Our Foundation – The Celtic Way, Celtic’s greatest team: Pre-World War 2

Our Foundation – The Celtic Way, Celtic’s greatest team: Pre-World War 2

Back in the autumn of 2002, Celtic supporters had the opportunity to vote for the eleven men who, in their opinion, would make up the club’s greatest-ever team. Whilst by its very nature this will always be a subjective exercise, you have to say that a quite incredible line-up was forthcoming, which was as follows.

In goals, Ronnie Simpson; a back three of Danny McGrain, Billy McNeill & Tommy Gemmell; a midfield trio of Bertie Auld, Bobby Murdoch & Paul McStay; and a front four of Jimmy Johnstone, Henrik Larsson, Kenny Dalglish & Bobby Lennox. The manager chosen was Jock Stein, who of course had the privilege of managing nine of that team. What a side that would have been to watch!

IMAGO / Colorsport Football – 1928 / 1929 season – English Football League XI 2 Scottish Football League XI 1 Jimmy McGrory pictured for the SFL team before the game at Villa Park 07/11/1928.

A couple of things perhaps jump out on first read, one being the attacking formation – in essence a 3-3-4 formation – but the other is the lack of players from the pre-Lisbon era. So, no place for Jimmy McGrory, Patsy Gallacher and Charlie Tully amongst so many other legendary Celts who have worn our colours with such distinction.

Charlie Tully

Well, we’re about to put that right, at least for those great Celtic stars who played alongside or under Willie Maley between 1888 and 1940. Honouring those giants of the past is one of the key themes of a very special event being held in Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza hotel next month, on Saturday, 23 March 2024 to be exact.

Our focus that evening will be on the birth of the club then the quite incredible half-century or so which followed, with the one and only Willie Maley front and centre as first player then manager throughout those five decades.

Under the banner of Our Foundation – The Celtic Way, it will be a night full of fun, music and unique Celtic content, commencing with a champagne reception, a four-course meal, and including entertainment from the excellent Celtic Punk band The Wakes.

We will also be giving away some incredible prizes via a raffle and live and silent auctions, whilst we will be including some wonderful surprise elements, which will only be revealed on the night. And as if you needed any further encouragement to snap up the remaining tickets, best news of all perhaps is that all profits from the event will be passed to Celtic FC Foundation.

For the past six months or so, the volunteer Celtic FC Foundation Supporters Committee has been working hard to pull this event together, and it promises to be something else. Recently on The Celtic Star, we have published exclusive news of a very special competition for those who purchase tickets for the event.

On that evening of 23 March 2024, our guests will have the opportunity to vote for the players they believe are most deserving of a slot in the Greatest Celtic team of 1888-1940. Like the side chosen by supporters in 2002, the pre-war team will line up in a 3-3-4 formation to reflect ‘The Celtic Way,’ that attacking approach to playing the game we love.

And of course, Willie Maley will be the manager. This will be his team.

Guests will have their selection options for each position listed on or before the night itself, and we will a announce the chosen eleven at some point on the evening, but as an appetiser – and as Celtic supporters like nothing better than a good debate about ‘who was better?’ – we’ll be providing the shortlisted options over the coming days and weeks.

First up, of course, was our goalkeeper, and what a selection of Celtic greats we had for you to consider in the first article. In case you missed it, here is my shortlist for the Greatest Celtic goalkeeper of 1888-1940.

They are listed in chronological order, so there are no clues as to my personal choice!

Dan McArthur

Dan McArthur, Celtic FC

Debut for Celtic: v Abercorn, September 1892
Final game: v Hibernian, September 1901
Total appearances: 147

Perhaps Celtic’s first great goalkeeper, Dan was a fearless last line of defence for Maley’s Bould Bhoys – “Glory to their name” – making his debut during the first-ever title-winning campaign of 1892/93.

Davie Adams

Debut for Celtic: v Hibernian, September 1903
Final game: v St Mirren, December 1911
Total appearances: 318

A century of League shut-outs for one of Celtic’s greatest goalkeepers, a key part of the famed ‘six-in-a-row’ League Championship-winning side of 1904/05-1909/10.

Charlie Shaw

Charlie Shaw (centre)

Debut for Celtic: v Ayr United, August 1913
Final game: v Morton, October 1925
Total appearances: 468

Considered by many observers to be Celtic’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, ‘Cherlie’ was the anchor of that wonderful defensive triumvirate of Shaw, McNair and Dodds.

John Thomson

Celtic Football Team. J.Thomson, E.McGarvey and W.McGonnigle. 31st October 1928.

Debut for Celtic: v Dundee, February 1927
Final game: v Rangers, September 1931
Total appearances: 201

The Prince of Goalkeepers. Celtic’s Number 1 whilst still in his teens and Scotland’s first-choice custodian at 21, this incredible young man had the world at his feet before it was all taken away in a heartbeat at Ibrox on 5 September 1931.

Joe Kennaway

Joe Kennaway, Celtic FC

Debut for Celtic: v Motherwell, October 1931
Final game: v Clyde, September 1939
Total appearances: 311

The legendary Canadian goalkeeper was brought across the Atlantic by Celtic after the tragic death of John Thomson, having starred against the club on the North American tour a few months earlier.

That was the first list of nominees which the guests at our event will consider for the honour of taking their place between the posts in Willie Maley’s very special team, and it generated some great discussion amongst the Celtic support, with folk already making the case for their favourite goalkeeper.

That will be a tough call, as will be the competition for the right-sided defender to take his place in our back three. Just look at some of the outstanding candidates we have here, a group of five incredible Celtic legends who collectively made almost 2,500 appearances for the club.

As with the goalkeepers, they are listed here in chronological order, so no favouritism from me! Note that the number of appearances does exclude Charity Cup matches and friendlies and can occasionally differ by a small margin in different record sources, however, it will give you a sense of length and consistency of service etc.

Barney Battles

Barney Battles

Debut for Celtic: v Dundee, August 1895
Final game: v Motherwell, March 1904
Total appearances: 155

Another Celt taken long before his time, the inspirational defender from Springburn died from influenza in February 1905, aged just 30. He would never see his son of the same name – born later that year – who followed in his dad’s footsteps by playing for both Hearts and Scotland.

‘Sunny Jim’ Young

Debut for Celtic: v Partick Thistle, August 1903
Final game: v Heart of Midlothian, September 1916
Total appearances: 482

The powerful defender from Ayrshire was a magnificent Celt whose life was tragically cut short in a motorcycle accident at the age of 40.

Alec McNair

Debut for Celtic: v St Mirren, September 1904
Final game: v Queen’s Park, April 1925
Total appearances: 684

The man known as ‘The Icicle’ is Celtic’s oldest and longest-serving first-team player who also holds the record for most League appearances for the club.

Willie McStay

Debut for Celtic: v St Mirren, August 1916
Final game: v Kilmarnock, April 1929
Total appearances: 470

The first of the multi-generational McStay dynasty to wear the Hoops, long-serving defender Willie was Celtic’s captain before passing the baton to younger brother Jimmy.

Bobby Hogg

(L-R) Hazlett, Bobby Hogg, Jim McLaughlin.

Debut for Celtic: v Queen’s Park, September 1932
Final game: v Dundee, April 1948
Total appearances: 575

An all-time Celtic great, full-back Bobby was a fixture in Willie Maley’s great teams of the 1930s, winning League, Scottish Cup and Empire Exhibition medals in a glorious career.

Our Foundation – The Celtic Way will be THE most unique Celtic event of 2024. It’s an excellent way to get through an international weekend with a Celtic fix, have yourself and your company a load of fun whilst raising money for the wonderful work carried out in our name by Celtic FC Foundation.

You can pick up your tickets now by clicking on the event image below.

Matt Corr

Follow Matt on X/Twitter @Boola_vogue…and keep up to date with progress and news of this fabulous event on our social media platforms @CFCF_Supporters.

Help raise funds for Celtic Youth Academy by playing the Celtic Pools Weekly Lottery and you could win up to £25,000. The lottery is £1 per week.


About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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