Birth of Celtic Football Club
Brother Walfrid was doing a great deal of good work in Glasgow's East End, through his Poor Children's Dinner Table charity. He had called upon the good grace of his friends in Edinburgh many times, and did so again in 1887, asking Canon Hannan if Hibernian might play in a charity match against Renton in Glasgow. Canon Hannan of course immediately agreed, and the game took place on Clyde's Barrowland ground. An astonishing 12,000 people turned out to watch the Scottish Cup holders draw 1-1. The money raised from this one game was beyond the dreams of anything Brother Walfrid had managed to raise in the past, and it is believed that this was the moment when he made up his mind that Glasgow should have their very own version of Hibernian Football Club.
The Irish Catholic community in Glasgow at this time numbered around 250,000, and Brother Walfrid knew that if Canon Hannan could raise so much from the Little Ireland community of Edinburgh that was a mere tenth of that number, then surely a similar side in Glasgow could do much more. It should not be thought that he in any way wished to harm Hibernian, far from it, he appreciated very much the help that he had received from Canon Hannan and the St Patrick's CYMS. His reasoning was that he could not continue to expect Hibernian to help his community when they had so much work to do in their own. He endeavoured then to copy the lead of Canon Hannan, knowing that the Edinburgh priest would do all he could to aid him in his task.
Over the coming months several meetings were arranged in Glasgow to drum up support for the idea of a new 'Hibernian' in Glasgow. Some Irish Catholic leaders however could see some of the danger signs, as it was becoming apparent in these meetings that some of the men coming to the fore where business-minded with hints that personal gain rather than charitable aims were uppermost in their thoughts. Brother Walfrid however appeared oblivious to this as he pressed forward with his plans, taking everyone at face value.
By November Brother Walfrid was ready along with his supporters from St Mary's Parish, and they revealed that a new football club would be formed. While most wanted the new club to be named Glasgow Hibernian, Brother Walfrid opposed this on the grounds that it would cause confusion. He got his way, and Glasgow Celtic was born. The real men behind this move however proved to be the businessmen, a builder from Donegal named John Glass and Pat Welsh, a tailor who had left Ireland under furtive circumstances 20 years previously. These men had seen the earning potential of a professional football club, and their subsequent methods of achieving their aims was to prove catastrophic for Hibernian Football Club.
Hibernian though were delighted on hearing the news of the formation of Celtic Football Club, and typical of Hibs they made an immediate donation towards the expenses of forming the new club, letting it be known at the same time that anything they could do to help would be done. Hibernian continued blissfully unaware that the founding of Celtic might cause them even the slightest problem, after all did every Irish Catholic not see football as they did, as a means of doing some good for their communities? More important at this time for Hibernian was their first ever tour of Ireland; at last the men of Little Ireland were to visit the homeland of the fathers.
Michael Whelahan was joined by a large party of officials and players for the trip, including John and Philip Farmer who would play a major part in the future of the club. Hibs first game came on Monday 2nd April 1888 against Belfast Distillery, with Hibernian running out winners by three goals to one before a very large crowd. Twenty four hours later and Hibs defeated a United Belfast side 4-1, Hibernian this time earning a standing ovation from appreciative Irish fans.
One month later, Hibernian travelled to Glasgow to fulfil a promise Canon Hannan had made to Brother Walfrid, Hibernian would formally open Celtic Park with a game against Cowlairs. The match ended in a 0-0 draw but was a highly entertaining one for all that, the new Glasgow club benefiting greatly from gate receipts with Hibernian paying their own expenses. On 28th May, Celtic played their own first game, against Rangers, but as they still did not have a full team they leaned heavily on their friends from Edinburgh and seven of the players in their side that day had connections with Hibs - Celtic won the game 5-2.
On Borrowed Time
In the following weeks Celtic played several games and each time used players borrowed from Hibernian. There were rumours doing the rounds of course about the intentions of the new Glasgow club, but these were dismissed by the Hibernian committee who simply would not believe that their close friends would mean them any harm. It's a great pity that the Hibs men were so trusting, as John Glass and his partners were already making their own plans and these included financial inducements being offered to the best players in the Hibernian side that they might join Glasgow Celtic for the following season.
By August 1888, the Hibernian committee men had learned that the rumours where in fact true, and the cream of the best football side in Scotland would not be turning out for Hibernian, but rather had defected to Celtic and the riches being promised. Just as shocked as the Hibernian men were most of the Celtic committee as well, who had not been aware what John Glass and his supporters were doing. Even if Hibs had wished to take Celtic on like for like, they could not do so, the very being of Hibernian was that every penny earned went to charitable causes, Celtic had undertaking no such principles.
John Glass had recognised the massive financial rewards that would ensue from professional football. The game had gone professional in England sometime before, and Scotland was about to follow, all the same the way he set about using the loyalties of the Irish immigrant population left a sour taste in many a mouth. Celtic were seeking to have the best of both worlds, they would sign any players they wished while still retaining an appeal to the Irish community. Business had, not for the first time, trampled over idealism, money had spoken and it was not the first time in the history of Hibernian Football Club that they would suffer for their own ideals.
Pic: Brother Walfrid
This concludes 'The Origins of Hibernian'. Look out for more articles following the history of Hibernian football club to be published on this site soon. For a detailed history of Hibernian, you can purchase the three volumes 'The Making of Hibernian' by Alan Lugton, available via the Club store.