Celtic’s first competitive match, played on 1.8.88

Let’s have a look back to a Celtic game and where better than at the very beginning. Here Matt Corr looks at Celtic first ever competitive match…

It could only be Celtic! Our first competitive game was played on 1.8.88

Wednesday, 1st August 1888 – 1.8.88 – was the appropriate date of Celtic’s first competitive fixture, a first-round Glasgow International Exhibition Cup match against Abercorn, played on the University of Glasgow playing fields at Kelvingrove, near the site of the current Art Gallery & Museum.

As would be the case 50 years later, at Bellahouston Park for the 1938 Empire Exhibition, the football tournament would run alongside the main event being held at the adjacent Kelvingrove Park. Sixteen clubs were invited to participate, although, for whatever reason, none of the great sides of the day – such as early Scottish Cup-winners Queen’s Park, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton, Renton or Hibernian – were involved.

Celtic’s opening round opponents, Abercorn, were based in the Ralston area of Paisley. Their finest hour had come the previous season, going all the way to the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, before succumbing to a 10-1 hammering by Cambuslang, in January 1888.

Cambuslang themselves would find the going tough in their first final, the following month at Second Hampden (later renamed as Cathkin Park). They faced the new ‘world champions’ Renton, featuring James Kelly and Neil McCallum, losing 6-1, a record score for a Scottish Cup final which would not be matched until a certain John ‘Dixie’ Deans destroyed Eddie Turnbull’s Hibernian at Hampden in May 1972, some 84 years later.

Both Kelly and McCallum had since left Renton and would feature in Celtic’s first-ever competitive line-up:

Willie Dunning;
James Coleman & Mick McKeown;
Paddy Gallagher, James Kelly & Jimmy McLaren;
Neil McCallum, Willie Groves, Johnny Madden, Johnny Coleman & Charlie Gorevin.

Details of the game itself are sketchy, although Celtic did score first before Abercorn equalised just before the break. Reports of the day suggest that many within the 4,000 crowd were not so kindly disposed to ‘the Irishmen.’ I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. In any case, Abercorn declined the offer of a replay, the tie thus awarded to the Bould Bhoys as a walkover. Celts would now face Dumbarton Athletic in the next round, again at Kelvingrove, three weeks later.

Matt Corr

* A snippet from Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys by Liam Kelly, Matt Corr & David Potter,  out now.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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