Centenary Season. Rangers already had new owner with millions in the bank to spend whilst Celtic were showing no such signs of frivolity. That didn’t matter to McNeill though as Celtic went on and clinched a league and cup double in a great season. Despite winning the Scottish Cup the following season, the club were beginning to show that they could not compete with the financial wealth of Rangers. Celtic were a ‘family owned’ club though they were a group of individuals who were fast falling out of favour with the fans.

1990s to Present

Billy McNeill remained in charge of the club until the end of the 1990-1991 season with no more trophies.  Things were starting to dry up for Celtic as a whole and the owners were trying new schemes but the supporters were not convinced by this.

After McNeill came Liam Brady and so began the barren years at Celtic Park where Rangers would continue to dominate and Celtic would continue to come up short on every occasion. Brady’s legacy was a 5-1 loss to Neuchatel Xamax in the UEFA Cup. Brady resigned in 1993 and was replaced by Lou Macari who actually won his first his first game in charge. But thanks has to go to Frank Connor who had been interim manager and who had actually prepared the team for that win over Rangers, leaving him as the only unbeaten Celtic manager in history.

Macari’s reign was short and easily forgettable, the club was in turmoil and there was a positive supporter’s campaign for change at Celtic. The bank was closing in on Celtic Park and at the eleventh hour following nerve wracking times for fans a new owner stepped in. On March 4th 1994 Fergus McCann removed the ‘family’ element that had controlled and failed the club in recent years. The fans had opened the door for the expat to step in and for him to clear the debt and save the club from sinking. Macari was later sacked and replaced by former player and fans idol Tommy Burns who had been in charge of Kilmarnock. Though relatively inexperienced, Burns was the ‘right’ choice to restore faith in the supporters and pride in the Celtic team which had been so frail in recent years.

An attacking style of football was utilised by Burns and the things were on looking up on the park as well off. McCann had plans to rebuild Celtic Park, binning the previous owner’s crazy ideas to move the club away from Parkhead. To carry out a rebuild, Celtic were required to move to Hampden Park for season whilst phase one of the construction took place. That season saw Burns end Celtic’s six year trophy drought with a Scottish Cup Final win over Airdrie. A ‘close but no cigar’ season for Burns came when Celtic were defeated only once all season but ultimately lost the league title to Rangers. Celtic’s rivals were now looking to equal the nine-in-a-row record set by Jock Stein and Celtic in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Money was being invested for players but McCann was reluctant to give into the demands of foreign pockets. However, McCann was a businessman and not a football man and at the same time he was delivering his plan to rebuild the club. Burns lacked the luck he required to get Celtic back in the game despite his best efforts to stop Rangers and was sacked in 1997 following Rangers nine-in-a-row success. Celtic no longer claimed the record for themselves and Rangers showed no sign of letting up.

Enter Wim Jansen as head coach, with assistant Murdo McLeod and a new General Manager’s position in the form of football commentator Jock Brown. The latter was a bizarre appointment, given his leanings and background, but Jansen’s role as head coach was beginning to have an influence on the team. Jansen’s first success came in the League Cup Final when Celtic beat Dundee United 3-0 with goals coming from Marc Rieper, Craig Burley and £650,000 signing Henrik Larsson. The team were beginning to look the part under Jansen and this was a stepping stone to something bigger. Celtic had to prevent Rangers from beating their nine-in-a-row title haul but would require everything they had. Rangers had an impressive team and whilst Celtic were still building theirs, but relationships behind the scenes at Celtic Park were beginning to show signs of wear and tear. During that season Celtic were also back in Europe against the best and in a two leg affair with Liverpool, they lost on away goals after a 0-0 score line at Anfield. Celtic were by far the better team over the two matches, but it was not be on this occasion. In the title run in Celtic had a poor run of form and the accolades looked like they were once again running away from the club again. It would all come down to the last game of the season with Celtic requiring a victory after slipping up at East End Park the week before. The team were up against St Johnstone at home and Rangers were away to Dundee United simultaneously. A nerve jangling 90 minutes would decide the fate of Celtic’s and the League Titles future. In a tense afternoon for all fans, Celtic won the match 2-1 with goals from Larsson and Brattbakk and it was ‘cheerio to ten in a row’.  Celtic hadn’t won the league since the Centenary Season of 1987-88 and a new hero was in the making. Wim Jansen left the club in the days following the celebrations after finding it difficult to work with McCann and Brown, the latter being his primary reason.  It was a disappointment for the fans but Jansen walked away with his head held high.

For the following season, Celtic would choose Dr Jozef Vengloš as the new head coach much to the dismay of the supporters.  It seemed a strange choice given the names that had been in the media. Unfortunately for Vengloš early exits from every competition made for an uneasy season despite a challenge for the title up until the end of that term. However, he had introduced an unknown player in Ľubomír Moravčík who would become a Celtic idol and play a key part in a memorable 5-1 victory over Rangers at Celtic Park. Vengloš left the club after one season and a new set-up was installed at Celtic Park in the form of Kenny Dalglish as Director of Football and John Barnes as Head Coach. Barnes had no experience whatsoever and despite some decent matches it would hit Celtic hard. In a season that saw Henrik Larsson break his leg in Europe, Celtic were beaten 3-1 by Scottish Cup minnows Inverness Caledonian Thistle.  The match was a huge upset and ultimately Barnes was sacked within days. Dalglish resumed control of team affairs for the remainder a season in which Rangers would win the league.  Despite that, Celtic won the Scottish Cup against Aberdeen, but most fans would prefer to forget that entire season.

The board’s next move would be one that would lift the hopes of the fans and indeed the clubs fortunes.  Martin O’Neill was an up and coming manager in the English Premier League plying his trade with Leicester City and so it was to be he who would be given the opportunity to turn things around at Celtic Park. The Northern Irish man had steadily built his career in management from the lower leagues in England. However, he had a successful playing career primarily under Brian Clough and more notably in the European Cup with Nottingham Forest. O’Neill’s first Glasgow Derby ended in a 6-2 victory in what was a whirlwind match but it was evident that it could easily have been a larger score line.  The fans were ecstatic and there would be more to come. That season Celtic walked away with the domestic treble and a decent effort in Europe, their most tricky of competitions in recent years.  But they would make more of an impact in the seasons ahead.

Martin O’Neill would lead Celtic into the Champions League punching above their weight and giving the fans much to cheer about.  However, qualification into the last sixteen eluded O’Neill and Celtic every time. The parachuting paths of the Champions League provided UEFA Cup Football for Celtic in 2002/2003 and a run in the competition that would lead them to the final. Celtic took on Porto in Seville with 80,000 travelling fans to support them. The match lived up to the billing but sadly Celtic lost out 3-2 to a Jose Mourinho side in extra-time. But Celtic were perfectly placed in the match and Henrik Larsson, by now a living legend bagged a brace in the searing heat of Spain. It was a bitter disappointment and many fans were united in their assessment of the Porto player’s antics on the park. With that in mind and the fact Celtic were down to ten men, Celtic’s luck had run out. The hordes of fans that had made the journey were thanked for their perfect behaviour with UEFA and FIFA both awarding them the Fair Play Award. But for a season of great effort and entertainment Celtic walked away with no trophies.

The following season was to be Henrik Larsson’s last in a Celtic jersey and he would mark it with a tally of 41 goals.  This helped Celtic reclaim the league title and win the Scottish cup as well as a Quarter Final place in the UEFA cup but they were overcome by Villareal. Larsson was everything to the fans and the fans were everything to him, the club had served him well and he had served the club well.  It was an emotional farewell and to this day no other player has matched the spirit of Celtic’s ‘King of Kings’.

Season 2004/2005 and Celtic’s first season without Larsson in the number seven jersey, would see the league go down to the wire.  A win at Motherwell was all that was required for Martin O’Neill to retain the title. With minutes to go Scott McDonald, who would join the club in later years, scored two late goals for Motherwell. That result coupled with Rangers 1-0 win in Edinburgh handed the title over to the Ibrox club.

Martin O’Neill announced after the league had ended that he would be leaving the club to care for his wife who was ill. Rumours of all kinds were a constant threat to O’Neill’s tenure as manager but this was a huge blow for Celtic fans. In his five years as Celtic Manager he captured three SPL titles, three Scottish Cups and one League Cup. Undoubtedly his best work was a record 25 league victories in a row, seven consecutive wins over Rangers and putting Celtic back on the European map once again but he also had a 77 game unbeaten run at Celtic Park, he had made it a fortress.

Gordon Strachan arrived to a mixed response from Celtic fans despite being recommended to the club by his predecessor, Martin O’Neill. The club had lost a whole host of players and cuts were being made within the playing staff so it would be a tough job for any man. However, Strachan rolled up his sleeves and got on with the task and he took home the SPL title and League Cup. Strachan had two humiliating defeats during that season in Europe and the Scottish Cup, but he had made up for it by winning the league with six games remaining.

In 2008, Strachan’s first team coach and Celtic legend Tommy Burns died. He had been fighting skin cancer for some time and had been unable to fulfil his role, but he lost his battle. There was a moving farewell to the man who had epitomised what it was like to be a Celtic supporter, player and of course a manager – he had lived the dream. As much of a blow as that was to everyone Celtic battled on but it was a tragedy that brought football together for brief period. Celtic’s progress into the last sixteen of the Champions League on two occasions as well as three league titles in a row, one Scottish Cup and two League Cups place Strachan’s achievements alongside former managers Willie Maley and Jock Stein. He lost the 2009 SPL title to Rangers by which time some fans had grown impatient with him. His tenure at Celtic separated fans but his record speaks for itself but he would leave Celtic after losing the league to Rangers in his fourth season.& Strachan would always speak of Celtic and their fans highly.

The Celtic board made a move to appoint former club player Tony Mowbray from West Bromwich Albion, recently relegated from the Premier League in England. It was a risky venture for the club, given that Mowbray had just dropped into the Championship but the man who had invented the Celtic “Huddle” was to be ‘their man’. Transfers during that summer were few and Mowbray shuffled and reshuffled mostly what he already had at his disposal. Inconsistent performances led to criticism public of the players by Mowbray and he would act upon that soon after. He axed several of them in the winter transfer window and brought in new players; including Robbie Keane on loan though it can be widely regarded he had little involvement in bringing in the Irish International. By this point though there was little improvement and as the weeks wore on the inconsistencies became more apparent.

In March of 2010 the board sacked Mowbray in what had been a disastrous season. Rangers were moving closer to the League title and Celtic were losing ground on them. Neil Lennon stepped in as Interim Manager and kept Celtic in winning form in the league hoping that Rangers would slip up. However, it was not to be and so the with the season over and Lennon losing in the Scottish Cup, the search for a new manager would begin. How far the club actually looked and how much support there was on the board already may have been a huge chip in the game for Neil Lennon. He was appointed manager at the club just before the 2010 World Cup. Despite no managerial experience, it had become apparent over the last few months that there was no other choice. He had proven himself in the league as interim manager and now the board were going with him on a permanent basis.


Written by Stephen McGowan

Back To Top