Hail Hail Hallowe’en History – The Spooky Story of a Ghost who came back to Haunt Celtic

On Hallowe’en weekend, here is a ghost story that involves Celtic from Matthew Marr, aka Hail Hail History…

It’s the true tale of how one footballer who died after a match later played against the Bhoys and came to Celtic Park.

What is even stranger is that the player whose challenge was said to have struck the fatal blow was himself a former Celt, Mick McKeown.

The life of McKeown was marked by highs and lows. Born into a poor Ayrshire family he was an early star for Celtic, including winning the Bhoys’ first ever trophy (1889 North Eastern Cup).

After his football career ended, he drifted from one problem to another. Discharged from the army, he became a homeless alcoholic and tragically died in a lime kiln just a short distance from Celtic Park.

It was later in life that these calamities befell him. Before this – and after leaving left Parkhead – he moved to England to play for Blackburn Rovers. One of these games is where our spooky story begins.

McKeown was a no-nonsense, hard-tackling full-back (centre half, in modern terms). This was at a time when football was a considerably more violent and dangerous sport than now.

On Monday 9 November 1891, Rovers made the journey to Staffordshire to play Stoke City. Around 5000 fans turned out to watch McKeown’s team claim the two points with a 1-0 victory.

During the game, both sides complained that the referee was overly lenient. Still, McKeown was penalised for fouls on more than one occasion albeit no major problem was obvious.

Mick McKeown

The game finished with Stoke’s disappointment focused solely on the fact they had failed to take any points. But then came an announcement which shocked all involved in the match.

Three days later, “Death of a football player. Injured in the Stoke-Rovers match” read the headline in the Bolton Evening News. This story which was also covered by other newspapers.

The article went on to state that Joe Schofield “the Stoke centre forward, died this morning from internal injuries accidentally received on Monday last while playing against the Blackburn Rovers.”

Further details were given about how the incident occurred:

“[Schofield] and McKeown, the Rovers’ full back, rushed towards the ball with view of heading it. They came into violent collision. McKeown got the leather and headed it out. Schofield fell to the ground. The referee’s whistle blew, and the game was stopped a few minutes.

“It was found on examination that Schofield had hurt his back, but after a short interval he got up and began playing again on the left wing. Soon afterwards he seemed to have thoroughly recovered, and he resumed his place in the centre, and apparently played all right to the end of the game.”

In spite of Schofield’s apparent revival it was reported that he then died owing to a heavy blow to his ribs and kidneys. Blackburn expressed astonishment, describing the tackle as an “ordinary incident” whilst the Lancashire Evening Post noted that “McKeown was not more than usually violent.”

Serious injury or even death were not unknown events in football in an earlier era. Celtic in particular are very aware of the risk that playing can carry.

Dan Doyle

Dan Doyle – who in fact took McKeown’s place in the Celtic defence – was an early Celtic star but had once been involved in an incident which left an opponent dead.

In 1889, Grimsby player Doyle forcefully tackled William Cropper of Staveley. This resulted in Cropper sustaining a ruptured bowel, causing his death. Although Doyle was cleared of responsibility by the referee and a subsequent inquiry, the incident haunted his remaining days.

And of course, decades later one of Celtic’s most famous goalkeepers – John Thomson – died due to injuries he sustained during a 1931 game with Rangers at Ibrox.

Although such incidents were not unknown, the death of Schofield in 1891 would still have sent shockwaves throughout football.

There was only one small issue which stopped this being the case; simply put, he was not actually dead.

Joe Schofield in 1921, still not dead!

Shortly after the story was first reported came the twist. The Lancashire Evening Post headline read “The report unfounded” and explained that news of Schofield’s death was wrong, noting that “it was a great relief to find out afterwards that, though confined to bed, he was not dead.”

The Boston Guardian added that “His death was currently reported on Thursday, but this happily turned out to be untrue” whilst another journalist said that “the report of [Schofield’s] death was erroneously circulated on Thursday.”

It is not clear how this false account came about. One reporter blamed Stoke City, saying “Inquiries at Schofield’s residence this morning elicit the information that the report of Schofield’s death is unfounded, although freely circulated by the Stoke club officials.”

Whilst the player was suffering some after-effects from the tackle, these were expected to be short-lived. He had not even sustained any broken bones in the incident. A Boston Guardian article said he was “going on as nicely as his medical man could expect.”

Indeed the clearest measure of Schofield’s wellbeing was the fact that he was back playing just over two weeks later. On 28 November, Stoke entertained Sunderland with the forward being restored to his usual attacking position.

Schofield remained a hugely important player for Stoke. He finished top scorer in 1891-92, and the following season twice came into contact with Celtic.

In November 1892 – one year after Schofield’s ‘resurrection’ – the Celts travelled to Stoke to take part in a charity friendly match. 8000 fans turned out for a game that proved to be a disaster for Celtic.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph described Celtic’s terrible day by saying “The homesters by the aid of Schofield, Robertson and Evans scored thrice in the first half. Immediately after crossing over Robertson added two more goals” to give Stoke a comprehensive 5-0 victory.

This was not the only time that Schofield and Celtic’s paths crossed; he later came to play a match at Celtic Park. In April 1893, an English League Select travelled north to oppose a Scottish League side, the match taking place at Celtic Park.


More than 30,000 fans watched a pulsating encounter as “the Englishmen worthily upheld the honour of their country” with a 4-3 victory. Schofield played an important role although did not score. Still, it was an impressive performance for a man proclaimed dead 18 months beforehand.

And so finishes the tale of a seemingly dead player who was able to rise again and meet the Celts. It’s a family-friendly Bhoys ghost story ahead of Hallowe’en.

And also clear evidence that journalistic mistakes are by no means a new phenomena!

A Spooky Guest column by Hail Hail History for Hallowe’en Weekend on The Celtic Star

About Author

Matthew Marr first started going to see Celtic in the 1980s and has had a season ticket since 1992. His main Celtic interest is the club's history, especially the early years. In 2023, Matthew published his first Celtic book, telling the story of the Bhoys' first league title. He also runs Celtic history walking tours.

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