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 – the shortlist for our central defender…

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!

Adam McLean, Jimmy McGrory, Jimmy Delaney and Bobby Murdoch

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.

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

READ ABOUT OUR NOMINEES HERE...Dan McArthur…Davie Adams…Charlie Shaw…John Thomson…Joe Kennaway 

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. If you missed that article, insert link just take a look at some of the outstanding candidates we have for you here, a group of five incredible Celtic legends who collectively made almost 2,500 appearances for the club.

READ ABOUT OUR NOMINEES HERE...Barney Battles…‘Sunny Jim’ Young…Alec McNair…Willie McStay…Bobby Hogg

Today we will be shortlisting our central defender in Willie Maley’s very special team, and once again the quality on offer is superb. Here we go, once again the players listed 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.

James Kelly

Debut for Celtic: v Shettleston, September 1888
Final game: v St Mirren, March 1897
Total appearances: 178

‘No Kelly, no Keltic!’ Celtic’s first superstar and captain, who signed from Renton’s great ‘world champion’ team in 1888. Where he went, others followed. James later became the chairman of the club, as did his son, Robert.

Willie Loney

Debut for Celtic: v Heart of Midlothian, September 1900
Final game: v Third Lanark, September 1913
Total appearances: 336

The rock and pivot in that legendary defensive triumvirate of ‘Young, Loney and Hay’ and Celtic’s first ‘six-in-a-row’ team of 1904/05-1909/10.

Peter Johnstone

Debut for Celtic: v Motherwell, September 1909
Final game: v Clyde, October 1916
Total appearances: 245

Despite a decade in the Hoops, appearing in a number of positions, this great Celt is perhaps best remembered as the most famous of our players to be killed in active war service. Peter fell at The Battle of Arras in France in May 1917.

Jimmy McStay

Debut for Celtic: v Queen’s Park, September 1922
Final game: v St Mirren, April 1934
Total appearances: 500

The second of the McStay family dynasty to wear the Hoops, Jimmy was a wonderful, long-serving Celtic defender who captained the club for many years before succeeding Willie Maley as manager in February 1940.

Willie Lyon

Debut for Celtic: v Aberdeen, August 1935
Final game: v St Mirren, May 1940
Total appearances: 199

Celtic’s Bayard. The Merseyside-born centre-half was signed from Queen’s Park in 1935 after impressing against Celtic and was immediately installed by Willie Maley as his captain as Celts regained dominance in Scotland.

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 at the link below. Please note that ticket sales will end on Monday, 4 March, so snap them up whilst you can!

Hail Hail,

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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