A title is won but our founder is gone – a bittersweet day for Celtic

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On Saturday 15 August, 1914, Celtic played their first League fixture of the season at Tynecastle, the defence of their title starting badly with a 2-0 defeat, the Hearts goals coming from Henry Wattie and Tom Gracie. This was also the first senior football since the outbreak of World War 1, just two weeks earlier. Although the Scottish Cup and international matches had been put on hold during the horrific conflict, the decision was taken to continue with the League on the basis that it might be good for public morale.

In early September, the Budapest Cup was finally won by Celtic, by beating Burnley 2-1 at Turf Moor. The two clubs had met at Ferencvaros’ ground the previous May, both on post-season tours in central Europe, in a match billed as the ‘Battle of Britain’. Celtic were reigning Scottish champions and had recently completed the Double by beating Hibernian 4-1 in a replayed Scottish Cup Final at Ibrox (The showpiece Scottish game would not return to its traditional Hampden home until 1920, following the ‘Riot Final’ between Celtic and Rangers in 1909, five years earlier).

Burnley were the English FA Cup holders, having defeated Liverpool 1-0 at Crystal Palace (It would be 1923 before the Empire Stadium Wembley hosted its first national final). The Budapest match lived up to its name, a bad-tempered affair which finished 1-1, the clubs then unwilling to play extra-time but agreeing to meet on their return to the UK, hence the September fixture in Lancashire. The trophy, a silver lighthouse, was not presented at the time and following the declaration of war, just weeks later, its whereabouts were unknown. There were suggestions that it had been used ‘to help the war effort’. End of story, or was it?

Following their opening-day victory over Celtic, the Gorgie side would go on to win their first eight games. The Hoops went on their own strong run, including six-goal displays against Morton and Dundee and a Halloween win over Rangers, as legendary Bhoys, Patsy Gallacher and Jimmy McMenemy did their best to lift the gloom for a couple of hours each Saturday.

On the weekend of 25/26 November 1914, thirteen Hearts players enlisted in the armed forces, adding to the three already serving. Players and supporters from Hibernian and other clubs also signed up for the 16th Royal Scots. This became known as McCrae’s Battalion, named after its commanding officer, an Edinburgh MP. Tragically, seven of the sixteen Hearts players would lose their lives between September 1915 and April 1917, whilst on military service, including both August goalscorers, Grace and Wattie. Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Prior to its key players departing to the front, Hearts continued to set the pace, a 20-game unbeaten run from October until February stretching closest-challengers, Celtic, to the limit. The sides met on 30 January 1915 at Celtic Park, the 1-1 draw leaving Hearts four points clear with just eleven games remaining. The visitors’ goal was scored by Harry Graham. He had been turned down for McRae’s Battalion due to his asthma, however, he did enlist in 1916, thankfully surviving to play again for Hearts before joining Leicester City in 1920.

This would be the last point dropped by Celtic until the last day of the season, by which time the title had been won. On Saturday, 17 April 1915, 104 years ago today, the Bhoys travelled across the city to Cathkin Park, the second Hampden, to play Third Lanark in their penultimate game. Hearts made the journey to Love Street to face St Mirren in their final League fixture. The teams were level on 61 points going into the weekend. It was ‘sqeaky-bum time’.

Jimmy ‘Sniper’ McColl

In front of 20,000 at Cathkin, Celtic turned on the style, goals from Napoleon McMenemy, Sniper McColl and a double from Johnny Browning producing a thrilling 4-0 victory. Word then came through that Hearts had lost 1-0 in Paisley, meaning that the Bhoys had retained their title with a game to spare. They would go on to claim four titles in succession, not quite emulating the world-record six of Maley’s first great side of 1904-10, a feat which stood until Jock’s side won the seventh of nine at Methil in 1972.

As the Celtic family rejoiced, however, there was word from Dumfries that Brother Walfrid, the founder of our club, had passed away, just short of his 75th birthday.

Having left Glasgow’s East End for the London version in 1892, as a new Paradise emerged from a disused brickyard on the other side of the cemetery from our first home, he had returned to the Scottish borders following the onset of ill-health in 1912, residing in the Marist Order home at St Joseph’s in Dumfries. It was there that the man from Sligo, a survivor of the Great Hunger in his homeland some sixty years earlier, saw out his final days. So just as 2008 was A Title for Tommy, then perhaps it is appropriate that the 1915 version belongs to the man who gave us our club.

I was privileged earlier today to show some guests around the stadium and witness first-hand that Walfrid’s Legacy is alive and well, as the good folk of the Foundation did what they do. The enthusiasm and knowledge demonstrated as we shared the stories one more time was an absolute joy to behold. A certain Andrew Kerins of Ballymote, County Sligo would have been a proud man looking down. May God bless you, Brother Walfrid of the Celtic.

Postscript:

On 7 May, 1988, as Celtic celebrated our Centenary League title with a 1-0 victory over Dunfermline at Parkhead, the ‘first European Cup’ finally arrived in Paradise, 74 years after the games in Budapest and Burnley. The Ferencvaros chairman, the wonderfully-named Zoltan Magyar, attended the match and presented the beautiful Ferencvaros Vase to his Celtic counterpart, Jack McGinn. It still has pride of place in the boardroom cabinet to this very day, together with a framed photograph of the original Budapest Cup, just a few feet away from its more famous counterpart, the Big Cup lifted by Billy in the heat of Lisbon, on 25 May 1967.

Hail, hail!

Matt Corr

Follow Matt on twitter @Boola_vogue

Credit to the Celtic Wiki on Kerrydale Street, as always, a source of invaluable reference information.

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