Top-flight English clubs often attempt to steal away Celtic’s top assets by making lucrative transfer offers, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the days before professionalism was introduced to Scottish football, their already professional English counterparts used to send agents up to Glasgow on a kidnapping quest!
A player would receive a knock at the door and have a professional contract shown to them by an agent. The player would then either decide to travel down south to the club in question or potentially be jostled into a car and taken to pastures new, in England, ahead of further persuasive talks. Either way, Celtic were never consulted or offered compensation.
The Celtic support in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, decided to act against the theft of top players. In early 1891, they formed The Johnstone Vigilante Committee, a unit of passionate fans, who would defend the club from the scourge of English agents.
Johnstone was an area with a strong Celtic connection. Three people associated with the town represented the club in its first year of existence: Willie Dunning, a goalkeeper signed from Johnstone Juniors – Patrick Gallagher, an early Celtic hero who was born in the town and signed from Hibernian – Peter Douds (Peter was born, married and died with this surname but is better known by the surname Dowds, which he acquired through a spelling error when becoming a footballer), a Johnstone born utility man, who was described by Willie Maley at the outbreak of World War II as “The greatest all round player the club has seen.”
Shortly after the voided Scottish Cup Final in March 1892 (the game, which Celtic won 1-0, was made void as a result of crowd encroachment among the 40,000 spectators in attendance), Johnstone Celts alerted the local Vigilante Committee to the fact that Peter Douds had been spotted getting in to a car with officials from Everton. The Committee sprang into action and chased the vehicle, before running it off the road and into a hedge. Two men emerged and pretended to have pistols in their possession. They retained Douds and ordered the Evertonians away.
The rescue mission was successful, but a month after Celtic’s 5-1 victory over Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup Final replay, Douds had left to sign for Aston Villa. He returned, via Stoke City, in 1894.
*Extract taken from Take Me To Your Paradise: A history of Celtic-related incidents & events
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