A double celebration on Willie Maley Weekend

Been a bit of a weekend as we celebrated the 154th anniversary of the birth of Willie Maley, Celtic’s first manager. The legendary Maley was born in the city of Newry, on the border of Counties Down and Armagh, on Saturday, 25 April 1868 and a group of modern-day Celts from the area have moved the proverbial mountains to ensure that his birth, achievements and legacy will be marked in the town forever through the erection of a statue in his honour.

Willie Maley was his name – Celtic Curio style

I first met Pat McLoughlin and Maria Foy when they took one of my tours at Celtic Park the morning after the victory over Lazio in October 2019. Pat reminded me this weekend that we had a chat afterwards and the subject of a statue of Willie Maley at the stadium – or more accurately the lack of one – cropped up in our conversation. From that point, he decided that he was going to do something about that, and the wonderful news is that after this weekend’s efforts and celebrations, that dream looks like becoming a reality before the great man’s next birthday. Willie’s not Pat’s!

Kealan and Pat McLoughlin with guest speaker Martin O’Neill

The Newry Willie Maley Memorial Committee was quickly established with Pat as chairman, and despite the pandemic, the group set about making their plans and raising the necessary funding. By the summer of last year, they had already passed the halfway point in their target of £60,000, with two major fundraisers then organised to get them over the line. The first of those took place in Newry’s INF club on Celtic’s 134th birthday, Saturday, 6 November 2021, and I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Pat and his son Kealan ahead of the Bayer Leverkusen match to hand over a selection of books for raffle prizes on behalf of Celtic Star Books. Another fantastic effort from the committee and its supporters took the total raised to over £40,000.

READ THIS...A support like no other, Newry Bhoys honour Willie Maley

The second fundraiser was organised for another special time in the Celtic calendar, Willie Maley’s birthday weekend, with Friday, 22 April 2022 selected due to the uncertainty over the first post-split fixture list. Tommy Sheridan, a passionate supporter of the project, once again did his bit for the cause by recording a promotional video outside Celtic Park, where the function would take place.

Martin O’Neill and Peter Martin Q&A with Maley’s portrait in the background

The event sold out in no time, with over 500 Celts attending the Kerrydale Suite for an evening with guest speaker Martin O’Neill. I was lucky enough to secure some places there and what a night it was, Tommy’s rousing tribute to Willie Maley followed by an irreverent Q&A between host Peter Martin and Martin O’Neill, which had the crowd thoroughly entertained.

Next came the raffle and auctions, with the fabulous prizes on offer including a stunning portrait of Willie Maley signed by three Celtic managers from the north of Ireland, Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon and Martin himself. Some incredible acts of generosity saw the committee achieve their target with a bit to spare, a wonderful feel-good Celtic night brought to a conclusion by The Wakes, who opened up with the Willie Maley song. What else?

Some of the wonderful folk involved in this project pose in the Celtic boardroom

The following day, I had the pleasure of hosting around 40 of the organisers and guests on a tour of Celtic Park, with a focus on the great man and the incredible turn of events which saw Willie’s dad first meet Pat ‘Tailor’ Welsh in the strangest of circumstances, a meeting which would shape the future of Celtic Football Club.

READ THIS...Patrick Welsh – rebellion, intrigue and his importance to Celtic FC and the Maley Family

A very special team talk in the Celtic dressing-room

The group then made the most of the hospitality on offer in the Jock Stein Lounge to address any lingering hangovers from the night before and an impromptu ‘whip round’ raised around £130, which we agreed would go to support the excellent work of the Celtic FC Foundation. Nice one, ladies and gents.

Maria Foy & Pat McLoughlin at Celtic Park

The final part of Willie Maley weekend involved the long trip north to Dingwall yesterday morning, alongside The Celtic Star Editor. As usual I refused to make a score prediction and as usual he gave me his, Ross County 0 Celtic 2. As usual, you know the rest…

Dingwall was the scene of perhaps a season-defining win in December. Tony Ralston’s last-gasp header is the stuff of Celtic folklore, as the 10-man Hoops battled back from the abyss to keep us alive in a title race which had looked forlorn moments earlier.

Carl Starfelt dismissed at Dingwall in December as Celtic’s title hopes hang by a thread

10-man Celtic after that dramatic December win at Dingwall

Since then, of course, a remarkable run of performances and results had seen Celts turn a six-point deficit into a six-point lead as we headed into the final strait. Many saw this game as a potential banana skin, however, a stronger-looking line-up than that available back in December took charge early on, Jota’s pinpoint cross guided expertly into the net by the head of Kyogo Furuhasi to set the tone for an assault on the County goal, as Celts threatened to kill the match before the interval.

The second half did not produce many clear opportunities, so it was with a sense of relief we watched the ball move across from Celtic’s right to left via the crossbar for that man Jota to clinch the points and send the delirious away support home happy. And of course, we had to have a version of Willie Maley’s song just to round things off.

Happy heavenly birthday, Willie. A man who gave his life to the club and who is now being honoured forever by the good folk around the city of his birth.

Hail Hail!

Matt Corr

Follow Matt @Boola_vogue

Maria with some of the Tyrone Bhoys

Matt, Maria and the Banbridge Celts

Kealan & Pat McLoughlin in the Kerrydale

Matt & Pat at Paradise

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Willie Maley Lapel badge

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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