James Curtis was born in Glasgow to Irish parents in 1846. His father, William, and mother, Ann, settled on Sister Street in the Calton. They sent James to school at St Mungo’s, where he became yet another of the founding fathers to be educated by Brother Walfrid.
After completing his education, James Curtis qualified as a teacher himself. His family had moved deeper into the Calton, now residing on Abercromby Street. As such, Curtis found employment with the local parish school, St Mary’s, in the mid 1880s. St Mary’s was headed by Brother Dorotheus at that time, who was Brother Walfrid’s right hand man and the co-founder of the Poor Children’s Dinner and Breakfast Tables. He operated the penny dinner scheme from the school, whilst Walfrid did likewise at Sacred Heart school in Bridgeton, where he had been transferred to take over as Headmaster.
Despite going on to move to 3 Comelypark Place, James Curtis remained an integral party of the St Mary’s parish, where he continued to teach under Brother Dorotheus’ guidance. By April 1887, he became the Chairman of St Mary’s Young Men’s Society. The Society was based in the local church hall and was created to promoted Irish culture such as poetry, dancing and history. Through the organisation and his role as a teacher, Curtis was invited to attend the celebratory soiree for Hibernian FC, held to mark the club’s second Scottish Cup triumph at St Mary’s Church Hall in February 1887. An indelible impression was clearly left on him that day, for he personally sent a telegram to Hibernian Secretary, John McFadden, offering congratulations on behalf of the Young Men’s Society.
In late 1887, Brother Dorotheus was among the founding fathers of Celtic. As his protege, it was no surprise that James Curtis was involved with the club from the beginning. He may not have been one of the foremost founders in terms of setting Celtic afloat, but he played an important functional role as Match Secretary of the first ever Celtic reserve team.
Under his stewardship, Celtic reserves were very successful in the early years. Indeed, in 1890/91 the reserves won both trophies they competed for and lifted the Scottish Second XI Cup by defeating St Mirren Strollers 13-1 in the final!
In 1892, Curtis was tasked with an unusual first team role. Scottish football had not yet gone professional and thus didn’t receive compensation for the loss of their prized assets. Sandy McMahon was one such prized asset, who had been persuaded by Celtic legend Neil McCallum to head to Nottingham for high wages. A vigilante committee was set up in Johnstone to deal with English agents, who would often force Celtic players into a car to travel south where they would then try to persuade them to sign. However, on this occasion it was not the Johnstone Vigilante Committee who set to work; it was a posse sent by Celtic to retrieve McMahon, and James Curtis was part of that group.
After covert success, James Curtis returned to reserve team duty and was named Celtic’s representative on the Second Eleven Association board in May 1893. At the AGM a year later, he composed and read out the club’s annual report to the committee members present at Bridgeton Mechanics Hall. In the report he claimed that the season which had just finished was the most successful in the club’s short history and that the annual sports days held by the club were the best in Scotland. In addition, Curtis remarked that the new Celtic Park, built in 1892, was now so superb that it was worthy of its Paradise nickname. Interestingly, Curtis closed the report by giving a nod to the club’s foundations, stating the obvious that Celtic was founded for charitable purposes. However, he remarked that when the liabilities are cleared there will not be a club in Scotland who will assist the needy as much as the Celts. Perhaps this was a subtle hint of support for the club becoming a limited company, given that the debate on professionalism had been underway for some time at this point.
By late 1895, James Curtis stood down from his role with the reserves, handing the baton to Johnny Coleman. Coleman was a cycling enthusiast, who ran a local bicycle shop and was present at many of the sport’s events at Celtic Park in the early years of the club. In December that year, Coleman’s role with the reserves took on greater responsibility as the Scottish Reserve League was formed, on the suggestion of Rangers. The Hoops’ second string went unbeaten throughout that debut league campaign and finished joint top with Hearts. Consequentially, James Curtis was granted £25 from Celtic at the subsequent AGM in 1896, in tribute to his services for the club as it was widely felt that the success of the reserve team had stemmed from his work in the years prior. Indeed, Curtis’ time working with those coming through the ranks of the fledgling Celts paid dividends as some of the early greats such as Peter Dowds, McArthur and Divers broke through to the first team on his watch.
James Curtis still remained involved with the Celtic committee after stepping back. He lived locally, attended first team matches and seconded Joseph Shaughnessy’s motion for Willie Maley to be named Secretary of the club, once it had become a limited company in 1897.
In terms of his personal life, Curtis got married in St Mungo’s on 12 July 1899. His wife gave birth soon after the wedding and the pair named their son William Dorotheus Curtis. The name was in tribute to both James’ father (William Curtis) and his old Marist mentor, Brother Dorotheus. The family emigrated to Canada in the late 1910s, yet James remained in Glasgow on his own. He continued to teach at St Mary’s school until declining health forced him to retire in 1921, at which point he moved to Canada to reunite with the rest of his family. By the middle of the decade, James was on the move once more. This time he sought a new home in Melbourne, where some of his family members had gone. He lived out his remaining days in Australia before he passed away in 1933 at the age of 87. He had the distinction of being one of the only founding fathers to live a long life.
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