Cowlairs was not the only side from Springburn to feature in the early part of Celtic’s history. By the time they were formed in 1876, Northern Football Club had already been established for two years on the other side of the main Springburn Road.
Details of the club’s origins are sketchy, however, it would appear that they played for their initial season at Lodge Park (exact whereabouts unknown) before moving to Hyde Park, which would be home for the remainder of Northern’s existence. The ground was adjacent to the massive engineering works of the same name, on the corner of Flemington and Ayr Streets, to the east of Springburn Road. If the two bases of Cowlairs FC, Gourlay and Springvale Parks, were close to my home growing up, then Hyde Park, if anything, would have been even nearer.
Indeed, the front window of my last ‘Springburn residence’, in Adamswell Street, would have looked directly into the ground. A century after Northern FC was set up, a Celtic supporters’ social club would relocate from Angus Street to new premises in Flemington Street, around the corner from the old park. The Northern Area Celtic Club would be the meeting point for us Springburn Bhoys through the 1980’s and beyond, where great victories were enjoyed and disastrous defeats dissected, over a few pints.
The initial club colours were blue-and-red 2” hooped shirts, with dark blue shorts. These were changed for halved shirts of light and dark blue the following season and retained thereafter. In 1883, they absorbed (or merged with) Petershill FC, not to be confused with the current Junior club of the same name. Not everyone was enamoured by this move, a new ‘breakaway’ club being set up as Springburn FC for the 1884/85 season. That year also saw the introduction of another football team on the local scene, Springburn Hibernian. Again, details are difficult to come by, however, the success of the established Edinburgh club in supporting its local Irish community is perhaps more likely to be the inspiration behind that move.
Northern took part in the Scottish Cup from its third competition, in 1875/76, losing 5-0 to eventual winners, Queen’s Park, at First Hampden in the second round. Queen’s would prove their bogey team, knocking them out in no fewer than four of their eighteen appearances in the tournament. This included Northern’s best run in the competition, the following season, when they were beaten 4-0 at the same venue in the Last 16.
Perhaps the Springburn club’s most unfortunate, or bizarre, Scottish Cup-tie would have been the third round clash in October 1889 with the wonderfully-named, Carfin Shamrock, the Lanarkshire side on the receiving end of a 22-1 ‘hyding’ at Hyde Park. For whatever reason, no doubt the obligatory ‘protest’, the game was subsequently replayed, Carfin then edging a seven-goal thriller.
There must have been something in the Springburn air that autumn. Just the previous month, Cowlairs had inflicted a 21-1 mauling on Victoria, in the first round tie at Gourlay Park. Sadly, the goals were less forthcoming at First Celtic Park, where the Bhoys were playing out a 0-0 draw with Queen’s Park at the same time. The Spiders would win the replay 2-1 the following Saturday, on their way to a ninth success.
That would have been a huge disappointment for the new club from the East End, in just its second season. Their initial campaign had exceeded all expectations, Celtic reaching the final at the first attempt, something we would repeat many times over the years, before losing to Third Lanark, in the infamous ‘Snow Final’ replay.
Queen’s Park were the Real Madrid of the early Scottish Cup competitions, winning the first three, six of the first nine, and ten in total by 1893. However, unlike the Spanish giants, there would be no further waves of success.
When they faced Celtic for the third time in the Final, losing 4-3 in 1900 at the new Ibrox, Queen’s would be unaware that this would be their last appearance at that level. The new Scottish League and the advent of professionalism would consign the famous old club to the annals of football history, on the playing field anyway.
Like Celtic and Cowlairs, Northern enjoyed their first trophy success in the Glasgow North-Eastern Cup. However, they were not the first club from Springburn to do so. In the inaugural competition, in 1881/82, which featured only four teams, Petershill beat Clyde then Tollcross, 5-0 in the final at Kennyhill Park (Now Alexandra Park in Dennistoun), to claim the crown.
For the next two seasons, the cup returned to Springburn with Cowlairs. In spring 1883, they beat Alexandra Athletic, Thistle and then Clyde, 3-0 in the final at Kinning Park. The following season, for the first time the final was contested by two Springburn teams, Cowlairs beating Northern 3-2 in the Final, to retain their title.
The 1884/85 tournament was the only one to feature Springburn and Springburn Hibernian. Northern faced Springburn in the first round, the tie requiring three games before it was settled. The first match was still goalless when it was abandoned, after the crowd broke into Hyde Park. Bearing in mind that Springburn had been established as a breakaway club the previous summer, after Petershill and Northern had merged, it is possible that emotions were running high.
The replay took place at Clyde’s Barrowfield Park, the teams sharing four goals. In the third match, Northern proved too strong, running out convincing 7-2 winners and in the next round, they disposed of Eastern, whilst Cowlairs were beating Springburn Hibernian 4-0. The two clubs then met in the last four, a re-run of the previous year’s final. This would be Northern’s day, winning 2-1 at Gourlay Park, in front of 2,500 spectators. They then beat Dalmarnock’s Thistle FC in the final, to secure their first-ever silverware.
Cowlairs took early revenge over Northern the next season, with a crushing 4-0 victory over the holders in the first round. They went on to regain the trophy, beating Tollcross 7-0 then Clyde 3-2. They also knocked their neighbours out the following season, 1886/87, this time by 7-0 in the semi-final replay at Gourlay Park, Northern’s record defeat, before beating Tollcross in the final.
Cowlairs then completed a hat-trick of successes, taking ten off Thistle then defeating Rutherglen 4-1, before a single-goal victory over old foes Northern in the final, at Barrowfield on 5 May 1888. Three days later, Cowlairs played Hibernian, in the first-ever fixture to be played at the original Celtic Park. The world was about to change for all of us.
Northern’s first game with Celtic took place at Hyde Park, Springburn, on Monday 27th August 1888, in front of 3,000 spectators. It was the twelfth game in the short three-month history of the new club, Celts winning the friendly fixture 3-0, with Neil McCallum to the fore.
Two nights later, Celtic would beat Partick Thistle on the Glasgow University fields at Kelvingrove, to reach the final of the Glasgow Exhibition Cup. Northern had fallen at the first hurdle, losing to Clyde, as local rivals, Cowlairs, went all the way, defeating the new Bhoys, Celtic, who were playing in their first-ever cup final.
There would be five further meetings between Celtic and Northern, with the Springburn club becoming something of a good omen for the Bhoys. The first competitive fixture took place on the original Celtic Park on Saturday, 16 March 1889. This was the semi-final of the Glasgow North-Eastern Cup, in what was our first attempt at winning the competition.
Celts recovered from the loss of an early goal to win 4-1, a double from Johnny Coleman and strikes from Mick Dunbar and that man McCallum again. Two months later, almost 130 years ago, the fledgling East End club had its first silverware, as Cowlairs were beaten 6-1 at Barrowfield in the final.
On the same St Patrick’s weekend the following year, Celts met Northern again, this time in the final of the competition. Celtic’s return to Barrowfield brought them a second consecutive success, this time by two goals to nil, Coleman again and Peter Dowds on target.
This would be Celtic’s last appearance in the tournament, as the Scottish League commenced that August, however, Northern would continue to compete each year until the competition’s eventual demise in 1895. They were beaten finalists again the following year, losing to Clyde at Celtic Park, before claiming their second title in May 1892, with a 1-0 victory over Thistle at Barrowfield, having edged a five-goal thriller with Cowlairs in the semi-final.
Northern reached a fourth successive final in January 1894, the game held over from the end of 92/93 for some reason. Their semi-final with Cowlairs had been twice-protested, Northern losing the first game 4-1 then winning the re-match 5-3. They then lost the final 3-0 to Clyde.
Cowlairs took the local bragging rights the following spring, beating Northern 3-0 in the last four before they too lost to the Bully Wee in the final. Northern did reach the last-ever Glasgow North-Eastern Cup final in May 1895, Clyde winning a third consecutive title, a fourth in five years, by beating the Springburn side 4-0.
The competition had proved invaluable for the development of football in Springburn, local clubs winning eight out of a possible fourteen. Cowlairs led the way with five wins, followed by Northern with two and the original winners, Petershill. Clyde with four and Celtic, the first non-Springburn side to win it, with two, completed the roll of honour.
Northern’s other notable achievement of the period was reaching the Glasgow Charity Cup final of 1890/91. There they faced bogey-team, Queen’s Park, drawing 1-1 before suffering a 9-1 defeat in the replay at Second Hampden. Earlier in the season, the Spiders had knocked Northern out of the Scottish Cup for the fourth and final time, by five goals to one at the same venue.
However, the holders would fail to win a tenth trophy, Heart of Midlothian becoming just the seventh side to win the world’s oldest annually-contested football cup. Celtic would be the eighth, the following season, before Queen’s Park finally secured ‘La Decima’ in 1893, co-incidentally the last season in which Northern would take part in the competition.
Celtic and Northern would meet twice in the Glasgow Cup, on both occasions the outcome being favourable for the Bhoys. On 11 October, 1890, the clubs met at Hyde Park in the second round, Celtic winning 2-1 with goals from Dowds and Groves, in front of a record crowd. Celts would go on to beat Third Lanark 4-0 in the final at Second Hampden on Valentine’s Day 1891, to claim their first ‘major’ trophy.
Northern were drawn against Celtic in the following season’s competition, this time at First Celtic Park in the third round. The initial game, played on Halloween 1891, was declared void following a protest by Springburn regarding, appropriately enough for that night, the dense fog. Celtic had won the game comfortably by 6-0. The replay the next week was much tighter, Celts winning by the odd goal in five, having recovered from a two-goal half-time deficit.
Tom Maley had scored directly from a corner-kick that day, the goal subsequently disallowed as being against the rules at that time. Thankfully the rule was amended before the visit to Brockville of a certain Charles Patrick Tully, sixty years or so later. Otherwise, the litany of Celtic tales would be one classic lighter. The Bhoys went on to retain the cup, beating Clyde by that famous Celtic scoreline of 7-1 in the final at ‘Oh Hampden in the Rain’ in December.
So, on all four occasions when Celtic and Northern were paired together competitively, the Bhoys went on to win the respective trophy that season. Springburn’s green-and-white!
Northern would never face Celtic in either the League or the Scottish Cup. Whilst the cup was down purely to the luck of the draw, Northern did not play in the top division. Not included in the clubs invited to form the Scottish League, they joined eleven other teams in the initial Scottish Alliance season of 1891/92, finishing in fifth place.
The following campaign saw them drop to seventh in a ten-team league and they were then invited, with Cowlairs, to participate in the inaugural Scottish League Division 2. Sadly, as their Springburn rivals flourished, coming in a close second behind champions, Hibernian, Northern struggled badly.
They collected a mere nine points, all at Hyde Park as all nine away fixtures were lost, to finish second-last, in the dreaded ‘requiring re-election’ zone. Support was not forthcoming, Dundee Wanderers and Airdrieonians both being chosen ahead of Northern and Dalmarnock-based Thistle FC. It was a huge blow, signalling the beginning of a downward trajectory for the club.
There is no record of any league affiliation for Northern over the following two seasons, with the club briefly re-appearing in the Scottish Football Alliance of 1896/97, before resigning their SFA membership mid-season. This would mark the end of senior football in Springburn.
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Credit to the Scottish Football Archive, Hibernian Historical Trust and the Celtic Wiki on Kerrydale Street for invaluable reference information.