Celtic Park Closed For A Month – Celtic In The Second World War

We have a proud collection of books in our library at The Celtic Star, and we are set to add another to the shelf in the near future with the forthcoming publication of Celtic In The Second World War. You can read more about that project by clicking HERE and you can follow @celticww2 on Twitter for regular updates from author Liam Kelly.

We have been posting previews from the book at various intervals. You can read of a former Celt’s heroic bomb diffusion by clicking HERE , the mayhem that was WWII football HERE, or the tale of a Glasgow Derby being Re-enacted On Bicycles At Theatre HERE.

Tonight we bring you a snippet from the story of Celtic Park being ordered to close for a month in late 1941. Much myth has surrounded this event, with some Rangers fans creating and peddling the lie that Paradise’s closure had something to do with pro-Nazi expression on the terraces. The truth, obviously, was entirely different!

Here’s the tale, as drafted in the book…


The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers was at great disparity with the notion of ‘a people’s war’, which was being promoted by the government. Football had the effect of unifying the nation in recreational enjoyment across the UK, but in Glasgow it divided citizens. This was not of huge concern prior to the Clydebank Blitz as elements of Scottish society detached themselves from the War at home. The bombings had mostly targeted English cities, but the horrors visited on Clydebank gave Scotland a rude awakening. After that point, there was a galvanisation in the country’s psyche and religious leaders from Catholic and Protestant communities were encouraged to carry out joint speaking tours promoting the collectivist nature of the conflict.

By late 1941, the War was most certainly front and centre in Scottish minds. There had been a marked change in the way that events were reported, sectarian incidents were magnified, and the public took a dim view of the ‘Old Firm’ ruining the wartime spirit. Nevertheless, the campaign to encourage ‘a people’s war’ didn’t break the divide. The Glasgow Irish experience of discrimination, the recent partition of Ireland, the lauding of the recently disbanded British Union of Fascists (and Billy Boys) at Ibrox, and the swelling of the Orange Order’s ranks after Chief Constable PJ Sillitoe eradicated Glasgow razor gangs all put paid to that.

Trouble flared at the first derby match of the campaign. Rangers had dominated proceedings at Ibrox on 6 September 1941. The Govan side led 2-0 towards the end of the first half, but Celtic began to fight back as the interval neared. The Bhoys sought to get the ball wide, where they had so often found success through the mesmerising skill of Jimmy Delaney. The world class winger, who later played for Manchester United, weaved his way through the Rangers defence after Nelson played a short corner to him. He found himself inside the penalty area with a chance to strike at goal, only to receive a violent push in the back. The referee had little choice but to point for the spot. Despite the clear foul, the match official was immediately surrounded by a host of Rangers players protesting his decision. When order was restored, Frank Murphy missed the penalty.

Celtic hero Frank Murphy in action

The Celtic support was apoplectic at the antics of the Rangers team, which had hampered the penalty kick from being taken for so long. The fans’ collective fuse detonated as disorder erupted in the Celtic end throughout the interval and continued into the second half, when Rangers fans cheered Delaney and Crum being stretchered off following two shocking challenges. Dozens of bottles flew at the pitch and rival supporters, amid disturbing scenes. Then the fans fought police, who scaled the pitch side wall and drew their batons.

Battles between Celtic fans and the police were unsurprising. During the First World War, police officers were involved in the surveillance of socialist agitators and anti‐war campaigners, and into the 1920s they took heavy‐handed action against the strikers and Trade Union activists of Red Clydeside. Sectarianism in the city was exacerbated by the partition of Ireland in 1921, and Glasgow City Police gained a reputation for being anti‐Catholic, although official police rhetoric emphasised impartiality. Information about the religious beliefs of recruits was not given on personnel records in the first decades of the 20th century. However, this information was included from 1930 onwards, revealing a significant Protestant bias. Only 5% of those recruited in 1931 declared as Roman Catholic, a figure that had reduced to 2% by 1938-41.

The behaviour of the Celtic support at Ibrox led the SFA, on 17 September, to close Celtic Park for one month. Given that the offending match was held at Ibrox, some viewed the punishment as unjust. However, as newspapers pointed out, the idea of clubs being responsible for the conduct of their fans had been noted and agreed at a meeting between previous SFA President (Tom White) and Scottish League President (Willie Maley) back in 1922. The incident had occurred on the West Terracing at Ibrox, where the Celtic supporters had been housed. Thus, by the mandate of the 1922 meeting, the imposition of a stadium ban at Parkhead was not unreasonable. Bob Kelly initially concurred with the SFA’s verdict and stated that the governing body had “Acted according to the rules,” and were “Within their rights.”

Bob Kelly

In contrast to the above, Glasgow’s Lord Provost told The Glasgow Herald: “I hope the government and police, who will have the final say on this matter, will correct the judgement which is more like Nazi philosophy than British fair play.” The Lord Provost went on to say that the closing of Celtic Park should not be acceptable to the public authorities in this circumstance. Instead, he felt that fair minded citizens would take the view that both clubs should be punished because both were responsible. This view taken because the provocation of the Celtic faithful came from Rangers players “Contravening the laws.”

The Lord Provost’s position on the issue was clear, but there was more to his comments than meets the eye. He ended his statement by saying: “My sympathies go out to Rangers and their followers. The Celtic have been made martyrs. The sporting world may think that Rangers have been treated with favouritism, but, knowing them, I believe this would have been the last thing that they would desire.”

Ultimately, Celtic did challenge the SFA. Board member, Colonel John Shaughnessy said: “It is because of what the opposition did that we are hung up. That seems to be a very material factor. Nothing was done by our team to give any excuse to our fans to start bottle-throwing.” Regardless of Celtic’s prevailing appeal, the SFA issued the club with a notice for the foreclosure of Celtic Park. The conditions outlined in the notice were as follows:

(I) Celtic FC ground to be closed for all football from this date until October 17th,1941, during which period Celtic will not be permitted to play on an opponent’s ground in Glasgow.

(II) Celtic to post bills on all parts of their stadium intimating to the supporters on re-opening (a) that the ground was closed by this association because of serious misbehaviour of supporters at Ibrox stadium on September 6 and (b) warning their supporters that more serious punishment must fall on the club in the event of reoccurrence on any ground.

In light of the decision to close Celtic Park, the SFA warned all clubs over their player’s conduct due to “Increased prevalence of showing dissent towards referees’ decisions.” The organisation also liaised with the Chief Constable of Glasgow to ensure that necessary steps were taken to avoid a “re-occurrence of misconduct” in future matches between Celtic and Rangers.

A newspaper advert for a Celtic v Rangers match during WWII

Celtic’s next scheduled home game v Morton on 27 September was reversed to be held at Cappielow, despite Clyde agreeing to let the Hoops play at Shawfield. Nevertheless, Celtic won 3-2 on that occasion – goals coming from Delaney, Riley, and Divers.

The Bhoys then played a Glasgow Cup Semi-Final against Rangers, which the SFA ordered to be played at Hampden, in line with the terms of the stadium closure that forbade Celtic to play at an opponent’s home ground if the opponent was located within Glasgow. Although Hampden Park was a neutral ground, the fact that it is also in Glasgow made a mockery of the scenario. A quota of just 15,000 tickets was permitted for the game, with the majority being stand tickets rather than terracing. As a result, sales were slow as fans fumed that the clubs were being greedy and shutting out the working man. Reports in the Daily Record suggest Celtic fans snapped up most terracing tickets and were much more vocal than the Rangers contingent, who bought the expensive briefs in the stand. The same newspaper also alleged that, late in the second half, the Celtic faithful chanted at Dawson “something ending in five, six, seven, eight.”

Rangers went into the game on the back of an 8-1 loss against Hibernian…

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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